Letter to the Editor: Bilingual education key to reducing academic prejudice

By Shiwei Zhang

As an immigrant student, I am deeply moved by columnist Shankari Sureshbabu’s piece, “Immigrants Can Use Big Words Too.”

In her article, Sureshbabu responds to the unfortunate case of Tiffany Martinez, a Latina student from Suffolk University in Boston who was falsely accused of plagiarism due to the sophistication of her word choice.

While Sureshbabu calls for acceptance and equality for the immigrant students, I want to bring your attention to the root of our struggle with the linguistic gap and a potential solution for such problems.

According to National Center of Education Statistics, Latino elementary and secondary students continue to score over 20 points lower than their white peers in both reading and math for decades.

This disturbing achievement gap might provide some explanations to the action of Tiffany Martinez’s professor — our educators’ beliefs are shaped by their experiences. But what caused the gap in the first place? An obvious answer might be that we never had the access to an adequate linguistic transition which is crucial to academic success.

I can still recall my own rocky journey as an English Second Language student in the sixth grade. I was taken out of my regular classes and placed in a classroom with other ESL students, where we struggled to understand instructions given in a language that we were foreign to in the first place.

Multiple studies on bilingual education programs have demonstrated that a successful two-way language immersion not only leads to visible academic success, but also meets the psychological need of minority students to appreciate their native origin while adapting to their identity as American citizens.

More importantly, such an education system would expose educators to a truly inclusive environment, thus discouraging the prejudice of Tiffany Martinez’s professor.

Shiwei Zhang is a freshman in LAS.