A skid row community center was yanked from a USC language acquisition research project Tuesday, in part because of the center’s involvement in the campaign to qualify an anti-bilingual initiative for the June ballot.

Dean Guilbert Hentschke of the USC School of Education said disagreements had recently emerged between the professor in charge of the study and the director of the Las Familias del Pueblo center over plans to begin instructing small children in their native language–Spanish. But he acknowledged that politics also played a role in the university’s decision not to help build and study English tutorial programs at the center.

“We could do the same [research] in a non-politically charged environment,
so why do it in a politically charged environment?” Hentschke asked.

A $240,000 research grant was expected this month from the U.S. Department of Education as part of a package of grants being administered by the University of Michigan. Although USC maintains that it is not contractually committed to Las Familias, the grant was written specifically for the center, whose director, Alice Callaghan, said she has already promised jobs to people.

Callaghan accused USC of acting out of self-interest, citing other federal grants that it receives to study and coordinate bilingual programs.

“University of Southern California clearly has a lot financially at stake in bilingual education,” she said angrily. “They are one of the vested interests that will fight this initiative.”

She vowed to fight back in any way she can, including contacting the grant administrators to complain about the last-minute switch to another,
as-yet undetermined research site.

Callaghan, an Episcopal priest and lifelong liberal, joined the anti-bilingual cause out of concern for the struggling children of garment workers who populate the center’s after-school child-care program. In February 1996,
she organized a parent boycott of the nearby Ninth Street School, saying that campus administrators had refused to move the students into English-only classes in violation of district policy to respect parents’ wishes.

As a result, English-only classes were created for many of the children last fall.

More recently, Callaghan hosted the kickoff news conference for the “English for the Children” initiative being spearheaded by former conservative gubernatorial candidate Ron Unz. It was the latter that apparently pushed USC over the top.

Hentschke said the decision was made by associate professor David B.
Yaden alone, adding that Callaghan’s theories of pressure from higher up
“presumes that we have a lot more control of our faculty than we actually do.”

Yaden, who has been working with Callaghan since 1995 to design a tutorial program that would involve Spanish-speaking high school students and parents,
acknowledged that the escalating political involvement of Las Familias made him increasingly uncomfortable.

According to Yaden, he had long envisioned a program that would use Spanish as a bridge to English-language instruction.

“It’s always been clear to me Alice’s feeling about bilingual education,
but I think some of the disagreements came when we actually started to hammer out a specific curriculum,” he said. “Research shows . . . you have to start with what the children are familiar with. For children being raised in a Spanish-speaking environment, Spanish is a beginning point.”

Such notions of an eleventh-hour parting of philosophies particularly infuriated Callaghan.

“That’s simply not true!” she said. “Why would we be teaching the children to read and write Spanish here when our whole two years has been spent trying to figure out how to teach them English when they have only Spanish at home?”

She contended that Yaden had given her many signs of supporting the approach:
actively encouraging the center to put English words on the walls to expose children to the written language and promising to buy additional English-language materials with the grant money.

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