A History of Bilingual Education in the US

We recently published A History of Bilingual Education in the US by Sarah C.K. Moore. In this post the author briefly summarises the book’s content.

The Bilingual Education Act (BEA) (later Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to promote bilingual-bicultural education programs. Many experts have dissected its systemic undoing – what the author of my new book’s Foreword, Terrence G. Wiley, Arizona State University Emeritus Professor and former President of the Center for Applied Linguistics, has referred to as ‘the sunsetting’ and ‘grand erasure’ of Title VII. An initial goal in my research for this book was to better understand the ‘Title VII Fellows Program’ – it funded postgraduate students seeking Masters and Doctoral level degrees enrolled in universities as part of the BEA. In addition to the ‘Title VII Fellows Program’, myriad other activities once supported bilingual education in the US.

This book offers sociohistorical snapshots and revisits periods during which aid for bilingual programs existed on a national scale. Although perhaps fleetingly, a time did exist when bilingual education in the US was supported by federally administered services. ‘The Network’ of the 1970s and later was comprised of a countrywide system of resource centers serving a combination of regions and language groups, including for materials development, dissemination and assessment activities, and bilingual educator training.

By the 1990s, ‘bilingual’ education connoted a particular political stance – one either in favor of endorsing language as a civil right or against ‘affirmative ethnicity’ (made mainstream by conservative Washington Post columnist, Noel Epstein during the 1980s). We widely accept that the BEA emerged in part from the Civil Rights and Chicanx movements of the same era; it was also politically agreeable, which benefited its marshaling to passage.

Contemporarily, most multilingual education programs are labeled Dual Language Education – an arguably deliberate middle-of-the-road phrasing less ‘politicized’ than the sullied ‘bilingual’ education. Dual Language Education programs are expanding across the country rapidly and the three states targeted by the English-Only Movement (California, Arizona, and Massachusetts) have either overturned or pulled back emphasis on English-priority instructional approaches for Emergent Bilingual students. Notably however, numerous scholars have laid out in striking detail examples of racism, linguistic imperialism and prejudicial ideologies often underlying in characteristics and implementation of these programs.

Given the history of bilingual education programs and supports enabled by the BEA and Title VII, now may be a pivotal time to examine whether these could be re-conceptualized in ways that serve existing and new programs – and also, fundamentally, position language as a civil right – in harmony with the 1968 conception of bilingual-bicultural education.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Dual Language Bilingual Education by Kathryn I. Henderson and Deborah K. Palmer.