The Call to Action

What if we lived in a world where every child would grow up bilingual?

by Fabrice Jaumont

If this idea inspires you, then know that there is a way to do it. Through the hard work of parents and educators, a renewed push for bilingual programs is changing the educational landscape of schools, communities, and cities around the world. Over the last two decades, the American approach to education has gradually shifted away from the mastery of one language to the goal of bilingualism, language enrichment, and the preservation of heritages and cultures. This new approach has pushed linguistic communities to create dual-language programs that have embraced these new goals. The new programs have attracted thousands upon thousands of families who embrace multilingualism and have triggered interest among many parents who wish that they themselves had access to such programs in their local schools when they were younger. Although the roots of bilingual education in the United States can be traced back to the early 17th century, a new phenomenon is emerging with three objectives. First, to espouse the cultures specific to families and linguistic communities, and to promote this cultural heritage as an important part of the mosaic of our society. Second, to help facilitate reconciliation between parents and schools, and encourage a fruitful dialogue between parents, school administrators, and education professionals. And third, to promote a social, economic and cultural environment that is respectful of all and helps to bridge the gulfs that divide us today.

Bilingual education means different things to different people

 Some want access to English and the equal opportunity it provides. Others want to sustain their heritage, and utilize bilingual education as a tool to do so. Others are interested in the benefits of bilingualism for cognitive development. Others are interested in the acquisition of a second, third, or fourth language because of the professional opportunities and advantages it will yield. Ultimately, these perspectives share the same goal: to create a multilingual society with greater access to languages and cultures. One of the main objectives of CALEC’s work is to weave together these different perspectives, ensuring that more dual-language programs are created to generate greater opportunities for all children. Being bilingual is no longer superfluous nor the privilege of a happy few. Being bilingual is no longer taboo for immigrants who want so dearly for their children to blend seamlessly into their new environment. Being bilingual is the new norm, and it must start with our youngest citizens. By affording the advantages of bilingualism to as many children as possible, we can bring forth a viable 21st-century approach that will advance the growth of our societies by encouraging communities to invest in their linguistic heritage, by pushing schools to embrace dual-language education, and by raising new generations to be multilingual citizens of the world. This vision is reinforced by the belief that when quality bilingual education is available to everyone—in public schools across the country from preschool to college—our children’s chances of success improve, our schools flourish, and our communities thrive. More importantly, the essence of this Bilingual Revolution is that it places parents at the center of change, as they have the power to transform the educational landscapes of their communities.

Where Do I Begin?

To succeed, parents should educate themselves on various aspects of bilingualism, bilingual education, community engagement, and the organization of volunteers. They also need to understand the partnerships that are required to build strong programs and gain the commitment of school leaders, the dedication of teachers, and the ceaseless involvement of parents at all levels. With this informed approach and sensitivity, parents and schools hosting these programs can benefit from the multifaceted population they serve. These programs also call upon the diversity of the teaching staff, as well as their ability to incorporate linguistic and cultural differences into their pedagogy. As this model is rich in cognitive advancement and beneficial to the brain’s functions, the payoffs for our children and our communities are significant. The following chapters will discuss in greater detail these important findings and concepts, and lay out steps to follow so that more bilingual programs are established. Bilingual education is a universal good that should be offered everywhere, because it can constructively change a child, a school, a community, and even a country.

The roadmap presented below provides readers with the knowledge, shared experiences, and tools necessary to create effective dual-language programs. This roadmap was designed by both parents and educators so that others, like them, could grow and develop their own bilingual initiatives in all corners of the world. Inspired by the spirit of this movement, our work aims to encapsulate the energy and vision of parents and educators in New York City who saw the importance of dual-language education in an ever-globalizing 21st century. The drive and collaborative spirit of this motivated group fuels the Bilingual Revolution to this day, sprouting new initiatives in communities throughout the United States and around the world. While New York serves as the backdrop for this work, it is my belief that the roadmap can be applied to more than just large urban centers and that bilingual programs can flourish everywhere.

Access the Road Map

An Inspirational Success Story

With half of its population speaking a language other than English at home, New York City is a microcosm of the world. New York is the ideal hub for a bilingual revolution. As the city serves over 100,000 children in 200 bilingual programs, New York accommodates a population of students with diverse language skills on a giant scale. Bilingual education is now offered in a variety of languages: These include Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic, German, Creole, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Bengali, Polish, Urdu, Korean, and Hebrew. Moreover, former Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who has been a strong proponent of bilingual education throughout her career, strongly encouraged the expansion of dual-language programs throughout the city during her tenure as Chancellor of New York City’s Department of Education. Her successor, Richard Carranza, seems equally determined to continue this development.

By establishing dual-language programs in public schools, the city collectively provides access to quality bilingual education to children of diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Dual-language programs have been in existence for over twenty years in New York, and are gradually and successfully replacing traditional models of bilingual education that focus on teaching English to immigrants. Former bilingual programs were generally offered in a transitional form, designed to help non-English speaking students become proficient in English while they continued to learn and receive content appropriate for their age and grade in their native language. This approach sought to facilitate students’ transition into the English language and the general instructional program, but did very little to develop or even maintain the students’ native language, some of whom eventually became monolingual in English. By law, many states in the United States require that a bilingual program be implemented if a school has an enrollment of twenty or more students with limited English proficiency in the same grade, assigned to the same building, with the same native language. In New York City, when fifteen students speak the same language and are in either the same grade or two contiguous grades, a bilingual class must be established.

Beyond New York City

Similar programs have been developed in hundreds of cities in the United States and around the world. The Bilingual Revolution is a story of successes but also of setbacks, told through the testimonials of parents and educators. In their diversity, these portraits illustrate a viable 21st-century strategy to preserve a linguistic heritage and to raise a new generation of bilingual, biliterate, and multicultural citizens of the world. Children and adults alike are part of this movement to preserve linguistic, cultural, and historical ties to their ethnolinguistic community. The desire for bilingual programs has swept through schools by storm. In 2013, 39 states and the District of Columbia reported to have implemented one or several dual-language programs. This number is anticipated to multiply exponentially in the coming years.

Bilingual education has enormous potential. Why? Because our children are part of a world that is shrinking and in which languages serve as pathways to understanding others around the globe, as well as understanding who we are. Our children deserve the opportunity to connect not only with their relatives and friends, but also with their and others’ culture and history. This learning approach has the potential to foster respect, tolerance, and mutual understanding. These are the cornerstones of a peaceful world. We need to embrace and advance homegrown bilingualism, but that can only happen if we offer these languages in public schools. Furthermore, immigrant children raised in environments that value the language of their parents learn the dominant language faster, as many of the case studies presented on this website show. Today, more and more students benefit from full-time dual-language programs in public schools and graduate fully bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. An increasing number of language communities have now joined the Bilingual Revolution, as the examples presented here can confirm.

Some words of caution

It is important to acknowledge the fact that these pages do not pretend to cover all of the many extensive issues that surround, and sometimes plague, bilingual education—particularly in the context of public education in the United States. Issues of race, poverty, segregation, class, and gentrification have had and continue to have a significant bearing on the development of bilingual education programs and on public education in this country. We must be careful that these programs do not become exclusively for the privileged, and must continue to work in solidarity with minority communities that have the most to gain from these programs and the most to lose should their neighborhoods become gentrified. These issues need to be examined seriously and in much more detail than within the limited scope of these pages. Many scholars and authoritative studies are presented on this website to allow readers to dig deeper into these sensitive topics.

With the benefits of bilingualism and multiculturalism becoming clearer to researchers—in particular the impact of bilingualism on cognitive enhancement, critical thinking, and sensitivity toward other people and cultures—the Bilingual Revolution seeks to inspire and engage all parents to become bilingual “revolutionaries.” These individuals will not just be advocates of bilingual education, but true pioneers willing to spur positive change in their societies and re-enchant the public with public schools, all while promoting an active community life (socially, economically, culturally) and a mutual understanding and respect for minority groups and people of varying sociolinguistic and economic backgrounds. This is the path to break the crippling cycle whereby access to good education is often linked to household income and status. The voices of revolutionaries old and new are heard throughout these pages as their stories intertwine with the overarching theme of the Bilingual Revolution: a better future for our children and our world.

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