I’m convinced that the concerted effort to end bilingual education in the United States is a step in the wrong direction.
I’m convinced as well that the attack on bilingual education serves the specific purpose of creating a political wedge in an election year that is hard pressed to keep the voter’s attention.
And I’m further convinced that the real issue at hand is not education or language but the growing influence of wealth in the settling of public policy.
In California multi-millionaire Ron Unz has brought his money to bear in a referendum in which the voters of the state will decide whether to end the state’s bilingual education programs. The much publicized debate over what is known as proposition 227 has been highlighted by the fact that a majority of California’s Hispanic voters are said to favor the initiative.
In Washington Rep. Tom Delay, of Sugarland, Texas, wants to completely eliminate the Education Department’s office of bilingual education, which operates under a $2 million budget. Delay’s point in doing this is that bilingual education is failing the children it is supposed to be helping.
The Clinton administration had been conspicuously silent on the issue until recently – a testament to both the power of the anti-bilingual forces and the well known political savvy of the president. This is a tough issue, a created issue that has less to do with governing than it does with posturing.
The truth is that bilingual education is a threat to no one. The truth is that if bilingual education is failing it is because of a want of property trained educators and of proper teaching tools for a bilingual setting. The truth is that the goal of bilingual education is to produce English speaking students who are able to transition into a mainstream classroom without falling behind in other areas of study.
Where does the mission of bilingual education get distorted? In politics, and in the backward habit of setting things up for failure by underfunding and overdemanding.
It’s interesting to note how both political parties have targeted the Hispanic community as a major battle ground in their fight for political control. The sheer numbers of new Hispanic voters, rightly or wrongly, has sent Republican and Democratic operatives scrambling for ideas to win their support. Republicans have eased their frontal attack on immigration, welfare and English Only, all of these so-called “Hispanic” issues. Newt Gingrich himself traveled to New Mexico to fight for the land rights of Mexican-American families. Democrats, on the other hand, have redoubled their efforts to position their candidates on the side of the immigrant, of the family and of that nebulous catch-all category called “Education.”
The issue that has been left in the open where both sides can safely differ is bilingualism. And it has been against bilingualism that Ron Unz has concentrated his millions to create a wedge in California, making it safe for Delay to strike in Washington, prompting the President to delay announcing his position on the matter until this week when he finally pronounced himself against California’s prop. 227.
The issue here is not bilingual education. Had it been so, had the interest truly been the teaching of English to second language learners, the debate would have been about how to better fund and equip the bilingual classroom.
This debate is about power and divisiveness. It is about creating an issue in a year when the electorate seems lulled in a deep complacency. It is, finally, about lip service payed to a community of voters who hold the power to decide an election, and who seem to defy any conventional political classification. No one is sure how the Latino voters will vote. All that is known is how they have voted in the past. The political variables are the thousands or recently naturalized immigrants who armed themselves with the power to vote out of a sense of outrage that the country to which they had devoted so much life and energy had suddenly turned it’s back on them.
The issued is not bilingual education, which when properly staffed and pr0perly funded is successful. The issue is the use of second language learners for a political end and the fabrication of a political wedge that does nothing but instill fear and divisiveness.
– Victor Landa is news director of KVDA-TV, Channel 60.