Among the propositions to be voted on the Nov. 8 ballot is Proposition 58, an initiative to allow bilingual education in public schools, which could capitalize on the academic benefits of learning two languages.
Recent polls indicate that a majority of Californians support the measure, as they should. The state is one of the most diverse in the nation. According to a 2007 census, less than 60 percent of its residents speak English as a native language.
While schools would have more freedom and local control to choose English-teaching methods accommodating for bilingualism, benefits of this proposition include helping students learn English quickly and giving opportunities for English natives to speak a second language.
In bilingual programs, students could learn from teachers who speak both their native language and English in the classroom.
Currently, parents who want their children to learn in bilingual classrooms are required to get a special waiver, which would no longer be necessary should this proposition pass.
This step, if approved on the November ballot, is one to be celebrated. It would acknowledge and respect California’s diversity and vibrant culture, teaching children from an early age that they do not need to deny their roots in order to embrace the American ones.
The coexistence of two languages in the classroom would also show that they are not mutually exclusive, as they should not be.
In addition, several studies have shown that bilingual education has cognitive, social and health benefits. According to the 2013 article, “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter,” by the New York Times, speaking two languages “improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks.”
Such processes include staying focused and ignoring distractions, switching attention between different things and holding information such as a sequence of directions while driving.
To say bilingualism is only an advantage when it comes to speaking more than one language is an understatement, and denying children the opportunity to enhance mental skills and take advantage of these many benefits is unfair.
Young Californian children deserve the right to have bilingual programs in public schools, learn English in an environment that does not deny but include their linguistic diversity and allow them to remain connected with their roots.
Proposition 58 would be an important victory in the Nov. 8 ballot, a comprehensive decision especially in the face of anti-foreign sentiments in the United States. It shows what America is really about: inclusivity and respect.
Even more importantly, it shows it directly to the future of our nation – the children.