It’s not every day that inner-city Hispanics, grassroots conservatives, and liberal activists find themselves on the same team. But these are the troops that have rallied in California to fight bilingual education—one of the many educational fads to begin in that state (like self-esteem mongering) and survive there despite manifest failure, thanks to a politically potent "education" establishment.
Just how politically potent is about to be put to the test. A ballot-initiative campaign called "English for the Children" was kicked off last month. If successful, all instruction in California public schools would be in English (unless parents go out of their way to seek a waiver). If English for the Children volunteers can collect 433,269 signatures on their petitions by Nov. 24, Californians will get to vote on the initiative during special elections next June.
The ballot measure is being jointly promoted by Ron Unz, the maverick Republican who opposed Gov. Pete Wilson in the 1994 primary and Gloria Matta Tuchman, a famously successful teacher of English to Latino first-graders in Santa Ana. Unz predicted that "bilingual education in California has 11 months of existence left," and polling suggests that his prediction is on target. A Center for Equal Opportunity poll last year found that 81 percent of Latino parents prefer that their children’s courses be taught in English. Only 12 percent prefer Spanish. A June Los Angeles Times poll similarly found that 83 percent of Latino parents in Orange County favor English-language instruction as soon as their children begin school. A paltry 17 percent prefer native-language instruction.
Other political winds are favorable, too. Advocates for immigrants’ rights who would once have reflexively backed the bilingual theorists are lining up behind Unz and Tuchman. Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest and director of Las Familias del Pueblo, a skid-row children’s center, told a columnist of the weekly New Times Los Angeles of her support for the ballot initiative: "This is the first politically incorrect thing I have ever done in my life." According to Callaghan, "the knee-jerk liberal response is that bilingual education helps children, they learn two languages. But in fact these children are learning only one language: Spanish."