John McCain’s victory in Michigan was impressive, but he would have lost badly if not for the crossover votes of Democrats and independents. The crucial March 7 primaries in California and New York are both closed to non- Republicans, so Mr. McCain must now concentrate on winning GOP votes. One issue can win him the support of Republicans, especially in California, and also broaden his appeal should he make it to November. Mr. McCain should take a strong stand against so-called bilingual education.
The Republican establishment, including George W. Bush, has been AWOL on this issue, notwithstanding the unmistakable success of California’s Proposition 227, the June 1998 ballot measure that abolished most “bilingual education” and required immigrant children to be taught English. Proposition 227 was opposed by the political leadership of both major parties and opponents outspent supporters 25 to 1, yet it still triumphed in a 61% landslide, while attracting Hispanic support matching Mr. Bush’s in his Texas re-election drive the same year.
The 20 months since the initiative’s passage have seen a significant rise in the academic performance of California’s 1.4 million immigrant students. Newspapers throughout the state — nearly all of which editorially opposed Proposition 227 — now carry glowing accounts of the ease and speed with which immigrant children have learned English together with other subjects, with ex- bilingual teachers even admitting that they themselves would today vote for the measure.
Reinforcing this wealth of anecdotal evidence, the San Jose Mercury News conducted a study showing that hundreds of thousands of immigrant students in 227 classes achieved academic test scores ranging from 20% to 100% higher, depending on grade level and subject, than those who remained in traditional bilingual programs — all after less than a year of the new curriculum. Few educational reforms have produced such dramatic results, and at no cost whatsoever.
National polls have demonstrated enormously broad and deep support for extending such opportunities to immigrant children outside California. A Zogby International survey of 1,949 voters conducted in late 1998 showed that 84% of Republicans and 72% of Democrats — including huge majorities of every ethnic, political and geographic grouping — favored requiring public schools to use English immersion. Another Zogby survey, of 1,411 New Yorkers, showed that feelings in the Empire State — with its long and proud immigrant tradition — were especially strong, with Republican support for a Proposition 227-type measure approaching 90%.
The response of the Republican establishment has been a cowardly silence. A small number of leftist multicultural activists still oppose teaching English to immigrant children, and this tiny but shrill group apparently holds a veto over Republican policy in this area. Since impoverished immigrant families neither donate millions to Republican coffers nor vote Republican in large numbers, it is obvious that most Republicans care not one whit whether the children in these families receive an adequate education in our schools.
George W. Bush has been especially weak, repeatedly defending the failed bilingual status quo. This provides a tremendous opportunity for Mr. McCain. If he forthrightly declares that all children in American schools should be taught how to read and write and speak English, neither Mr. Bush nor Al Gore will have an easy time explaining to voters why they disagree.
Mr. McCain has long supported bilingual programs. But he has also shown, by becoming a convert to the cause of campaign-finance reform, that he has the courage to change his mind. The evidence from California is ample reason for him to do so.
Taking such a stand would require Mr. McCain to buck an important backer, Republican billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio, who owns the Univision Spanish- language television network. Mr. Perenchio, America’s leading defender of Spanish-only instruction in public schools, contributed millions of dollars to the campaign against Proposition 227. If Mr. McCain proposed a national policy so clearly against the economic interests of a leading supporter, he would prove yet again that he is a leader not influenced by political contributions.
Today, our national policies of ethnic separatism — the so-called multiculturalism of the left, of which Spanish-only instruction is an important element — loom enormous in our universities and the media, but have almost no support among ordinary voters, either immigrant or native. No national leader, Democrat or Republican, has yet had the courage to step forth and burst this ideological balloon. If Mr. McCain now does so, he may gain both the presidency and the gratitude of millions of immigrant families.
This would be good for the Republican Party, too. During the mid-1990s, leading Republicans like former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former California Gov. Pete Wilson proposed expelling millions of immigrant children from our public schools. It’s hardly surprising that many immigrants grew to hate the GOP. If John McCain (or George W. Bush for that matter) now proposed keeping these children in school and also teaching them English, much of this bitter legacy might finally be put to rest.
Mr. Unz, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, was the author of Proposition 227