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Opinion: English comes first, not Native languages

"H.R. 4766, the �Native American Languages Preservation Act,� is scheduled to be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives under a suspension of the rules as early as today. This expedited procedure is generally reserved for legislation naming federal buildings, honoring champion sports teams, and other such uncontroversial items.

H.R. 4766 specifically applies the bilingual-education approach to children aged seven or younger. These kids are to be immersed in a Native American language for �an average� of 500 hours per year per student. Five hundred hours is a goodly chunk of the average September through May school year (40 weeks times 30 hours of instruction per week equals 1,200 hours).

For this reason alone, Section 2 of the revised bill is aptly entitled, �Expansion of Program to Ensure the Survival and Continuing Vitality of Native American Languages.� At a time in life when children of Limited English Proficient parents need to hear the most English in order to develop fluency, H.R. 4766 seeks to ensure they will hear far less.

H.R. 4766 utterly fails to mention the word �English.� What it does require is that grant recipients �work toward the goal of all students achieving fluency in a Native American language and academic proficiency in mathematics, reading (or language arts) and science.� Legislative silence of this sort invites suspicion.

Advocates of H.R. 4766 are apparently unaware of how difficult it is to learn to read an unwritten language. Many Native American languages remain unwritten, yet this legislation urges government grants for �the development of Native American language materials, such as books.�

This is not as stupefying as it may appear to be. Bilingual-education advocates deem nothing impossible; a solution can always be found � and funded by taxpayers."

Get the Story:
Jim Boulet Jr.: Bad in Any Language (The National Review 9/27)

Get the Bill:
Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act (H.R.4766)

2006 National Heritage Fellowships:
Bio: Esther Martinez | List of Recipients

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