Teaching Spanish-Speaking Children in the 50s

As I was reconfiguring my library I came across a book titled Teaching Spanish-Speaking Children by L.S. Tireman, published in 1951. I was 10 and had just moved to Arizona. The book was in the library of Sul Ross State College in Alpine, Texas. All three people who checked it out had the same first name, “tocayas”: Catherine, Katherine, and Cath. They checked it out in 1955. What it says has great interest.

Just glancing at it, I noted the section on the relation between IQ and bilingualism. In it, he gives space to those who feel test results indicate a basic inferiority of Spanish-speaking children but he winds up giving weight to the experience of psychologists and educators who say any low scores stem from language problems and that bilingualism is not a hinderance.

Bilingualism is throughout labeled a “problem”. However, Tireman, a professor of ed at the U. of N.M. is obviously concerned that teachers not have a negative opinion of what he calls Spanish-speaking children. He mentions the term Latin-Americans and Hispano as interchangeable with Spanish-speaking and says that Mexican-American, while accurate, is not used! He is careful to distinguish Spanish-Americans of New Mexico from Mexican-Americans. All in all, he gives a pretty good account of these issues.

The discussion of bilingualism and intelligence is informed by a study of Welsh children in the U.K. It is so interesting to read of Welsh children being labeled in the same way Spanish-speaking children are here. That leads to Tireman’s discussion of prejudice toward these children. He mentions pigmentation of skin as a problem for “Anglo intolerance” b/c “Texas is a Southern state and, as such, has many of the traditional Southern attitudes toward the dark skin.” Refreshing to read an honest appraisal back then.

Most fascinating for us is that he cites studies showing that Spanish-speaking children can be brought up to norms early on but lose that in the intermediate grades; a phenomenon we still see today. And he has no answers and warns against dogmatic conclusions.

It’s interesting, too, that the two sections I have reviewed were highlighted (not with a highlighter; we didn’t have them back then) by whoever read the book.

I have a number of these old books, some from the 19th century, esp ones on teaching language. I’ll share more of them.

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