I my parens per mi in dis shool en I so I feol essayrin too old in theshool my border o reri can grier das mony putni gire and I sisairinaliro sceer.
No, this is not an encrypted message from Mars. As Glenn Garvin recently reported in Reason magazine, these words are from a paper by a Los Angeles public-school student with six years of bilingual education.
“The school district says this boy is doing very well, and he’s nearly ready to leave bilingual classes,
Says Alice Callaghan. “As far as I’m concerned, that says it all.” Mrs. Callaghan, who runs the Las Familias del Pueblo family center in LA’s garment district, told Mr. Garvin she’s a Teddy Kennedy liberal. Like so many others across the ideological spectrum, she is fed up with bilingual methods that often leave kids equally tongue-tied in English and their native languages. Mrs. Callaghan’s frustration helped fuel a 1996 boycott at LA’s Ninth Street Elementary School. She encouraged Hispanic parents to keep 90 children home for two weeks to express their anger at bilingual programs that have turned classrooms into linguistic ghettoes.
Up and down the Golden State, the sun is setting on bilingual education. Recent administrative decisions and a popular ballot measure soon may end bilingual ed as we know it.
In February 1997, California’s Orange Unified School District began replacing its bilingual program with English-language immersion. In a Nov. 4 referendum, 86 percent of voters endorsed this move. Three smaller Orange County school districts also have scrapped bilingualed.
Responding to a petition by the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Center for Equal Opportunity, the California State Board of Education on March 12 ended its bilingual mandate for limited-English-proficient students. Local school districts no longer need Sacramento’s permission to scuttle bilingual programs and employ intensive-English methods.
On June 2, California voters may hammer yet another nail into the bilingual coffin. The English for the Children Initiative, sponsored by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, would require English instruction for nearly all public-school students. According to a March 19 Field Poll of 727 likely California voters, support for Proposition 227 has climbed to 70 percent with 20 percent opposed. Significantly, 61 percent of Hispanics back the plan as do 63 percent of blacks and 75 percent of those of Asian ancestry. Such widespread minority support has shielded Prop. 227 from the usual charge that it was hatched by crafty, right-wing bigots.
In fact, the measure’s Honorary Chairman is Jaime Escalante, the legendary East Los Angeles mathematics instructor portrayed by Edward James Olmos in the film “Stand and Deliver.” Endorsing the measure, Mr. Escalante said, “my own experiences as a teacher lead me to believe that these programs are a negative factor for most immigrant children, who instead should be taught English while they are young.”
Last October, Mark Hugo Lopez of the University of Maryland and Marie T. Mora of New Mexico State University analyzed data on 1,251 people who graduated high school in 1982. They found that in 1991, foreign-born, bilingually-educated Hispanics averaged $19,240 annually. Those taught in English averaged $26,794. They also discovered a similar disparity among the American-born children of Hispanic immigrants.
Fernando Vega, a Democratic party activist and former Clinton/ Gore campaign organizer, is fighting to keep his grandchildren on the right side of this gap. The 73-year-old native Texan became an active foe of bilingual education after the native-born, English-speaking children of his own American kids were placed in Spanish classrooms. Mr. Vega is now Prop. 227’s Northern California Regional Honorary Chairman. “I’m an American first,” he says by phone. “I am very proud of my Hispanic ancestry and then I’m a Democrat, in that order. I felt that the Democrats have let down our kids.”
With even Ted Kennedy’s and Bill Clinton’s fans abandoning bilingual education, where can its supporters turn for relief? Chicago and Denver are curbing their programs. Things even look grim in Brooklyn where 150 Hispanic families sued to free their kids from bilingual classrooms.
Well, there’s always Capitol Hill. Rather than junking this increasingly disdained policy, the Republican Congress listened to its knocking knees and cracked open the public check book. Within the fiscal year 1998 Department of Education budget, the GOP Congress approved $354 million in federal Title VII bilingual funds, a $93 million, 35 percent increase since fiscal 1997.
Once again, the GOP Congress is swimming furiously against the twin tides of public opinion and the beliefs of the Republican rank and file. Nevertheless, it looks as if another trendy educational experiment will tumble into the sea. In its wake, schools should teach kids English in English. This will prepare them to compete in a nation where English dominates and on a planet where English ascends. With any luck, and no thanks to the Republican Revolution, bilingual education will sink as have New Math, Whole Language and other pedagogical fantasies. Hasta lavista, baby!
Deroy Murdock is an MSNBC columnist.