On Texas Language Education: My Son’s Case


My four and a half years old son has a communication barrier. It’s not a language barrier – his first language is English – and it’s not a cognitive barrier – he understands the language and intellectual concepts easily enough, and he’s a quick learner to boot. The problem is that when he was born he had a physiological problem in his eardrums which, despite my insistence, the highly competent “doctors” of medicine in Puerto Rico could not diagnose. When we moved to Texas, the M.D.s were quick to figure out that the problem was with the eardrum retaining liquid. My son was promptly operated, and his linguistic skills increased exponentially. However, now, a year and a half after, and not surprisingly (because of his missed two years of language input), his language skills are not fully developed for a kid his age.

To remedy this, we enrolled him in the local school’s language development program. There, he gets to have the pre-kinder experience while meeting with a speech therapist to develop his use of the mouth, tongue, etc. For a year he was fine and made some good progress. He made so much progress, in fact, that when it was time for him to enroll in Pre-K, the teachers and social workers decided that he was ready for Kinder. I disagreed and made my case, but “they were the experts”, and the mother agree with them. We enrolled him in Kinder.

Today I returned from a meeting in school. The school has a language evaluation program, and they evaluated my son, who – I remind you – teachers and social workers suggested was developed enough to skip Pre-K despite the fact that although he has made tremendous progress in his speech is not yet up to standard. The evaluators recommended that because of my son’s language problems, he should be placed in the “bilingual education” program.

These people either don’t know what they are talking about, are discriminating because of my son’s last name, or both.

As I previously explained, my son has a language problem. He can understand spoken English perfectly and repeat utterances well. He can recognize some words. Yesterday he made me specially proud when he recognized the word “Doctor”. While I was browsing a Doctor Who webpage my son said “it say doctor there” while pointing at the oddly fonted text. He can read his name and a few other words, and he can write his name and all the letters. He simply has trouble with pronunciation – not in the ESL “Hai yam espikin Inglish” sense that most long term Spanish speakers do when they first learn English, but in the sense that he can’t quite use gluttal or nasal sounds well. He also speaks in syllables sometimes, specially when faced with longer words, and he sometimes stumbles over long sentences. So when he wants pizza, he wants “pepper – oni pizza” and when you ask him how he’s doing he’ll say “I’m O. Kay.” He also has some minor problems with verbs (he will say “want” instead of “wants”, for example) and it’s really annoying when he speaks in third person (for example “(His Name) wants iPad”), but this last one he does, it seems to me, to be annoying, as most times he uses the normal tense “can I have iPad / can I have the iPad”). That being said – and I probably mentioned this before – his first language is English. He understands some Spanish thanks to his grandmother, but he responds in English, and all of his interactions with people are in English.

So the school decides to evaluate my son’s language skills, and instead of using testing standards for native speakers with speech impediments, they evaluated as a second language learner. Their recommendation was to place him on the school’s “bilingual education program”.

In the bilingual education program, students take all classes in Spanish, then take a “transitional” course in English. Classes are slowly phased into English.  The problem with my son being in this program is that he knows Spanish even less than English (which, I remind you, other than speaking he knows at the level he is supposed to). In my meeting with the “bilingual education specialist”, who was from Puerto Rico (so she should understand the situation my son is in better than most) still pushed for  the bilingual program. I explained to them what you have read, and they still disregarded the information. I should not that the language “specialist”, by her own admission, never went to a university to study. Luckly, they needed my consent to enroll him in this program. Granted, the bilingual education program works to some extent with students who have Spanish as their first language and have had little exposure to English, but, as I explained, this is not my son’s case. I told them that what I wanted for him was a program where all the courses were in English, where he got the speech therapy sessions, and where he got the extra help needed. They said that the “ESL” program was like that – he went to the regular classes, had extra “speech, reading, and writing” classes, and got the speech therapy. Because they were so adamant to place him on the regular program, I decided to agree to this “English language immersive” program.

So, my issue with them is, primarily, that – perhaps due to their ignorance, perhaps due to preconceived notions of race and language – they used the wrong standards to evaluate my son. That level of incompetence is beyond enraging.

It seems like another move is due soon.

***
UPDATE

My wife just got home from work. She told me that she spoke with my son’s homeroom teacher, and that the reason that bilingual education was suggested is as follows:

Some paper pusher from central came to school to evaluate the language proficiency of all the kids. When it was Jael’s turn to be tested, he didn’t answer any of the questions. I have taught him to not speak to strangers, so when this odd person he’s never seen before asked him things, he didn’t answer. Her evaluation was: “He didn’t answer any of the questions and his last name is hispanic. Therefore, he clearly doesn’t understand English and should be moved to the bilingual education program.”

If I may humor you, here are two tracks of my son speaking. The first one is him asking his mother for milk. The other one is a conversation he and I had when he saw me recording some audio for a game I’m making.

 

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About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on May 23, 2012, in Education Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Excellent site, thanks for share this article with us

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