Gingrich and Bilingualism in America

While reflecting on bilingual requirements for ballot printing, Newt Gingrich’s comments about bilingual education have sparked controversy about not only about his potentially racist attitude but the issue of the United States making English the nations official language. Gingrich was quoted to say: “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.” Astonishingly, the crowd at the National Federation of Republican Women event responded with applause. While the issue of English becoming America’s official language is not altogether a racist one, dubbing other languages to be from the ghetto is. In the past, Gingrich has even gone as far as saying that bilingualism threatens the long term fabric of our nation and may become dangerous to our society.

Spanish, the primary language being attacked throughout the controversy is utilized around the nation in ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. This type of bilingual institution places focus on extending knowledge of the English language while continuing to learn more concentrated subject matter in Spanish. Critics of this system claim that international students are not adapting to the American school system quickly enough, but the counter-argument says that an expedited integration into the school system could leave international students even further behind.

In 1981, the first English Only legislation was proposed, which would have virtually banned all uses of non-English language by federal, state, and local governments. Although this was never congressionally voted, it was the catalyst for twenty two other states to adopt variations of the Official English legislation. Even though ratifying a constitutional amendment appeared to be out of reach, English Only advocates continued their effort and proposed a bill that would only require a Congress majority vote. The closest this bill has come to being passed was in 1996, when it passed the House, but not the Senate. The abolition of bilingualism in education and government would render massive repercussions that could even go as far as a stunt in immigration. Although a national English Only bill may never be passed, speculation about bilingualism as a part of our society will remain.

No comments: