By Bill Rivers, Executive Director of Joint National Committee for Languages

Last week, someone pointed out to me that I’m a white man, and that as such, my experience in schools, work, and civic life have been very different from hers. We were talking about our experiences in public high school in the mid-80s, and while the schools we went to were in some ways comparable, our experiences diverged greatly.

Nobody ever told me I wasn’t cut out for college, based on my heritage, or that I couldn’t study engineering, based on my gender.

In the thirty-one years since I graduated from high school, the school itself has become far more linguistically and ethnically diverse, from the 70% white and 30% African American, when I was there.

We could see the divide in how people were treated, however, and many of us spoke up about it then, but it was disheartening to hear from my colleague, whom I respect immensely for her activism and achievements in Dual Language, that this still goes on, and worse yet, that the experiences my children are having, as imperfect as our local schools might be, maybe aren’t representative of the ground truth around the US.

Continue reading to find out more about Bill River’s insights..

The optimistic part of me thinks that things are getting better – that the grass roots energy for Dual Languages in Dallas, New Mexico, Indiana, California, D.C., and many other places – represent the “better angels of our nature.”

That grass roots energy comes from all sorts of parents and community leaders, of wildly diverse backgrounds, united in the recognition that bilingualism and biliteracy should be a right for all children, regardless of background.

The benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy should be available to all, and language access is a right for all Americans already. What I don’t know, what I’m not convinced of anymore, is whether we’re still moving in the right direction on the issues beyond Dual Language.

Nevertheless, we have a powerful story to tell, from El Paso to Seattle to Omaha to Miami and everywhere in between. What we do empowers children and communities, make schools stronger, creates jobs in the communities and cities where our graduates go, and it all derives from bilingualism and biliteracy. 

It seems to me that telling our story and building our programs is our way to make things better.

Bill Rivers
Author: Bill Rivers

Dr. Bill Rivers has more than 25 years of leadership experience in culture and language for economic development and national security, with expertise in the private, public, and non-profits sectors, in research, assessment, program evaluation, policy development and advocacy. Before joining JNCL-NCLIS, he served as Chief Scientist at Integrated Training Solutions, Inc., a small business in Arlington, Virginia. While at ITS, he served in a contractor role as the Chief Linguist of the National Language Service Corps. Prior to working at ITS, he was co-founder of the Center for Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *