For Hispanic kids, education that aids their assimilation

Bilingual and bicultural education has become the gospel of many Hispanic appointees and program directors. It has been praised to such an extent that one might think the entire Hispanic population of the United States is crying for such programs, and that any Hispanic offering a protest would be immediately labeled a “Tio Taco” (“Uncle Tom”).

But the Hispanic-American community is not united behind bilingual and bicultural education. More and more parents have come to believe that such educational programs are destined to damn Hispanic children in the U.S. to a life of perpetual subservience.

The Chicago Board of Education has changed the name of the “Bilingual Education Department” to “Department of Languages and Cultural Education.” Hundreds of bilingual centers have been established, costing taxpayers an amazing $30 million.

Arguments against bilingual and bicultural education are strong and many. These programs, though supported by the State of Illinois and the federal government, are poorly executed. Some claim these experimental programs are based on sentimentality that is ballyhooed by economic interests, and that the results are cheap and disgusting.

Even though they speak for the Hispanic community, the program directors and the Board of Education were appointed, not elected. Will the parents of this segment of the school population allow their children to function as guinea pigs? They came here as Spanish and, by the decisions of the Board of Education and the state, they are kept Spanish.

The courts in California have now ruled against bilingual education as separate and unequal.

The Chicago system’s bilingual directors and appointees send their own children to private or parochial schools.

Nearly 100 staff members (Hispanic) hold doctoral degrees from a questionable, out-of-state diploma mill school.

The bilingual and bicultural-education teachers – often Anglos who know less Spanish than the children they are teaching – are trained in languages, not subject-matter teaching.

In bicultural education, it is never specified which culture will be taught, and only someone completely unfamiliar with the Hispanic-American would suggest that the Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans have the same culture, background or ethnic identities.

Seventy percent of Illinois’ “Hispanics” are Mexican-American; the balance are Puerto Rican, Cuban and South American.

A problem more serious than the program’s poor execution is the poverty of its entire philosophy. Because of an emphasis on bilingual and bicultural education rather than on a complete working grasp of English, Hispanic children will be destined to remain dishwashers, factory workers and lettuce pickers.

The key to ascending from poverty has always been assimilation with English speakers. There have never been state-sponsored Polish, German or Italian bilingual and bicultural programs. Culture is a luxury that should be absorbed at one’s own time and expense; the fact is that most Mexican-Americans would rather have a good job.

Now is the opportune moment to question the English proficiency of the many Latino educators involved in these programs – a proficiency mandatory in other states.

The goal of any minority group is integration into the mainstream of U.S. life. Presentation of culture, language and traditions aside, it should be remembered that the Latinos voluntarily left their homelands with their respective cultures, languages and inevitable poverty for a life in the United Sttates.

The logical conclusion of the present programs will be a situation as nasty as that of Quebec’s in Canada – a truly bilingual and bicultural French area that is now advocating separatism.

The Watergate revelations – specifically the memos of budget aide Frederic Malek – showed how the Nixon administration sought to manipulate Latino organizations and programs to its political advantage by using federal grants as bait. They illustrated the ease with which Latinos can be manipulated.

The Hispanic community should no longer tolerate politics in the education of its children. It should not stand idly by, watching its hopes damned for another generation.

Eli M. Baca is a Chicago free-lance writer who chairs the Joint Civic Committee on Mexican-American Affairs

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