The last few months have brought me new perspectives on dual language, particularly on access and equity. In June, I was honored to be part of the delegation of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to the British Academy, to discuss ongoing work to improve language education in the United States and the United Kingdom. While there are striking similarities—diverse immigrant populations, hundreds of languages spoken in both countries, and an intractable insistence from the far right in both nations that English is the sine qua non for “real” citizenship, there are stark differences.
However much language access as a civil right is under attack in the US, we still have the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing equal treatment under the law, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination based on national origin, and Lau v. Nichols, where the US Supreme Court interprets that same prohibition as extending to discrimination based on Limited English Proficiency, and Title III of the Every Student Succeeds Act, funding English Learner Programs, and Executive Order 13166, requiring language access in all federally funded programs, and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which, among other things, requires equal access to health care, regardless of language. While every one of these pillars has been attacked, all have stood.
It’s ok to be stressed, watching all of the actions of an openly nativist administration, but it’s vitally important to remember that the public supports us, that the business community supports us, that the national security community supports what we do. With respect to dual language immersion, this specifically means that 70% of Americans support bilingualism, that parents of all backgrounds want dual language immersion for their children, that we’ve seen immersions increase from some 300 in 2001 to more than 4,000 in 2016.
In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the number of immersions is in the single digits, in a country that’s about 1/5 the size of the U.S. in terms of population. The reasons for this boil down to two: first, as we talked about above, there are extensive civil rights for language access, dating back more than fifty years. Secondly, we’re also fifty or so years ahead of the UK in figuring out how to educate English Learners. The Department for Education in the UK recognizes the need and the mission of equity and access, but they don’t have the legal mechanisms that we do, and the public in the UK lags behind where Americans are in terms of valuing languages. It was like stepping back in time to the late 80s or 90s.
Lest we feel too satisfied with ourselves, as I said earlier, language access, Title III, all of it, is under attack. So please do stay informed: follow the Joint National Committee for Languages, @jnclinfo (LINK TO THIS TWITTER) on Twitter, and take action when dual language schools, JNCL, NABE, call for your help.
If you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.