The new wedge issue in California is the “English Language Education for Immigrant Children” initiative. It proposes to abolish bilingual education and will probably appear on the ballot in 1998.

The proponents of the anti-bilingual education initiative, Ron Unz and Gloria Matta Tuchman, may very well be sincere when they say they want to help children. But, if passed, the initiative will unleash further attacks on the public-education system.

For the most part, bilingual-education programs do what they’re supposed to do — help immigrant kids enter the mainstream. They assist kids from non-English speaking backgrounds to acquire English-language skills. Successful examples have depended on a commitment from the local administration, and resources from the school district, to make such programs work.

One of the most successful models originated at Eastman Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. It evolved into Project M.O.R.E., and now this curriculum is used at several other schools.

Admittedly, bilingual education has in some cases has been flawed in its implementation.

Occasionally, school bureaucracy pits teacher against teacher, favoring those with bilingual skills. This too often sets Latino professionals against their Black and White peers.

There must be parity, and the system cannot ignore the years of hard work put in by teachers at the expense of making thoughtless staffing decisions.

Yet this does not invalidate the overall worth of bilingual education. The trick is in getting the details right, not in scrapping the entire undertaking.

African Americans need to support bilingual education and vote this initiative down. If not for altruistic reasons, then for pragmatism’s sake, since an attack on bilingual education is just the first step in renewed onslaught against the public education system.

We need to recognize an assault on minorities when we see one. And we need to improve an assault on public schools, where most of us send our kids.

Right-wing forces are sensing the opportunity. Groups such as the Christian Coalition want to gut public schools by transferring public money to religious and other private schools. Does anybody remember Proposition 174? That was an initiative to enact vouchers in California in 1993. That effort failed.

The fight against bilingual education is just another example to weaken public schools.

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