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Thoughts from Albuquerque

Bill Rivers

Thoughts from Albuquerque

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

"While the cognitive, educational, employment, and other benefits of bilingualism are indisputable, based on more than 30 years of extensive research, these benefits must be available to all children."

Last week in Albuquerque, more than 2,000 Dual Language educator spent five days at the annual conference of the National Association for Bilingual Education. It was an experience in social justice, in humility before educators, parents, and students who are achieving great things, a lesson in persistence from diverse communities around the country which are working to ensure that their children have the opportunity to pursue a basic human right - bilingualism.

Hosted by Dual Language Education of New Mexico, the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education, and the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, more than 2,000 dual language educators, parents, and advocates spent five days learning and drawing inspiration from the power of bilingualism. For me, the conference was a powerful reminder of why we fight for the right to keep our languages, and to learn new ones. While the cognitive, educational, employment, and other benefits of bilingualism are indisputable, based on more than 30 years of extensive research, these benefits must be available to all children. That’s the first and maybe the more obvious aspect of the social justice of bilingualism.

But it’s not the most important aspect. The position of my organization, the Joint National Committee for Languages, is that we strive for a just and equitable society though languages. Therefore, everyone in America must master English, in order to fully participate in the civic and economic life of our country; everyone must have the opportunity to maintain and transmit the language of hearth and home, if that language is not English; and, everyone must have the opportunity to master additional languages. We choose to acculturate, rather than assimilate; to create new identities, new definitions of what it means to be American, by blending those identities given to us by our forebears and by this land. All of the benefits of bilingualism derive from this blending, from being part of a new country, an America of the 21st century where all languages are welcome.

"This is what I learned anew from children, teachers, and advocates in Albuquerque."

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.

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