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Wiley (2005) notes that heritage and community language education policies and practices have long received attention in the U.S., though not under the currently popular “heritage language” label. Heritage language concerns have been alive among indigenous groups in America, with a high proportion of American Indian children engaged in heritage language schooling, from prenursery to college institutions, under tribal control or with tribal input (McCarty & Zepeda, 1998). Many immigrant communities have also educated their young in ethnic heritage schools. Fishman (2001: 86) cites a 1902 Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Education, which stated that there were 3,984 German ethnic heritage elementary schools with 318,000 students in the U.S. in the years 1900-1901. He explains that:

By the end of the 19th century, as public schools rapidly multiplied and spread, particularly throughout the Midwest, the number of schools that taught German and that were officially German-English bilingual public elementary schools began to equal the number of nonpublic ethnic heritage schools. The legal basis for such public elementary schools was explicitly incorporated into state education law in many states. An example is the Nebraska education law of 1913, just before the outbreak of World War I, which permitted such bilingual public schools to be established (in English plus any other language) when requests to do so were received from the parents of 50 pupils in urban areas.

The outbreak of World War I led to such a severe public backlash against foreigners (particularly Germans) that many ethnic heritage schools were closed, both voluntarily and by state directives. Fishman (2001: 86) observes that German is a prime example of how U.S. foreign policy and other national interests can affect language education.

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