Is the Scottsdale Unified School District Board racist? No, but you might think so from the district’s plan to spend an additional $300,000 to expand bilingual education beyond its current funding of almost $4 million per year.
The dictionary defines racism as a belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority or inferiority of a particular race. In other words, racism is believing that race determines an individual’s abilities and intelligence.
The district’s bilingual education policy appears to be based on the belief that Mexican-Americans have a genetic flaw that keeps them from learning English as other immigrant groups have throughout the 20th century. Why else would the board single them out for bilingual education? Why else does the board want to hire 35 Spanish-speaking bilingual teachers?
My poor and poorly educated immigrant grandparents learned to speak English without preferential governmental assistance, and they expected my parents to do the same. Similarly, most Chinese- Americans learn English on their own, although it is much harder to go from Mandarin to English than it is from Italian or Spanish to English. To suggest that Mexicans are somehow intellectually inferior to Italians and Chinese is both insulting and untrue.
In defense of the district, there may be cultural differences between Mexican immigrants and immigrants from Europe or Asia. As an example, half the kids in most Latin American countries drop out of school, a statistic that obviously has nothing to do with learning English. That cultural artifact is carried over to Arizona, where one- third of Mexican-Americans quit school before graduating.
But whatever cultural differences may exist, those differences will not be changed by government-mandated bilingual education. Culture can only be changed from the inside out, by the people themselves, not from the outside in. That is why bilingual education has been an abysmal failure, with too many students graduating without proficiency in either Spanish or English.
The only thing holding Mexican-American students back is mind- sets. First, there is the mind-set of federal, state and local educrats who are afraid to be politically incorrect and say the truth. What is the truth? The truth is that Mexican-American children have what it takes to learn English in short order through immersion programs, but low parental and governmental expectations, plus a lack of meaningful consequences, keep that from happening.
The second mind-set is more insidious. It is the anti- assimilation mind-set of some Mexican-American leaders, who say they speak for all Mexican-Americans but don’t. Take the multicultural thinking of a Mexican-American vice president who teaches diversity at one of the state’s universities. He told me in a recent interview that requiring Mexican-American kids to learn English destroys their culture, for he believes that language is synonymous with culture.
He said that I should understand this, because Italian immigrants were forced to learn English.
I don’t understand it. Nor would my parents and grandparents. They celebrated their Italian heritage in many ways, including eating Italian cuisine, listening to Italian opera, speaking Italian sometimes at home and upholding other Italian traditions. But like other ethnic immigrants, they also loved their adopted country, learned its language and embraced its customs. Why would they have immigrated here if they did not want to become Americans?
Thank goodness my forebears thought that way. They would have consigned their offspring to poverty if they had not.
When asked how he could justify teaching one ethnic group in its native tongue but not other groups in theirs, the Mexican-American vice president responded, “I think that all groups should be taught in their native language.” When asked how that would work if one Farsi-speaking Iranian-American was in a classroom, he said, “I would expect the child to be taught in Farsi.” When asked where the money would come from to do that, he answered, “If we can send men to the moon, we can figure that out.”
And that is where bilingual education belongs: on the moon. It has no place in a nation with the motto “E pluribus unum.” The noted author James Baldwin said something similar, in plain English, in Notes of a Native Son: “The making of an American begins at that point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the vesture of his adopted land.”
It is tragic that many victims of bilingual education graduate from school unable to understand that sentence.
Craig Cantoni is an author, public speaker and consultant. He can be reached by at [email protected] via e-mail. The views expressed are those of the author.