Ron Unz says leading advocates of bilingual education secretly support his goal of stamping out the practice of using students’ native languages in classrooms.
But, he says, they can’t say so publicly for fear of losing their jobs.
Before launching Proposition 227, the original English for the Children initiative in California, Unz interviewed several experts in the field. All, he claims, agreed with him.
Unz declined to name some of the experts, saying their talks were confidential.
But he did name seven. All told The Denver Post that Unz either misunderstood or intentionally misrepresented their views.
Stanford University education professor Kenji Hakuta and San Francisco civil-rights lawyer Peter Roos say they spent an entire lunch trying to persuade Unz to cancel the initiative because they believed a year was too little time to learn a new language. They were stunned when Unz assumed they would join his campaign.
“I don’t think he ever listened,” Hakuta says. “Mr. Unz lives in a world of delusion,” Roos adds.
“Unz twisted what I said,” Stephen D. Krashen, a University of Southern California professor and author of “Condemned Without Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education,” told The Post.
“I made it clear that I think bilingual education is doing well. I never agreed that bilingual education was not working. I did not say anything to him in that conversation that I have not said in public and in print.”
It’s “really unfortunate that Ron is saying that,” says another of Unz’s cited sources, Charles Kamasaki, senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic rights group in Washington.
La Raza leaders praised Unz when he ran for governor of California in 1994 opposing a ballot proposition denying state services to undocumented immigrants.
They gave him a thorough briefing on bilingual education in early 1998. Kamasaki says they agreed with Unz that immigrants should learn English and conceded that 20 percent to 30 percent of the nation’s bilingual education programs are flawed.
But Kamasaki says they emphasized that those flaws merely mirror the flaws of schools that serve poor people: inadequate buildings, untrained teachers and lethargic administrators.
“To make the assertion, as he does, that bilingual education is the cause of all these problems, is really extraordinarily misleading,” Kamasaki says.
Instead, bilingual education probably has kept huge numbers of Hispanics in school when they otherwise would have dropped out, Kamasaki says. “If your goal was not to educate these kids and get them out of school, the best way to do that was to educate them in a language they didn’t understand,” he says.
Kamasaki says he also is angry that Unz gets Hispanics to spearhead his ballot initiatives – in Colorado that’s former Denver school board member Rita Montero – and tells reporters that a majority of Hispanics agree with him.
In fact, Hispanic voters rejected Proposition 227 by a 2-to-1 ratio, according to exit polls.
Unz’s explanation? Hispanics initially favored it but turned against it after a kiss-of-death endorsement by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, who had also supported the proposition denying services to undocumented immigrants.
“Being endorsed by the Antichrist is not the way to win Catholic voters,” Unz says.
In Arizona two years later, a similar but even more strongly worded initiative passed 925,415 to 542,942.
No statewide exit polling was done in Arizona, but The Arizona Daily Star found that in its Tucson circulation area, Hispanic areas and Indian reservations overwhelmingly opposed the initiative.