I was talking to an attractive Hispanic girl as I walked up the stairs of my school, a new student who was beginning seventh grade. She was all smiles, excited about the upcoming year, a cheery presence in the somewhat battered corridors of this older middle school.
I asked her if she was a bilingual student.
The smile vanished, replaced by a look of indignation.
“I’m not stupid!” She said emphatically.
When I explained that I was the bilingual teacher, she let it go. We resumed our banter. But this is one aspect of Illinois bilingual programs that never seems to hit the radar and I think it should. What is the effect of being in a bilingual program for year after year? One effect is having to deal with the contempt of those students who passed the exit test long ago, or those students whose parents withdrew them from the program as quickly as possible. In other words, one effect is being made to feel stupid by your peers.
I can just see this likable girl telling a friend at lunch, “she’s still in the bilingual program,” while the two of them make small moues of disgust. The Hispanics don’t associate much with the African-Americans here and, interestingly enough, the “regular” students and bilingual students keep apart too. Some of this partition is a natural consequence of having separate classes, but I’d be willing to bet that “I’m not stupid!” figures in as well.