Trying again on bilingual ed By Bob German Austin For 40 years, until 4 years ago, bilingual education was illegal in Texas. In 1920, during a period when prejudice against Germans and German-Americans ran high, the Legislature outlawed instruction in anything but English. Texas had many citizens of German descent and it was decided they must all learn English, posthaste. This would supposedly break their ties with Germany once and for all and soon they would all become good citizens, Americans, Texans. Until that time, instruction in Spanish had been widespread along the border. The single exception in the 1920 bill allowed border counties to continue teaching in Spanish at their option. Unfortunately, that special exception clause was, de facto, ignored. The effect of the 1920 bill was to doom the Mexican Texan \(not the German education than any of his peers including blacks. \(This has now been documented, indirectly, by the U.S. Commission on chicano’s mother tongue was something other than English. At the time this was also true of many German and Czech Texans. It was because he was racially different and therefore deemed inferior by anglos, something which was never the case with the German or Czech Texan. Racial and linguistic prejudice was thus legalized in 1920 and this effectively began to doubly isolate the chicano from the anglo world. In isolation he kept to his own people and used as interchange his own informal dialect of Spanish, called Border chicano. 1969 WAS Carlos Truan’s freshman year in the Texas House. Truan, a short, dapper chicano from Corpus Christi, a man with fine manners and a puckish sense of humor, got through a bill making bilingual education a possibility. The bill encouraged school districts to adopt bilingual programs but provided them no money and said nothing at all about the quality of instruction. But the bill had a positive effect. It enabled the feds to come in and finance, and the state to run, some real bilingual Bob German has been an advertising .copy writer, a newspaper reporter \(for the a college instructor, living and writing in Austin. 10 The Texas Observer instruction under Titles II and VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education ‘Act of fact, some say if it had not been known that federal monies were available, Truan’s first bill might never have gotten through. But a few school districts began bilingual programs on their own. In 1972, Truan tried to pass a real wording that slowed things up. The bill said that every school district must provide bilingual education to all school children with language problems in English. “Must,” it was decided during the legislative dickering, was too strong a term. The wording was changed to “shall.” Still too strong a word and “shall” was changed to, “may.” Acceptable in sub-committee at last. But in the waning days of that brutal session, Mutscher wouldn’t call on any representatives save his own cronies. And Truan, a member of the “Dirty Thirty.” might as well have waited for a flood in Amarillo as have waited for recognition by Mutscher on the floor of the Texas House. So four years after establishing the legal possibility, what is the current status of bilingual education in Texas? At a symposium on migrant children in Austin in September, I was able to elicit candid opinions from two chicano leaders on the subject. “Worse than useless,” sneered a member of the Corpus Christi Migrant Council. Another, a chicano teacher of migrant kids in West Texas described it as “a mess characterized by tokenism.” There are good bilingual programs in Texas, but the number is miniscule relative to the need. And the only programs which can be shown to be monitored, high standard programs are the federally supported ones. In general, the summary condemnation voiced by the two chicano leaders is valid and can be proved by statistics. During the school year 1971-1972, there were approximately 600,000 children with Spanish surnames enrolled in Texas schools, but only something like 75,000 were being taught in Spanish, or Spanish and English. In other numbers, five out of six chicano students were not involved in bilingual programs of any kind. OF COURSE not all chicano children need bilingual education, but ‘most do and if only one out of six is getting any training in bilingualism, it is certain that a considerable number who need it are not getting it, especially in South and West Texas where in certain counties the Mexican-American population may be two to three times that of anglos. As can be shown, the greater the concentration of chicanos, the poorer they are apt to be \(45.3 percent of all Mexican-American families in Texas are below the poverty Spanish exclusively. The United States Commission on Civil Rights reported in May, 1972, that “in Texas , three out of every five Mexican-American school children do not speak English as well as their anglo counterparts.” On the first-grade level, where bilingual education must begin if it is to succeed at all, 62 percent of the Mexican-American pupils do not have the grasp of English that anglos do. In the poorer sections of the Southwest, the Commission reported that only 30 percent of the chicano children spoke English as well as their anglo peers. Remember that the 1969 bill allows local school districts the option of teaching bilingually or not, even when the number of chicanos is far greater than that of anglos. On that basis most school districts choose not to participate, even where bilingual education is desperately needed. “Everyone pays lip service to bilingual education,” says Dr. Severo Gomez, Texas Education Agency’s assistant commissioner for bilingual and international education. “It’s like the flag and momma. But getting people genuinely involved in working for it, that’s another thing entirely.” Outside the federal programs, there are no common standards and the bilingual programs of individual school districts vary fantastically in quality. There are a few good, complete programs, but many others consist of no more than teaching a few vocabulary words in Spanish for 15 to 30 minutes a day. By third grade, chicano children who are insufficiently bilingual will be faltering in their studies. By fifth or sixth grade, they will begin dropping out at an alarming rate. Without cultural support, in school or outside of it, the chicano child is made to feel inferior and “stupid.” The second-class syndrome will have begun. TEXAS, with the second largest Mexican-American population of any state, has the highest Mexican-American student dropout rate, higher than that for either anglos or blacks. The United States Commission on Civil Rights maintains that, “by the end of the eighth grade, chicano students in the Texas school districts have lost nearly as high a proportion of their anglos will lose altogether at the end of another 4 years.” The figures become worse the higher the grade.
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