Once again, in passing the anti-bilingual education referendum, California voters have voiced at the ballot box misgivings shared by Americans across the country about a failed social policy. And once again, the forces of reaction have made plain their intention to defy common sense – not to mention the will of the people of California – to maintain the status quo.
There really is little question that bilingual education has been a miserable failure. It has failed demonstrably to fulfill the original goal claimed for it by proponents: that of helping non-English speaking (chiefly Hispanic) schoolchildren to learn English, and of equipping them ultimately to learn their academic subjects in English. In fact, children consigned to bilingual education have a way of getting stuck there for years on end, with no significant progress – and despite the wishes of their parents, in many cases.
The policy of teaching these children in their native language rather than immersing them in English as quickly as possible has also failed to equip these children to make their way successfully in American society. Studies by the University of Maryland and New Mexico State University have found that when bilingually educated children enter the work force, they start out earning a lot less and go on earning a lot less than their English schooled peers.
On Tuesday, Californians (including at least 40 percent of California Hispanics) resoundingly rejected that sorry state of affairs. Non-English speaking children attending schools in that state will learn English the way generations of immigrants before them did very successfully – by being exposed to it intensively in the classroom. That’s the way thousands of Italian, German, Chinese, and Yiddish-speaking children found their place in America, and often passed along their new linguistic achievements to their non-English speaking parents.
Despite the general success of pre-bilingual education teaching, and, more importantly, despite the undeniable failure of bilingual education, Bill Clinton has announced his opposition to Californians’ plans and his intention to take a close look at the initiative for Constitutional chinks. He is not alone. In fact, the lawsuit against the initiative was filed almost before the final vote was counted. Why?
Of course, in Mr. Clinton’s case, the fact that the teachers unions (rightly) regard the end of bilingual education as a danger to the bilingual ed teachers who pay their dues so faithfully has something to do with it. It’s no secret that the president has been as faithful to the unions – and their bank accounts – as they have been to him.
But there’s more than soft money involved -even in Mr. Clinton’s opposition. There is the view – strongly held by liberals of the 1960s (like Bill and Hillary Clinton) and now advanced against Proposition 227 – that the assimilation and integration of immigrants into American society is not a particularly desirable end.
The parents of bilingually-educated children know better. And the passing of Proposition 227 offers some hope that those parents will get what they’ve been begging for: schools that will teach their children English so as to give them a chance to make it in America.