If all one knew about the current debate over bilingual education was garnered from reading the recent Roberto Rodriguez and Patrisia Gonzales column entitled “California Referendum Targeting Bilingual Education”, one would think that only xenophobic zealots who hate immigrants and their children could possibly support the evil Proposition 227. One is left dumbfounded, thinking: Where could the idea for such a thing possibly come from?
In fact, there are plenty of good reasons why Proposition 227, which would limit bilingual education in California, enjoys broad support, and not suprisingly, all of them or any references to them are conspicously absent from the abovementioned column. However, it isn’t proper to let such disingenuous editorializing go unchallenged.
In the very beginning of their piece, Rodriguez and Gonzales set up a straw man so they can knock him over, asking a group of children if it’s better to know one language or two. The children, of course, say, “Two,” and the columnists triumphantly declare that children must be smarter than the backers of Prop. 227.
The implication, of course, is that backers of 227 think it’s better to know only one language — which is utter nonsense. Many of the backers of 227 are themselves bilingual and would probably tell you it would be better to be trilingual.
What they object to is not what the average person would conjure up in his or her mind when hearing the phrase, “bilingual education,” but a particular kind of bilingual education where the children are taught almost entirely in Spanish, with only a smattering of English.
The most egregious omission by Rodriguez and Gonzales in this context is that the major force behind the attempt to reform bilingual education comes from immigrant parents who want their children to learn English. Most of all, they object to the fact that schools often place their children in “bilingual” classes against their express wishes, and make it relatively difficult for them to get the kids out (especially if the parents themselves don’t speak English very well).
Appallingly, the column criticizes 227 author Ron Unz for not understanding the “emotional trauma of children who are continually denigrated and ostracized for not knowing or mastering English.” It is exactly this situation which parents are trying to avoid, by getting their children into classrooms that emphasize English.
The worst criticism of bilingual education they can offer, on the other hand, is that there isn’t enough spent on it. There is no mention of the relative absence of English instruction in many classes, or the practice of many schools of putting many kids with Hispanic last names in “bilingual” classes, whether they speak Spanish or not; or even (as reported by the San Fransisco Examiner) the practice of putting black students into bilingual classes taught in a language they don’t speak, just to increase enrollments.
They do, however, make much of the fact that Prop. 227 contains provisions for its enforcement, including the possibility of civil action against individual teachers who do not emphasize English instruction. This seems extreme until one realizes that the only reason for such provisions is that, at present, schools are placing children in “bilingual” classes against the parent’s wishes (often without their knowledge!), and parents need some way to fight back.
In the end, that is really the major issue at the heart of Prop. 227 — not bilingual education itself, but an educational system that denies parents (and students) the right to make their own decisions about things that directly affect their lives. Prop. 227 would not make it a crime to teach Spanish (or any other language); it would only make it a crime to do so against the wishes of the parents.
And it is here that the Rodriguez and Gonzales are revealingly honest: “It is educators who should be debating the pedagogical merits of bilingual education, not millionaire entrepreneurs such as Ron Unz. …”
In other words, decisions about education should be off limits to parents or taxpaying citizens; they should entrust the decisions to the self-styled “experts.”
For my part, I applaud the supporters of Proposition 227. It has been my observation that having a degree in education does not necessarily enable one to speak more intelligently on matters of education (or anything else) than the average person without one, while at the same time it seems to legitimize in the educator’s mind the idea of a state monopoly on education controlled by education theorists, who are competent to tell the common folk what is good for them.
It is time to wrest control of our educational future from such, and the California initiative seems as good a place to start as any.