There is an almost clockwork inevitability about it: 10 days after George Bush and the Republicans proudly junked their official English platform and declared themselves a party favoring bilingualism, the New York Times reports in its Sunday front page lead that California’s latest test-results show unmistakably that bilingual education holds children back academically.
Since this is not what the Times would like to report, the evidence underlying it must be presumed substantial. And indeed the Times story quotes chapter and verse to show that in the school districts where bilingual education was replaced by “English immersion” teaching, test scores rose dramatically — not simply in English but across the board. What is still more conclusive is that these test increases were at least double those achieved by the school districts, otherwise similar, where many students were allowed to remain in bilingual classes.
As the Times graciously concedes, these results effectively confirm the vision of Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who organized, financed and fought the campaign for Proposition 227 that enabled California voters to vote to end bilingual education. And they are likely to encourage similar anti-bilingualism votes in Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts and New York.
All this is excellent news on several grounds:
It is a rare victory for common sense and parental rights over the fads of the educational establishment. Research demonstrating the value of “bilingual ed” was always thin and suspect; whereas the universal experience of the human race demonstrates the value of “English immersion.” After all, immersion is how we all learn our native tongue.
It will smooth the entry of Spanish-speakers and other immigrants into full participation in the U.S. economy and American society. Nothing holds people back as brutally as being unable to speak the language of a country. And granting them the “right” to be addressed in their own language by the U.S. government — as President Clinton did 10 days ago when he signed an executive order creating such a right — only helps to keep them in an impoverished linguistic ghetto.
It will retard the drift toward a bilingual, balkanized and conflict-ridden America.
Alas, it is too early for even Unz to celebrate. For this is one piece of good news that will not be taken lying down. To begin with, the education establishment, which has staked its meager reputation on bilingual education, will seek to discredit the figures. Even in the Times story, the educators were already reciting their mantras — too many variables, too early to judge, smaller class sizes the real explanation, etc.
Then there are the local “bilingual ed” bureaucrats. Some of them have already found ways to avoid implementing the “English immersion” law. When 50 percent of children in a school district receive “waivers” from a legal requirement, as is the case in the California district of Vista, then the law is already being flouted. Yet, as the Times report deadpans, “the state has mounted little effort to measure compliance.”
And, finally, organizations such as La Raza and MALDEF will fight to preserve bilingualism in all its aspects with the argument that they are defending the rights and identities of Hispanic Americans against the cultural violence of assimilationism — or some such claptrap. Their real reasoning is more sinister. Learning to speak English is the first step to becoming an independent American citizen rather than the grateful client of an ethnic pressure group. And naturally La Raza and MALDEF can’t have that!
Fighting all these opponents will be a tough battle — the kind of battle in which the foot soldiers need strong political leadership. Unz has made a fine start. But he has a day job. And the task of preserving English as both the nation’s unifying language and the avenue of opportunity for new immigrants needs the support of a major political party. Since the Democrats are composed of ethnic pressure groups and hooked on “diversity” (the euphemism for balkanization), they cannot afford to attack the orthodoxy of bilingualism. It would split the party every which way.
That leaves the GOP, which used to favor defending English. But that stance was junked in Philadelphia, and George W. Bush has refused to endorse Unz’s Proposition 227 on the grounds that it is “divisive.” Seeking common ground acceptable to all shades of opinion, Bush supports “bilingual programs that work.” And in the light of California’s test scores, that policy is certainly bilingual — it consists entirely of doubletalk.