Page 364

The arguments used to support or oppose such programs were similar to those we hear today. Opponents argued that children needed English to function well as workers and citizens in America, that immigrants would remain isolated and clannish if they did not mix thoroughly with other children in the English-language environment of the common school, and that children would remain too long in the bilingual programs provided. Advocates variously argued that bilingual programs were needed to attract and retain immigrants' children in the public schools; that bilingual education was a reasonable accommodation; and that the purpose of these programs was a transition to English, which the children would learn soon enough.

Occasionally, research in favor of bilingual education was cited. John Peasley, superintendent of Cincinnati's schools, studied achievement test scores and concluded that ''a child can study two languages at the same time and do as well in each, as he would if all his time were devoted to either language alone." And in St. Louis the head of German education persuaded William Torrey Harris, the famous superintendent of St. Louis schools, to provide classes in which German students were mixed with the other students. Harris approved a 5-year experiment comparing the mixed and segregated German-language classes. Achievement scores following the experiment suggested that "the Anglo-Americans will certainly learn more German" in the bilingual classes, while "the German Americans are not retarded in their progress by the presence of the Anglo-Americans," doing as well as those in segregated German bilingual classes (Schlossman, 1983a:156, 164). Usually, however, educators argued not from research, but from political conviction, common sense, or anecdote. Arguments were often expressed in terms such as "…rests on the soundest bases of public policy" or "as is well known." In a Milwaukee debate, both sides claimed that "expert" opinion supported their position (Schlossman, 1983a:174).

In 1837, New York City opened two German schools. These were public primary schools with German-speaking teachers, provided for German American immigrant children. The instruction was supposed to be in English, and the purpose was to prepare the children to pursue their education in the existing public schools and thus to become identified with our native population. After a year, 380 children had been admitted. The school board tried to limit attendance to a 1-year maximum, but the teacher said the children could not be prevailed upon to attend the other schools because of dissimilarity of language, dress, manners, and so on. The board compromised, but insisted that the aim was to make these children, though Germans by birth, Americans by education, which could be accomplished only by their attendance at the regular common schools.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement