We get letters:

Military historian James Hinds didn’t care for my recent column on the shortcomings of bilingual education in the Clark County School District. In a commentary on this page last week, he came to the program’s defense and attacked ‘English-only chauvinists.’

It looks like I’m in good company. Dr. LeRoy Bernstein, a local pediatrician, was moved to write about the deleterious effects of bilingualism cultivated by our schools.

‘Working with children, it bothers me to see Latino children so frequently significantly behind their peers academically,’ he writes. ‘I have patients, recent arrivals in the United States from places as diverse as Russia and Cambodia, who, within months of their arrival are able to communicate at least passably in English. Not so the Spanish-speaking population, some of whom have been in the United States for over 20 years.

‘Latinos who are not enjoying economic success are hampered by slavishly adhering to Spanish rather than insisting on their learning the language spoken by the vast majority.’

While Mr. Hinds is undoubtedly correct in suggesting that ‘literacy in two languages is better than command of only one,’ there is no empirical evidence that bilingualism, as taught here, helps to promote facility in either English or Spanish. Too often, bilingual pupils speak neither language very well.

As another reader put it: ‘If we, as a society, are truly interested in keeping the ethnic melting pot well stirred, then immersion programs need to be strengthened.’

That melting pot analogy is not a politically kosher item on the multicultural menu, of course. And therein lies the problem.

The Review-Journal was chided this week (Dec. 14 letters to the editor) for having the temerity to inquire about local PTA finances. Invoking God, Mom and apple pie, two PTA officials assailed the Review-Journal for questioning the work of a 100-year-old organization. The paper’s request for information was characterized as both hyperactive and ill-mannered. Hrrmph!

The questions, however, remain unanswered. Preferring to play a fiscal shell game with the school district, the local PTA leadership is essentially saying: ‘Trust us, we’re doing it for the kids.’

Some lower-echelon PTA members have a different story. Parents report that PTA checks are routinely made out personally to principals. Spending is heavily influenced by teachers, with funds even being requested for staff training. Moms and dads who don’t go along with the program find themselves voted out of office _ or shunned.

As with PTOs (Parent Teacher Organizations), PTA fund-raisers do rake in impressive sums, totaling $ 50,000 or more at some campuses. Some of the more affluent chapters even share the wealth, sponsoring ‘sister schools’ in poorer areas of town.

While the motive may be noble, parents such as Betty Johnson wonder if the chase for cash is out of control. She notes that Deskin Elementary School has up to 20 fund-raisers a year, enlisting children as solicitors and intruding on class time. Parents, like the Review-Journal, get the silent treatment when they make inquiries about the proceeds and the priorities.

The PTA’s rejection of a thorough outside audit raises a big red flag, especially in the wake of allegations that a former state president misappropriated funds. The stubborn unwillingness to open its books to the public (which it presumes to serve) only compounds the perception that this organization has something to hide. Protestations of martyrdom will only buy you so much time.

Ken Ward is a free-lance writer who covers education. His column appears every other Friday.

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