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The Politics of Bilingual Education

A reader's experience leads him to question the premise of our recent article on bilingual education in schools.

I can't help thinking that Angilee Shah picked the data that would support her bias on bilingual education rather than approaching the issue with an open mind ("A New School of Thought," July-August 2010). During a year in Paris, my brother and I attended 10th and seventh grades, respectively, at the international section of the Lycee de Sevres. For English speakers, the bilingual teaching lasted all of three months. For the many non-English-speaking students from around the world, the teaching was effectively immersion, although we all benefited from simple but very effective audiovisual French lessons. Everyone was comfortable in French by Christmastime and quite fluent by the end of the school year, contrary to those who think bilingual ed needs to continue for years.

Conversely, my sister, then 3, learned no French at all at a bilingual nursery school. Years later, my parents returned to Paris, where my sister attended 10th grade in a bilingual school, again learning no French. She began speaking French only after she put herself into a French school.

In her "analysis," Shah failed to control for confounding variables, such as individual instruction. Of course kids learn better with individual instruction, but just because you mix that up with bilingual education doesn't mean the bilingual education is responsible for the benefits.

One danger of forcing bilingual education to grow beyond a niche is that it would reduce the pool of exceptional teachers. Anytime teachers have to meet additional requirements, there will be fewer teachers who meet those requirements. That would be fine if the extra requirements selected for people with superior teaching abilities. But speaking a second language does not, outside of teaching that language.

Part of my skepticism about bilingual ed comes from my sense that the movement is fueled more by political goals having to do with immigration than by a genuine desire to help kids learn. For example, in the mid-'00s, The Boston Globe quoted a Hispanic leader saying that bilingual ed's importance lay in teaching his community's children their heritage.

In any event, Shah's article was short on critical thinking — in sharp contrast to most of the rest of your reporting. I'm disappointed that you would relax your standards.

David C. Holzman
Lexington, Mass.

The reason for Cyber Command
Although [it's] interesting to see an article downplaying the threats of cyber-terrorism and cyber-attacks ("Don't Panic. It's Only the Internet." September-October 2010), an important distinction must be made as to the Department of Defense's purpose in creating U.S. Cyber Command. Many of the nonmilitary cyberthreats, such as those to banking networks or the stock exchange, will still be managed and investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Defense Department's goal with U.S. CYBERCOM is to protect the .mil domain infrastructure and thousands of DoD networks worldwide.

Our national security depends on a delicate infrastructure of secret Internets like the Intelink, the U.S. Intelligence Communities secret Internet, and the SIPRNet, the military's secret Internet, where stolen data can be devastating to men and women on the battleground.

Dave Pearsonis an emergency room physician in Charlotte, N.C., and a member of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team.

Your next reading assignment: the Stanford cyber-security draft
[Michael Scott] Moore is fantastically optimistic that governments can "make sure major control systems ... are not connected to the public Web" and that this would solve the larger problem of cybersecurity. Moreover, he mistakenly assumes that any treaty would necessarily be as intrusive or constraining as those proposed by Adm. McConnell or the Russians.

He is right that claims of imminent cyberwar or cyber-pocalypse are overblown, but it will, in fact, be necessary to formalize international cooperation on the problem if the Internet is to continue to operate freely and openly as it does now. Moore, however, is wrong that "a hacker who can set a logic bomb can also cover his tracks"; this is largely due to the lack of cooperation among countries, rather than something intrinsic to the Internet. In particular, while individual hackers may be tough to find, it is entirely possible to sanction non-cooperating countries.

Cooperation is both necessary and feasible, but it has to be the right sort of cooperation. There is a solid proposal for such, the Stanford draft, which is modeled on the agreements governing civil aviation. The Stanford draft takes the Internet as is and does not seek to reshape or restructure it or to enhance governments' abilities to collect data on states. It helps make the Internet a safer place for ordinary users, not governments and militaries.

M. Townes

Praying that Vegas never opens a Middle East branch
I must say that I can't believe how greedy people are. They talked about how they would run the pipeline from the Red Sea and then they want to build a copy of Las Vegas alongside the pipeline ("Resurrecting the Dead Sea," September-October 2010). Are they crazy? Don't they realize that this will defeat the purpose? Where do they think they are going to get the power to run the lights, games and water for the tourists?

I couldn't believe that the Jordan River is nothing more than a sewer. I broke down and cried while I was reading this article. I really hope that they can come up with an idea that will work — without adding any more hotels or crops — before that whole area goes down in a sinkhole.

I'll be praying for them.

Mary Ann Coute

Make the trains fast and the routes short
I'm Spanish and have used AVE [high-speed rail] since its introduction to travel from Seville to Madrid ("A Track to the Future," September-October 2010). It is still not a way to travel through the country, but it is the best choice for 300- to 400-kilometer trips. To translate it to your country, [high-speed rail] has to be made to connect short distances. Don't think to connect all the country at once! To move from one coast to the other you will always prefer to fly, so only the heavy-traffic routes should be executed first.

And most important: Can you reach the business center of your cities with railways and build a rail station there? Otherwise, the benefits we have in Spain (reaching the real center of our cities faster than by flying) won't be of use.

Guido Cimadomo

No, Thank You. All of you.
We recently sent e-mail surveys to 3,478 Miller-McCune subscribers and 6,570 readers, receiving 1,477 responses that will help us improve both publications. Thanks, genuinely, to all the participants, including Kevin Vodak of Chicago, the lucky survey respondent randomly chosen to receive a free 32-gigabyte iPad. "Thank you so much for the good news, and for your good work," Vodak wrote us. "Miller-McCune provides a great service to those of us interested in research-based analysis, cutting through the political rhetoric on a number of issues."