The voters of California, the state that started a nationwide tax revolt with Proposition 13 in 1978, and ended racial quotas in higher education with Proposition 209 just two years ago, have now enacted Proposition 227 to abolish bilingual education in the Golden State. The results were not even close (61-39 percent) and, perhaps most significant of all, a solid majority of Hispanic voters supported the proposal.
It is not difficult to see why. Bilingual education is one of those benevolent ideas that, in the long run, has done more harm than good. It is understandable that educators would wish to make things easier for young immigrant children by teaching them in their native language. But bilingual education, which began as a transitional aide to Spanish-speaking youngsters, soon became an end in itself, generating vast bureaucracies across the country, as well as political lobbies. Students were kept in non-English-speaking classes for years, rather than months, and the results were predictable: Many veterans of bilingual education have a poor, sometimes nonexistent, command of English, thereby closing doors to economic opportunity and higher education.
We have said this many times before, but it bears repeating. English is the predominant language spoken in the United States – it is also the chief language of global commerce and the Internet – and school-age children who arrive in the United States speaking a foreign tongue should be encouraged to learn English as soon as possible. This sink-or-swim philosophy may seem harsh, but it has served generations of immigrants from all over the world extremely well, and enabled them to dive into the mainstream of American life.
This is not “English-only” dogma, or a cultural scorched-earth policy. All citizens should strive to learn more than one language in their lifetime, and as anyone who has ever attended a Polish festival, Sons of Italy meeting or Cinco de Mayo parade, can attest, there has always been plenty of room in America for the celebration of ethnic roots. Proposition 227 is just plain common sense – and, with any luck, it will be one of those made-in-California ideas that spreads rapidly across the country.