When Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas in 1987, he enacted the revolutionary tough-on-immigration ‘English Only’ law that obliged all school districts in the state to teach only in the English language. This legislation was part of a larger movement in the 1980s that saw other states like Mississippi, North Dakota, and North and South Carolina enact similar English-only laws.
But since Bill Clinton left his place of government in Arkansas, the leadership has struggled to put his English-Only law into effect. Because some school districts have incoming students who do not speak English as their primary language, they are unable to educate the children and these students fall behind their peers…
Several Arkansas school districts are failing to follow through with the tough-on-immigration legislation that was enacted back in 1987.
“This one just got here in March,” Carlnis Jerry, a community liaison with the Springdale school district, said of a new student at the Parson Hills Elementary School, reports PRI. Jerry is an immigrant himself. He came from the Marshall Islands where his native language is Marshallese but he didn’t let that stop him from learning English and adapting to life in America.
Jerry is one of 10 full-time community liaisons who help students adjust to American schools. He specializes in kids who speak Marshallese adapt to American culture and life. He also helps the interpret English.
“These kids are migrants, I mean, fresh off the boat, and they have no clue what’s going on,” Paul Lokebol, a community liaison at Helen Tyson Middle School, also in the Springdale school district, said. “From [the] time I walked in until now, I’ve seen a tremendous change in the lives of the students. I’m not talking about academic-wise, but also behavior-wise.”
“I know what it’s like, I’ve been there,” Anita Tomeing, a fellow community liaison and Marshall Islands immigrant said. “I’d write notes to my parents and tears would smear the ink.”
“Students need to see themselves in the school in order to excel academically,” Rachel Hazelhurst, a language specialist at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles, California, said. California also requires schools to teach only in English, yet charter schools are exempt, notes The Atlantic. “If there’s a disconnect between students’ home identities … and what’s promoted by the school, students are more likely to disconnect, disinvest, and experience educational failure. …[When] children lose their home language skills, we as educators have a serious problem … fractured communities are created when families can no longer [talk] on a deep level about issues that matter.”
“Cultural knowledge and pride are important in all children’s cognitive and social development,” Teresa McCarty, an education and anthropology professor at UCLA, said. She added that self-esteem and self-efficacy are “key factors long known to support academic engagement and success in school and life.”
“We want these young kids to be successful in school but, of course, we also want them to stay rooted — know their language, culture and heritage,” Benetick Maddison, founder of the Marshallese college group Manit Club, said, reports PRI. “Staying rooted will be of huge benefit for them later in the future. But in order for anyone to know their culture and heritage, they must know the language first.”
Should more states have an “English-Only” law?