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Two-Way Bilingual Instruction: Benefits and Challenges for Students and Teachers

bilingualedcopyright 2015 by S. J. Munson


In her article “Bilingual Education for Global Citizenship” (2015), Sharon Carstens contends that

In an increasingly interconnected world, the monolingual American norm is no longer an acceptable option for American students. Whether viewed from the necessity for intercultural communication in our progressively multicultural societies, from the commitment to fostering critical understanding of cultural differences, or from the standpoint of future employment opportunities, the significant advantages imparted through bilingual and bicultural education should be available to all students.[1]

The model of bilingual education that the author refers to, however, may not be one that many of us are familiar with. When the words bilingual education are mentioned, perhaps most think of the “transitional” bilingual programs in their local school system, in which native languages are employed to instruct new English language speakers in order to facilitate their integration into the main English curriculum. Certainly, this kind of model serves a purpose. There is no doubt that language minority students face daunting challenges, and anything that will improve educational outcomes may be seen as worthwhile. However, as Carstens points out, the ultimate goal of transitional bilingual programs is not, in fact, bilingualism, but rather monolingualism. As an anthropologist concerned with issues of social justice and equity, she believes that we “cannot neglect the crucial importance of challenging an educational system for majority students that remains Eurocentric in focus and fails to impart [to all students] understanding of and appreciation for diverse culture perspectives.”[2]

These issues have long been debated. Twenty and even thirty years ago, a multiculural pedagogy was designed to promote awareness of diversity, what eventually began to be referred to jokingly as the “holidays and heroes” approach. This kind of curriculum came under fire almost from the beginning, and to such an extent that multicultural education moved away from merely validating ethnic diversity and practices, toward a focus on programs to improve outcomes for minority students.[3] This is essentially where we are today. Undeniably, this kind of focus is important; however, there still remains the question of how to instill respect and understanding of diverse cultures to majority students in this country. Carstens believes that one model of bilingual and bicultural education has been shown to achieve this.

For the past ten years, a growing trend has been dual language programs in K-8 public and private schools. For purposes of clarity, let us refer to these programs as two-way bilingual instruction or two-way immersion programs. Many of these dual-language or bilingual programs are based on the language immersion model developed in Canada,[4] where the second language (French) is used to teach regular course content to English speakers for all or part of the day. The difference is that the Canadian model was used for English speakers only (one-way immersion). In two-way bilingual instruction both minority and majority language students receive instruction in both languages. For example, curriculum may be divided evenly between the two languages, with students receiving Math and Social Studies in one language and Science and Language Arts in the other, sometimes on a rotating basis. The problem with most traditional bilingual programs is that minority language students are often isolated for all or part of the day, receiving no or limited interaction with their English-speaking peers. In the two-way system both groups benefit from mutual interaction in both languages.

We must recall, too, that the Canadian system was born out of frustration with the status quo of cultural division between native Québécois and English speakers, all against the backdrop of the so-called Quiet Revolution, a cultural uprising of the country’s native French speakers. It was, however, a small group of rather forward-thinking English-speaking parents, who, deploring the linguistic and cultural bifurcation of their community, set out to create a more “ harmonious and integrated society” by finding a way to make their children fluent in French. Contemporary research had shown that bilingual Canadians tended to have a more positive view of the other ethnic group.[5] Crawford (2004) argues, however, that such tolerance may often be limited to the language itself, rather than the actual people group, if significant interaction is lacking (as in the case of one-way immersion).[6]

What are the reasons for which majority or minority parents or care-givers might choose a two-way dual language school ? The motivations are diverse. Some parents of a particular ethnicity or some bicultural families might select such a program as a means of educating their children in and preserving a specific cultural heritage. Others believe that bilingualism will give their children an economic advantage in a rapidly globalizing and competitive world; still others that childhood is the optimal time to learn a new language, as much research bears out.[7] Others may believe, quite rightly, that learning various content areas in the target language is a more effective way of learning the language than simply memorizing rules and passing tests.

Studies conducted by the National Literacy Panel over a twenty-year period (1985-2006) established the benefits of teaching minority-language children to read first in their home languages. These meta-analyses firmly concluded that primary language instruction promotes achievement in English. Interestingly, however, it was noted at the time that in some of the programs studied, children also were benefitting from learning to read in both languages simultaneously, although at different times of the day. As Goldenberg and Cohen (2010) write :

This suggests that instead of students’ having to learn to read in the home language first, and only then learning to read in the second language (the typical bilingual education model), they can learn to read in both simultaneously. [8]

Linguistically speaking, those who tout a dual-language approach argue that “ teaching language through content gives students the context for meaningful language use,”[9] which has long been considered as essential for successful second language acquisition. Moreover, there are more conclusive studies that demonstrate the potential short and long-term benefits of two-way dual language programs.

In a ground-breaking though still controversial 18-year study published in 2004, Collier and Thomas of George Mason University analyzed more than 6 million student records nationwide. Their conclusion was that “full-immersion bilingual programs in which native and nonnative students are given instruction in both languages [two-way bilingual instruction] are the most effective.” Their largest school district research site included bilingual programs in the Houston Independent School District. There they found that native-Spanish speakers remained either at or above grade level in both Spanish and English in the first through fifth grades. Interestingly, as Carstens notes, the study also found that “dual language schooling can help transform the experience of teachers, administrators and parents into an inclusive and supportive school community for all.”[10] As Collier and Thomas explain,

In addition to enhanced second language acquisition, two-way bilingual classes resolve some of the persistent sociocultural concerns that have resulted from segregated transitional bilingual classes. Often, negative perceptions have developed with classmates assuming that those students assigned to the transitional bilingual classes were those with “problems,” resulting in social distance or descrimination… Two-way bilingual classes taught by sensitive teachers can lead to a context where students from each language group learn to respect their fellow students as valued partners in the learning process with much knowledge to teach each other. [11]

According to the researchers, the astounding results of this study were a “wake-up call” to the entire field of bilingual education.[12] Goldenberg and Coleman, among others, however, tend to be more cautious in their enthusiasm for the study’s conclusions regarding academic achievement, since the study’s authors seem to have made no accommodation for selection bias.[13] Instead, for them, more conclusive are the data in the area of fostering cross-cultural appreciation and sensitivity.[14] Scanlan (2009), however, contends that the model does indeed promote “important social justice goals: bilingualism, cross-cultural appreciation, and academic success for Latino students who are typically underserved in schools.” He credits two-way bilingual instruction with creating

more unified communities in public schools among parents and caregivers, since speakers of both majority and minority languages are grouped together in an effort to develop literacy skills in both languages and consequently foster cross-cultural relationships in both cultures.[15]

In a series of key studies, Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, too, has observed patterns of achievement similar to the Collier-Thomas study.[16] She also found that dual language programs are particularly strong in promoting among minority parents a positive attitude toward the school and a sense of belonging, since in these schools English-speaking parents tend not to dominate and both languages are treated with equal respect.[17] In addition, she states that data

suggests that ethnic minority children in a high-quality educational program that incorporates the language and culture of both groups and fosters academic achievement could also enhance the perceived scholastic competence and global self-worth of those students. [18]

In addition, other studies have shown a higher motivation and passion toward the pursuit of higher education among high school students who previously attended two-way programs (Cobb, 2006).[19]

Such models of bilingual education are not without their challenges, however. For example, finding content resources and materials in a target language that are appropriate for non-native speakers can be difficult.[20] Also finding instructors with expertise in teaching content in one or both languages is also challenging. To teach a language is one thing; to be able to teach content in that language requires additional skills and experience. Bilingual education in general also connects to hot-button issues such as immigration and multiculturalism.[21] Based on this political blow-back, California, Massachusetts and Arizona, in particular, have already banned bilingual programs in favor of an English-only approach. Lastly, some non-cognate languages, such as Chinese, require much more effort (up to five times) to learn than other cognate languages, such as Spanish. Immersion programs must therefore make careful decisions as they choose what types of content will be offered in the second language. The danger is that students who experience difficulties learning content in a second language not only may fall behind, but as a result may also grow frustrated with the second language itself.[22]

Although the research in the field of dual-language instruction is still incomplete, it seems clear that two-way bilingual instruction may show much promise, in promoting bilingualism and biliteracy, short and long-term academic success, and attitudes of respect and understanding among minority and majority students. All of these goals could be said to be the direct result of a structure that provides meaningful interaction among the two language groups. We must be cautious, however, in assuming that just because a program is labeled dual-language, it will meet all these goals. Much depends on how the school is organized and administered and on the training and experience of teachers and staff. Support from the surrounding community is also key.

With the ever expanding immigrant and indigenous minority populations in our nation’s school systems, two-way bilingual education is possible in a variety of languages.[23] For those who can see immigration and diversity as a vast cultural and linguistic resource and opportunity, rather than a threat, it has tremendous potential not only to provide an enriching educational experience, but also to help ease some of the problems and tensions between immigrant families and English-speaking communities.



[1] Sharon Carstens, “Bilingual Education for Global Citizenship: Creating an Integrated Language/Culture Curriculum for Mandarin/English Students,” Human Organization, (Spring, 2015), retrieved 12 September 2015.

[2] Carstens.

[3] Carstens.

[4] Carstens.

[5] James Crawford, Educating English Learners: Language Diversity in the Classroom, 5th ed., (Los Angeles: Bilingual Education Services, 2004), 214-215.

[6] Crawford.

[7] Carstens.

[8] Claude Goldenberg and Rhoda Coleman, Promoting Academic Achievement among English Learners, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010), 26-27.

[9] Crawford, 214.

[10] Carstens.

[11] Virginia P. Collier and Wayne P. Thomas, “The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for All,” NABE Journal of Research and Practice, (Winter, 2004), 2.

[12] Collier & Thomas, 1.

[13] Crawford, 300.

[14] Goldman and Coleman, 30.

[15] Martin Scanlan and Deborah Palmer, “Race, Power and (In)equity within Two-Way Immersion Settings,” Urban Review, (December, 2009), retrieved 18 October 2015.

[16] Brian Cobb, Diego Vega, and Cindy Kronauge, “Effects of an Elementary Dual Language Immersion School Prorgam on Junior High Achievement,” Middle Grades Research Journal, (Spring, 2006), 36.

[17] Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, “Review of Research and Best Practices on Effective Features of Dual Language Programs,” Draft (March, 2005), 40.

[18] Quoted in Crawford, 304.

[19] Cobb,

[20] Carstens,

[21] Christine Armario, “U.S. Bilingual Education Challenge: Students Learning English as Second Language at Risk,” Huffington Post, April 14, 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2015.

[22] Carstens.

[23] Crawford, 307.


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Long Past Time for Christians to Stand Up

Something very sick, creepy, and evil has taken over the Republican party. It makes one’s flesh crawl. A GOP congressional candidate body slams a reporter, then gets elected. GOP lawmakers at the Texas state house call ICE on peaceful protesters, who just happen to have brown skin. One lawmaker threatens to “put a bullet” through his Democratic opponent’s head. A grisly hate crime is perpetrated in Portland and the present administration has to be vehemently coaxed to make a statement denouncing such acts. The violence, intolerance, racism, misogyny, and lack of respect for the poor and suffering are reaching fever pitch, empowering the sickest elements of our society, and one gets the impression from their silence that many of our elected officials actually find it refreshing. Many Christians helped vote these people into office; they are thus partly responsible. If what calls itself “the church” in this country does not stand up and denounce this brand of behavior, one can only assume it is because they approve.

In the U.S., white supremacy and fascist movements have a long history of Christian support. In the 1930s fascism grew apace here, largely with the help of Christians who believed in an America for whites only. It was only WWII (when Hitler and Mussolini became the enemy) that put a stop to their advancement. But they have never entirely disappeared, just gone underground, waiting for the right moment and the right person to empower their voices. Sadly, such support merely demonstrates the complete lack of Christianity in those who call themselves Christians.

Let’s face it, for a significant percentage of Christians (is it a majority? I don’t know. I hope not), things like democracy, free speech, human rights, and the free practice of  religion are sacrosanct when it comes to themselves. When it comes to others’ exercising those same rights, however, many Christians are not so enthusiastic. Nor, really when it comes down to it, are they that committed to democratic ideals. It seems they would much rather have an iron-willed, jack-booted dictator to kick them in the ass and promote “law and order,” (i.e., silence dissent, show minorities their place, and make other undesirables disappear), than to live in a free society where tolerance is required.

Let’s put it simply. Those who call themselves Christians, yet despise everything Jesus stands for (such as mercy, tolerance, kindness, peace, generosity, love for the poorest and weakest, including immigrants), are deeply mistaken. They actually have nothing in common with Jesus, except that they try to use his name to justify their putrid hate and ignorance. To be a follower of Jesus Christ, one must follow his teachings and walk in his ways. The apostle John makes that clear in his first epistle (1 Jn 1:5,6; 2;3,4; 3:16,17).

It is long past time for Christians to stand up and denounce what is being done in their name. If they will not separate themselves from this movement, then they must be prepared to share in its judgment. For “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” ( 1 Ptr 4:17).



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Political Opinion and the Whole Person

GSand“I believe that a man’s political opinion is the whole man. Tell me your heart and your head, and I will tell you your political opinions. In whatever rank or party chance has caused us to be born, our character wins out sooner or later over the prejudices and beliefs of our education. Perhaps you will think this a sweeping statement ; but how could I choose to augur well of a mind that clings to certain systems that humaneness rejects ? Show me someone who supports the usefulness of the death penalty, and, however conscientious and enlightened he may be, I defy you to establish any sympathetic connection between him and me. If this person wants to teach me facts that I don’t know, he will not succeed ; for he cannot count on me to trust him.” —George Sand, Indiana (1832)

In her novel Indiana, French author George Sand (1804-1876), whose real name was Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, ventures to explain why people can fall out so completely over politics. I believe she got it in one. People’s politics do demonstrate who they are, not in the sense of telling everything about them, but by revealing something very deep about the state of their hearts.

I do not believe that Sand means that civil dialogue itself is impossible, or that we should judge or utterly reject those with whom we disagree. She herself was un auteur engagé, a passionate writer with a cause, who spilled a great deal of ink to set forth her political positions and to educate the public mind. Rather, what she is driving at is something more fundamental: that personal politics has deep roots in our soul, bypassing, eventually, even the prejudices of our upbringing, to reveal in its flowering something basic about our personality or even, one might say, our maturity as human beings.

Modern psychology has hypothesized a spectrum of spiritual development which might also be applied in this case. From the work of Fowler and Peck, we see a series of natural stages of spiritual growth from the toddler to the mystic, or from egoism to altruism. Peck observed, however, that some of his patients, for various reasons, got stuck in one stage or another, perhaps because of trauma or fear, or because their context somehow rewarded or reinforced their behavior. Take someone like Donald Trump, for example, whose blustering and boardroom bullying (toddler stage) has made him successful in the corporate world. Sand herself might be characterized as having spent most of her adult life in the adolescent (or rebel) stage, as witnessed by her frequently wearing men’s clothes, smoking tobacco, and having a long series of romantic liaisons with men of genius (poet Alfred de Musset and composer Frederic Chopin being among the most notable).

Sand, however, does not refer to natural stages of spiritual development, but to political opinions, which seem to be a kind of snapshot of a person’s quiddity. I do see a great deal that is true in what she says, although my fear is that taking the conclusion too far might lead us to dismiss individual human beings as monoliths and therefore justify our further polarization as a society.

Yet what would Sand say, for instance, of the “Christian” who pulls into the church parking lot, his SUV plastered with stickers lauding John Galt (a hero in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) or The Donald ? Would it be fair or even accurate to infer that the stickers represent the person himself ? I know that none of us is perfect, yet if this person so opposes everything Jesus stands for, why is he at church at all? What is to be done with such people, who seem now to make up such a significant proportion of the church? How are we to have anything in common with them when they are, effectively, our enemies?

Yes, enemies. Not because they vote differently or stand on the other side of some political spectrum, but because they want to empower a man who stands for greed and militarism, the eradication of civility and kindness, the further destruction of our planet, inhumanity toward the poor and immigrants, and racism and bigotry. Is not such an individual an enemy of mankind? I look at them, then I look at my child and ask myself what kind of world she will live in. Will she be denied opportunities because of the color of her skin? Will there even be a habitable world for her to live in? What kind of world are these bigots and climate-deniers preparing for her?

I must say that the current political polarization in this country is frightening. Yet even more disturbing is the support Donald Trump has among so-called “evangelicals.” The word evangelical is code in the media for older white voters who identify themselves as evangelicals. So thankfully, they do not represent the entire evangelical community in this country. The same demographic questions are not used by pollsters when interviewing black or young voters among the left. If they did, they might discover the evangelical world is a lot more diverse than traditionally depicted in the media. Yet it is enough that so many who do consider themselves evangelicals are praising Trump to the skies and are largely responsible for his unyielding success.

It is astounding that these white voters seem not to be put off by the GOP candidate’s blatant racism, misogyny, and contempt for the poor and immigrants. It is impossible to deny that each of these positions is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Has the mask finally slipped ? Has the religious right finally found a candidate who (like Archie Bunker on steroids) is willing to say what they are all thinking but have been afraid to say ? Has their concern for abortion and family values all along been but a smoke screen for their real concern, which is the inexorable decline in white dominance ?

Sadly, the latter is probably the real issue (just as the religious right itself sprang into being in the 1970s, not as a religious reaction to Roe v. Wade, but in response to the federal government’s threatening the tax exempt status of Christian universities that resisted racial integration). Yes, in supporting Trump, these voters seem willing to threaten world peace and pull our whole democratic system and the Constitution down around us merely in order to turn back the clock on civil discourse, the rights of women, immigration reform, and economic and racial equality. The slogan “Make America Great Again” is just a dog whistle for a return to white dominance at home and abroad. Talk about a pipe dream. No, Donald, like you, America may be a bully, but she will never be truly great until she is good, just, and fair—both here and over there.

Perhaps worse than the Trump supporters among the church is the church leadership itself who, in general, seem to be taking refuge in silence, afraid to take on the angry crowd. I’m sorry, but church leaders do not get a pass on this. We are pastors, shepherds, commissioned to protect the sheep. Silence does not signify, “I don’t want to get involved.” Silence means consent. For those afraid to wade into politics, let me just say that this is no longer about liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican. This is about right versus wrong, and good versus evil. We have crossed a line in this country, and we now stand at a crossroads, just as the German church did in the early 1930s.

Quoting Micah 7:6, Jesus tells of a time before the end when “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:36). At the same time, he also commands us to love and pray for our enemies. The apostle Paul likewise instructs us with the following strategy:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2Tim2:24-26)

Lord, give us the words to speak to our erring, angry, and frightened brothers and sisters.





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