A Brief History and Assessment of Language Rights in the United States
This chapter provides an overview of the historical and contemporary contexts for educational language rights in the United States. It focuses on two fundamental rights: (1) the right to access an education that allows for social, economic, and political participation, which typically requires education in the dominant language; and (2) the right to an education mediated in one’s mother tongue(s). The chapter contends that for language minority students, both rights are necessary if they are to participate in the broader society and maintain continuity with their ethnolinguistic communities and home cultures. An important assumption of this analysis is that educational language policies are best understood in their relationship to broader societal policies, dominant beliefs, and power relationships between groups. The chapter documents the negative impact of restrictive policies of the past, the struggle for language minority rights, and the recent resurgence of restrictive English-only policies and practices and their impact on language minority groups. It identifies and explains the importance of key federal court cases involving rights for educational equity, access, and accommodation as it assesses the salience of language rights in US law. The discussion notes that implicit or covert or informal practices can have the same force as official policies, or even greater force; thus, their impact must be considered along with formal policies. It also chronicles the rise and fall of federally supported bilingual education, and analyzes the role of some states in recently promoting regressive policies that restrict language minority rights in education. The chapter further notes that the struggle for educational rights has experienced major setbacks over the past two decades. It concludes by assessing the current status of language minority rights in the face of the resurgence of states’ rights.