The European Union just issued a report conceding that English is turning into the primary language of millennial Europe. Will the French recover from this blow? That’s one question. But the more important question is this: Will California and the rest of the U.S. finally come to the same conclusion?
This June, Californians will vote on Proposition 227, which essentially repeals bilingual education in the state’s public schools. Sponsored by Ron Unz, a millionaire software entrepreneur not known to be anti-immigrant, Prop. 227 is flying high in the polls as an "English for the Children" ballot initiative with national repercussions. After two decades, it seems the old guilt-tripping tactics of the teachers lobby and entrenched Hispanic power bases are just not working anymore.
Unnerved by Prop. 227’s popularity, the Clinton Administration this week declared itself opposed and offered a counterproposal that would save the conceptual heart of bilingual ed.
States have been left to their own devices in implementing a federal law requiring special language instruction for non-English speakers. Never mind the confusing name; bilingual education has come to mean not bilingualism but spending most of every school day studying in a language other than English–which usually means Spanish. (Around 74% of students who have tested as having a limited English proficiency are Hispanic). Over a generation a well-funded, militant bureaucracy has sprung up to make its living from the fuzzily constructed federal directive. Districts receive extra money for these programs and bonus payments for teachers of bilingual education.
The programs don’t work. Even after five to seven years, a typical stretch, kids often end up without a full understanding of the language they will need to work in a country whose lingua franca happens to be English. But in most cases neither three nor seven years are necessary to learn English, especially not by children. Neither our forefathers needed years of special-ed nor do recent Asian immigrants, who usually avoid bilingual programs if they have a choice, instead favoring English tutoring at privately run community centers.
The economic disaster awaiting Spanglish speakers has just been outlined in a study by two labor economists, Mark Lopez and Marie Mora. While they caution that some of the programs have changed over time, there seems no question that Latino kids enjoying the supposed benefits of bilingual education ended up with the lowest test scores, highest drop-out rates and lowest admission rates to colleges. Unsurprisingly, the earnings of first-generation graduates of bilingual education is around 63% of those students enrolled in all-English programs.
Building on the changing tone in California, the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C., is now drawing attention to the public schools in Albuquerque N.M., which has its own surreal concept of lingual equality. In Albuquerque, all groups are treated equally unfairly. According to the Center, Latino students whose primary language is English have ended up getting stuck in Spanish bilingual programs in Albuquerque because of their origins. Again, bear in mind there is special cash flow attached to students herded into these programs.
Albuquerque is just the most flagrant example of the bureaucratic creation of Spanglish as a third language, spoken within carefully crafted educational ghettos. New Mexico state law at the moment even mandates a different educational program for Hispanic students. The Equal Opportunity center has just filed a lawsuit asserting that such segregation is unconstitutional and demanding that the program be changed. Hispanic parents are stepping forward as eager plaintiffs.
The same enthusiasm for liberation from the bilingual industry is seen in the recent poll numbers for California’s Proposition 227, with 77% of all voters backing the initiative. Among Latinos, "yes" votes are running close to 60%.
Very likely support will only grow as the Prop. 227 debate surfaces more fascinating stories of nearly inconceivable bureaucratic chaos. Our favorite: An African-American dad in Oakland comes to pick up his five-year-old, English-speaking son one afternoon from kindergarten in San Francisco and is baffled to discover the child is in a class whose teacher is speaking Cantonese. He asks for a transfer. Can’t, the principal tells him. Reason: There is no all-English kindergarten class at the school. (The further Orwellian details may be found in an April 11 story by Lori Olszewski in the San Francisco Chronicle–www.sfgate.com/search/)
"This state has eliminated affirmative action, so my son is going to have to be at the top of his education to go places in life," said the boy’s father. That is the voice of a sensible man being overwhelmed by our modern politics of nonsense. We guess we know how he is going to vote on Prop. 227.