Topic: Why Richard Rodriguez opposes bilingual education
Thesis: It is impossible for a person aspiring to succeed in America to hold on to their past selves while becoming something new
Radical self-transformation is key.
Use W.E.B. Dubois’ argument
Counter-argument made by bilinguists
Why bilingual education fails
“The scholarship boy” and the paradox
Implication: The American dream is a big contradiction because what is most valued here: diversity and former identities and cultures, that prevents us from achieving our full potential
“…the immigrant’s only opportunity for integration into American culture depends on his or her willingness to relinquish the markers of his previous identity” (Gerbert 85).
“Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission” (DuBois 4).
“…education requires radical self-reformation” (Rodriguez 67).
“A primary reason for my success in the classroom was that I couldn’t forget that schooling was changing me and separating me from the life I enjoyed before becoming a student” (Rodriguez 45).
“He has used education to remake himself” (Rodriguez 65).
Proponents of bilingual education believe that assimilation destroys individuality, thus that it is important to make ‘alien’ language public language. Bilingual education proponents claim that “they want students to acquire good schooling” (Rodriguez 34). The word “acquire” makes it seem like education is a commodity or an object, something that one simply takes. There lies the fundamental problem. Education is not something that someone receives, but rather, as mentioned before, a process of transformation, self-reformation. The bilingual education argument is that children should maintain their native language in school to avoid being alienated from others, and more importantly, to “retain a sense of their individuality” (34). They keep emphasizing the fact that a student should always keep in touch with his/her roots, his/her culture. It’s a contradictory claim; how can children stay as an individual and not be distinguished from others? The proponents argue that making ‘alien’ language public language will allow students to keep up in class and thus be successful in the future. In their eyes, assimilation to the ‘American way’ destroys individuality, but according to Rodriguez, that is a fallacy.
“So they do not realize that while one suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by becoming assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality” (Rodriguez 26).
Most of page 27
“…reminding him of the ethnicity he seeks to escape through education” (Gebert 83).
“When he is older and thus when so little of the person he was survives” (Rodriguez 66).
“If, because of my schooling, I had grown culturally separated from my parents, my education finally had given me ways of speaking and caring about that fact” (Rodriguez 74).
There is no denying that the key to becoming successful in America, at least from Richard Rodriguez’s point of view, is to shed one’s former identity and take up his/her public individuality, the aspect that allows one to become notable and renowned. However, the idea that we must give up everything we came to America with: our culture, language, religion, ideals, beliefs, habits, is antithetical to the ideals of the American Dream. How? America prides itself on being a giant melting pot, or fruit salad, of people who are very different yet all driven by the same purpose: to achieve the American Dream. Thus, we all want to be as diverse as possible and even share some of our aspects of ourselves to other people. But Rodriguez crushes this ideal by stating that our former identity has no place in America, at least if we want to be successful. This is the ultimate price to pay; what matters to us more: our private individuality, or our public individuality, along with success? If the American dream is really just a big contradiction, what does this mean for the rest of us? Rodriguez was one of the lucky few who was able to achieve success despite his upbringing and ethnicity, would this pattern be easily replicable by the rest of America? What we value most: diversity and former identities and cultures, is what’s hindering us from achieving our full potential. There needs to be a solution.
Becoming successful is a result of more than just education, but radical self-transformation through education. It is common for successful people like Richard Rodriguez or Benjamin Franklin to talk about the importance of education in achieving one’s goals, but that only scrapes the surface of the full process that one must undergo in order to be successful. Attaining a higher level of well-being, whether it be wealth or fame or happiness, requires a slow, consistent process of transforming into a “higher” person. Particularly in the matter of education, Rodriguez makes it very clear that “education requires radical self-reformation” (Rodriguez 67). “Self-reformation” means to take yourself and mold yourself into something greater than the person you currently are; he even emphasizes that this is a requirement! W.E.B. DuBois agrees with this point, especially when he critiques Booker T. Washington, who “represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission” (DuBois 4). This phrase “old attitude” implies that there is a former concept of complacency and conformity that is decaying and is no longer relevant to the current situation. DuBois also makes it quite clear what it means to be educated, and that is to do the opposite of just submitting, which is to radically transform oneself. Both DuBois and Rodriguez had to undergo a long, drawn-out process of education in order to reach the level of success that they held, and this process is to “[use] education to remake [oneself]” (Rodriguez 65). Taking up a new identity is the reality of reaching one’s goals, and this idea is directly opposed by proponents of bilingual education.
Bilingual education fails because proponents’ understanding of individuality is too simplistic and doesn’t underscore the complexity of the situation. Proponents of bilingual education, to recap, have the idea that transforming oneself, assimilating, destroys the individuality within. This would be true if individuality only consisted of the former culture of the individual, or what Rodriguez refers to as “private individuality”. Rodriguez, however, states that “they do not realize that while one suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by becoming assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality” (Rodriguez 26). This public individuality that Rodriguez is talking about is also the aspect of his life that allows him to be successful in the first place. Proponents of bilingual education “equate mere separateness with individuality” (27), and that one small misconception leads to their entire argument being a farce. It’s too simplistic to assume that human beings only have one type of individuality. In reality, we have many different forms of our individuality, and the two most prominent ones are our private and public aspects of our individuality. However, there is an interesting relationship that connects these two aspects of our being.
A person’s two aspects of his/her individuality, private and public, are mutually exclusive and both of them can’t be prominent at the same time. Rodriguez continuously brings up the idea of radical self-transformation, but what does that have to do with the title of his autobiography, “Hunger of Memory”? What is he so “hungry” to remember in the first place? It turns out that this reformation of himself came at a very high price: the loss of his former self, his private individuality. The people around him, his family, friends, classmates, teachers, “they expect - they want - a student less changed by his schooling” (Rodriguez 66). Clearly, from Rodriguez’s word choice and tone, there is no fathomable way for a student to not be completely be changed by his schooling, to be completely altered in his being. Lizabeth Gebert supplants this by stating that “these uncomfortable markers of difference keep reminding him of the ethnicity he seeks to escape through education” (Gebert 83). He wants to escape his ethnicity “through education”! This also relates to “the scholarship boy” paradox within the story: that all of his loved ones want Rodriguez to succeed and get the best education, yet they scorn him and put him down when education changes him completely. The pinnacle of irony comes when Rodriguez claims that “because of [his] schooling, [he] had grown culturally separated from [his] parents, [his] education finally had given [him] ways of speaking and caring about that fact” (Rodriguez 74). The only way Rodriguez could understand this phenomenon of being utterly removed from the past self and taking up the public individuality is for him to undergo it himself! He has to be culturally separated in order to even realize that he is culturally separated, and that has scary implications for people all around.