End Language Discrimination Now

Julianne Jennings

How did the English language become the most widely spoken language in the world? The influence of American business, combined with the tradition of English language (either blunt or subtle) left around the world by the British Empire, have made English the number one language of international trade in the 21st Century. All of the world’s top business schools now teach in English. From elementary schools, high schools to college, students from all around the world are being taught English. It just wasn’t American music that brought English into the world’s discotheques and homes. British bands including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink Floyd, the Police, Led Zeppelin and others ensured that Britannia ruled the airwaves.

Looking back on language conversion efforts, the Carlisle Indian School, which opened in 1879, encouraged the use of English through an English language student newspaper and frequently praised and rewarded students for speaking English. At the end of the nineteenth century, the “object method,” which used objects and regalia to help provide comprehensible input, was adapted for use in BIA schools. During the 1930s-40s elements of progressive education, which placed emphasis on the child rather than the subject matter, were used in BIA schools. Local material and daily experiences were used in teaching, early primary reading and was based on words that children were already familiar with, and games and activities were used to teach vocabulary and engage students. English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) programs were initiated in Navajo-area BIA schools in the 1960s, and their success was bolstered by the addition of bilingual programs and bilingual teacher training programs. The problem with the all-English immersion teaching methods used in Indian schools were to replace the children's Native languages rather than to give them an additional language. Indigenous language activists strongly support immersion language programs for indigenous language revitalization, and most of the techniques the BIA adapted or developed to teach English are adaptable to teaching Indian languages as second languages today.

As an American Indian anthropologist and ESL instructor, I was inadvertently using the same BIA methods using objects to teach English to brown and olive skin tone students. These are the same students recently pushed from an existing classroom with white/light students and a white teacher. It was obvious the brown students were taken out of the white classroom and put with a brown teacher because I/they would not “measure up.” Some of the students stated “How come there are no more brown students in the white classroom?” Their line of questioning was smothered by others defending the teacher in question. A 2011 analysis of U.S. Department of Education data showed teachers of color made up 17 percent of the teaching force nationwide, though minority students accounted for 48 percent of the classroom population. Based on this statistic we were being set-up for failure.

Opposite this scenario, primary-grade white students are denied the opportunity of learning a second language in the formative years when this learning would come so much easier and more in depth. The practice of relegating white students to second place in the international world is a correlation to relegating students of color to second place in first world countries. No matter the race, color, national origin, or any other means of dividing people, all students need to learn at least one other language to function effectively on the international world stage.

Considering the increase of the Latino/a population in the United States, this second language should be Spanish. Yet students are told they shouldn't worry about a second language until they reach high school, far too late to achieve true understanding and functionality in second language thought processes.

Discrimination is usually seen as whites relegating people of color to second or third place, yet the education systems in the US are continuing this discrimination against all students who are not allowed to speak their native language in classroom - and punished for using that language to teach their fellow-students on playgrounds.

If the people of this country actually wanted to eliminate the disparity of education, they would insist on dual language classes for all students, in all schools, and at all grade levels. Only by granting each and every student the ability to function in the global world of today can we as parents and educators effectively train the leaders of the future.

I do not advocate a dual official language for the country. Every other country on the planet has a single official language, although some provinces within countries have chosen to implement the dual language policy. The official language of the US is English and should remain so. However, we need to end the discrimination policies of the education system and ensure that all students have access to second language education as well as preserving and promoting American Indian language programs - from kindergarten through 12th grade - to become the future leaders of the world.

By-the-way, student performance in my classroom has improved significantly according to recent test scores. The other teacher is now wanting to participate in our group activities desirous to implement my methods in her classroom. 

Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.

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hesutu's picture
"Every other country on the planet has a single official language..." What on earth? No, not at all. Many countries have multiple official languages, including well known ones such as Switzerland, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, India. But lots of others as well.
burntsuppers's picture
"The official language of the US is English and should remain so." No, this is also not true (thank goodness).