A Puerto Rican Vision of Bilingual-Bicultural Education

In the years before the consent decree was signed, Puerto Rican parents and educators in New York City had faced institutional resistance to the implementation of bilingual and ESL instruction and to their demands for community participation in the governance of neighborhood schools. While the "Boricua" community was struggling for bilingual/bicultural education programs, African Americans sought to obtain desegregated, high-quality schooling in community-controlled public schools.

Encouraged by the civil rights victories of African Americans, Puerto Rican leaders created organizations like Aspira and PRLDEF and engaged in protracted negotiations with the central school board. These measures led to the 1974 consent decree compromise. Concurrently, both Puerto Rican and African American communities participated in the 1960s community control "school wars" that led to another political compromise, New York State's 1969 School Decentralization Law.

Puerto Rican community support for bilingual education in New York City had always been high. It was motivated by a dedication to cultural survival, reflective of their struggle for identity in New York City, the quintessential "melting pot" American city. "Boricuans" embraced bilingual/bicultural education as an expression of a pluralist philosophy that respects the language and culture of their children and families.

This was in direct opposition to the deficit models of education embedded in many compensatory programs of the 1960s. "Boricuan" community leaders and educators argued that their children and youth, as native-born citizens of the United States whose native language was Spanish, had a right to be taught in a language they understood and that this type of instruction should prevail until they could acquire sufficient proficiency in English to enable them to learn alongside their English-speaking peers.

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