A group of red-blooded, English-speaking, real live nephews of their Uncle Sam want the rest of us to say no mas to bilingual education.

The organization, called English for the Children of Arizona, claims to have collected enough signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would ban bilingual education in Arizona.

They say they want bilingual students to be placed in regular English-speaking classes, while students not yet fluent in English enter immersion courses for a year.

A similar initiative passed in California two years ago. The effort was paid for by a rich guy named Ron Unz, who’s been described by the New Republic magazine as a ”theoretical physicist turned software entrepreneur turned political revolutionary.”

He’s behind the Arizona initiative, too.

But he’s not alone. Last week, Congressman Matt Salmon announced he was backing the initiative. Salmon said bilingual education is a ”boondoggle” that ”ought to be dumped.”

In response, some professional educators say immersion programs aren’t new at all, but old. They say bilingual education only came along as a way to head off the high dropout rates among Hispanic children.

The problem is, the dropout rates are still high. The federal Education Department says Hispanics are twice as likely as Blacks and three times as likely as Whites to drop out of school.

But is that because bilingual education is failing or because legislators fail to properly fund programs?

Over the years, the courts have gotten involved. A federal judge in Tucson once ruled that Arizona violated civil rights and equal opportunity laws by underfunding programs for students with limited English proficiency.

In the weeks and months before the November elections, fair-minded people on both sides of the issue will have the opportunity to debate over what they believe to be the best thing for Arizona’s kids.

Unfortunately, muchachos, that ain’t gonna happen.

”It’s going to unleash World War III,” Salmon told me. ”It’s going to be Armageddon.”

The problem with bilingual education is that each of the people debating the issue speaks a different language.

There’s the language of the education establishment and the dialect of the anti-education establishment. The conservative speech and the liberal vernacular. The parlance of the bigot and the native tongue of the bleeding heart. There are the people who talk money and those who speak anti-immigration.

Salmon believes in immersion programs because they worked for him as he trained to become a Mormon missionary in Taiwan. Those supporting bilingual education will have their success stories, too. Neither matters.

There won’t be any constructive dialogue come election time, just a lot of shouting on TV commercials and billboards and mailings, maybe a public demonstration or two.

In nasty political campaigns, there’s no room for plain English.

And in the end, it’ll be no contest. Arizona, like California, will look at bilingual education and say, ”Arrivederci, auf Wiedersehen and sayonara.”

Reach Montini at [email protected] or (602) 444-8978.

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