on Bilingual Education
by Joy Jones
communities, one may find a multiplicity of cultures all
over the world coexisting in one zip code. This means
that you may have children from every corner of the
globe in your classroom. How does one meet the challenge
of educating students who may not speak English?
Students are in ESL studies part of the day, but what
can you do when they’re mainstreamed into your class?
Esteban Morales has been on both sides of the desk. He
is a teacher who has worked with difficult students and
has himself experienced the difficulty of learning a new
language in a new country. Morales was a special
education teacher in his home, Chile, until 1995 when
his wife prompted him to emigrate to the U.S. He arrived
knowing no English but through intensive study, became
fully bilingual within a year. Now, he is the director
of the school at Psychiatric Institute of Washington,
educating and evaluating emotionally disturbed children.
“The biggest myth in education is to assume that
because someone doesn’t know the language, they don’t
know anything else,” said Morales. He laments the fact
that too many children are mislabeled because educators
misunderstand the process of language acquisition.
“Sometimes it’s hard to discriminate between the
language process and special education,” he commented.
Immigrant parents often get misled, too. School
officials may approach a mother or father saying “Don’t
you want to help your child?” when asking for the
authority to assign a child to special education. These
parents seldom realize that this often means their
children may now be permanently sentenced to a second
class education. Frequently, even the other native
speakers in such classes have poor English skills, thus
further limiting the foreign born students' chance to
interact with speakers of standard English.
Morales believes in bilingual instruction because then
the student can continue to gain content knowledge as he
or she learns the new language, and because the
student’s family can then be involved in helping the
child with school work. The parents’ background and
skills can be communicated to the child in the native
tongue plus the child is able to transfer his or her
prior knowledge when completing assignments.
Morales also recommends that educators use content
based testing in the native language to see what
students really know, and teach learning strategies such
as classification, finding the main idea, note-taking
and outlining, thinking and planning skills. And he
believes that teachers need more opportunities to talk
and exchange ideas with one another. “I wish teachers
had more time to create, collaborate and plan with each
other. The main problem in education is teachers do
their own magic in their own rooms and nobody knows what
the other is doing.”