What about the generations who never heard their own languages spoken in school? Much of the argument against bilingual education comes from people remembering their own immigrant relatives -- or from people like American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, who entered school as a Yiddish speaker and believes, for all the pain that caused him, that classes in Yiddish would probably have kept him from learning English as well as he did.
"Surely, the exacerbation of the generation gap among immigrants through shame and guilt, in the name of Americanization, cannot be considered a successful outcome of schooling," California Department of Education consultant Dennis Parker argued in a 1984 paper titled "The Great School Myth: Everybody's Grandfather Made It -- and Without Bilingual Education." Citing historians who have examined turn-of-the-century school records, Parker observed that every immigrant group's dropout rates were in fact exceedingly high in those years. If that generation's immigrants "made it" without bilingual education, Parker wrote, they did so because an exploding and far more industrial American economy welcomed them even without fluent English or a high school education.
And even though many bilingual-education advocates are often articulate, successful professionals who were forced in school to speak nothing but English, they uniformly insist that any benefits of the forced English were far outweighed by the damage it did to other children.
"For every one of the people I know who made it, as I did, I know at least five or 10 who didn't," said Lily Wong Fillmore, a University of California linguistics professor who spoke only Chinese when she first began school in a heavily Hispanic town on the California coast. Fillmore's English is flawless, but she says she is simply one of the lucky ones. "I run into some of them now when I go back to Watsonville. They're old before their time, because their lives have been spent in farm work. The ones who hit the big time ended up in the canneries."