In Contested Policy: The Rise and Fall of Federal Bilingual Education in the United States 1960–2001, Guadalupe San Miguel Jr. argues that bilingual education is highly contested and misunderstood because it raises questions about “national identity, federalism, power, ethnicity, and pedagogy.” Bilingual education research has often focused on the legal ramifications of the Lau v. Nichols decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to deny non-English-speaking children instruction in the language they understood. This book, however, focuses on the creation and evolution of federal legislation that created bilingual education — years before the Court’s historic decision. Instead of legal analysis, San Miguel presents a history of bilingual education policy that is useful and rare for today’s policy-oriented research. This approach is instructive in that it allows the reader, whether policymaker, practitioner, or voter, to understand the different policy cycles bilingual education has survived since 1960. However, the author notes that the use of languages other than English in schools is not new and has been “supported, tolerated, or sanctioned by public and parochial school officials since the 1600’s.”
In tracing the rise and fall of federal bilingual education from 1960 to 2001, this book details the role of advocates, opponents, and the varying federal political contexts during this period. San Miguel argues that competing notions of ethnicity, assimilation, pedagogy, and power played a role in this development. He also contends that contextual forces over time, such as electoral politics and changing political climate, have changed bilingual education from a federal-based policy to one that will now rely heavily on state decisionmaking as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. In presenting these arguments, San Miguel analyzes how bilingual education policy has been transformed through the federal and academic research that has supported each side of the debate. Moreover, the book concludes with an extended bibliographic essay of sources on bilingual education from 1960 to 2001 under a policymaking cycle model developed by James E. Anderson.
Chapter one begins with a description of the political context of the 1960s and the forces that contributed to the rise of the bilingual education movement at the federal and community level. San Miguel identifies forces including increased research on bilingualism, the civil rights movement, social legislation such as the war on poverty laws, and the Chicano/Chicana movement. This latter movement, San Miguel argues, promoted the bilingual education program as a way to structurally incorporate elements in schooling that had traditionally been excluded, such as Mexican culture, community, and the Spanish language. The author notes that other groups would also use this strategy under a framework of multiculturalism in the latter part of the century. In essence, San Miguel argues that bilingual education was viewed by many in this era as vehicle for institutional change. The second part of this chapter focuses on the federal actions that led to the signing of the official Bilingual Education Act by President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1967. Included is a description of the initial report that placed bilingual education on the federal agenda, a list of likely and unlikely supporters, and the problems with the first version of this historic bill.
Chapter two provides a description of the political arguments developing around the bilingual education bill between 1968 and 1978. Here, San Miguel describes how supporters of the bill framed the bilingual education issue as enrichment that would benefit all language-minority children regardless of socioeconomic status, rather than compensation that would primarily benefit low-income children. The author describes how the original poverty criteria required to participate in the program was retracted in this era, as well as other notable changes not widely known to the general public. Interestingly, major Supreme Court decisions such as Lau v. Nichols and even Brown v. Board of Education are not widely discussed in the chapter.
Chapter three documents what San Miguel calls “organized opposition” during the 1980s. Here we see the role of contextual factors in the United States, such as a change in administrations from President Carter to President Reagan, the deterioration of economic conditions, and rising immigration. The author argues that the most notable change during this era was the redefinition of bilingual education to allow the funding of English-only initiatives as part of the bill. Finally, in chapter four, San Miguel provides a description of the fluctuating public support for bilingual education as evidenced in Republican efforts to attract Latino voters, the election of President Clinton in 1992, and the various state initiatives to eliminate this program from public education in California and Arizona. He ends chapter four with a description of the transfer of the Bilingual Education Act from Title VII of the Elementary Secondary Education Act to Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act and the implications of this change in terms of the original intent and vision of the bill.
Regardless of the reader’s political affiliation, philosophical standing, or preferred method of language instruction, this historic account is useful to the policymaker, voter, or educator interested in bilingual education. A point San Miguel documents best is that the bilingual education debate is not only about instructional methods, but about much larger philosophical arguments over language rights, cultural inclusion, and political representation. In an era of increasing immigration to states with and without bilingual education infrastructures in their schools, this book provides a glimpse of how generations of government and communities have responded to this underresearched and misunderstood policy.