Nation finally understanding the fraud of 'bilingual education'

For years, bilingual education has been one of the most divisive programs in American life. It has pitted English-speaking Americans against immigrants and new citizens whose futures come increasingly to rest in the hands of linguistic radicals and education careerists making a buck.

Since 1968, when bilingual education was pushed through the American education system as part of the 1960s’ trend of”multiculturalism,” hundreds of thousands of children haven’t learned adequate English for the simple reason that they were victims of a perverse language scam: the idea that they would best learn English through first learning in Spanish. Now, everything suddenly is changing. To cite a few of the developments:

. In Santa Barbara, Calif., in January, school board members, frustrated by Latino children’s poor performance, voted to replace the 25-year-old bilingual education program there with a new program of”English immersion” for immigrants. That would switch the emphasis onto children’s moving quickly into English.

. Even more dramatically, the entire state of California will have a chance in June to vote on what it really thinks of bilingual education when Proposition 227, or “English for the Children,” will be on the ballot.

Interestingly enough, although both political parties remain confused and ambivalent on the issue, it has been passionately backed by such non-lookalikes as onetime Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Unz, a conservative libertarian, and the Rev. Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest who runs a community center in Los Angeles for Hispanics and who describes herself as “left of left on the issues.”

. But most important, polls now show that something new is brewing in the sociology of the bilingual field: Latinos themselves are increasingly sick and tired of how bilingual education holds their children back from taking full part in American life.

A 1997 poll by the Los Angeles Times, for instance, found not only overwhelming support in the general population of California for ending bilingual education but 84 percent support among Latino voters. Other polls have shown 66 percent support among Latinos.

That should surprise no one who understands human nature.

The vast majority of Latinos are hard-working people who have come here to work and belong. They desperately want their children to get ahead. They are practical, not at all ideological.

Yet they come here and soon find themselves in the hands of Latino activists and advocates, most of them funded by foundations such as Ford and Rockefeller and the federal government’s diversity programs. They are using language as a means of separating the new immigrants by language from the mainstream of American life. The newcomers are made into compliant and dependent creatures of the activists’ separatist agenda.

But now, Latino parents are beginning to see how they have been used. They see 30 percent to 50 percent of their children dropping out of school. They see $ 354 million a year in federal funds alone and up to $ 2 billion in state and other funds in California going into bilingual programs that leave their children tongue-tied in a world that speaks English.

As important as are the individual tragedies of such programs _ estimates are that many of the programs’ “graduates” never learn English _ there is one other major consideration that seldom is mentioned. That is the interest of the broader citizenry of the United States.

We seem to have forgotten that a common language, along with agreed-upon civic principles, holds a nation together. We seem to have forgotten, particularly in Washington, how to preserve a country where people can live together in reasonable harmony for the simple reason that they understand one another.

A nation owes its citizens certain things _ yes. But all citizens, particularly new ones, also owe the nation. They owe the nation not to become homogeneous with the rest but to harmonize with the broader community. The first and most respectful element of that harmonization is to adopt the nation’s language.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if even one of our”leaders,” Republican or Democrat, had the temerity to voice such outlandish, even outrageous, thoughts?

Meanwhile, I have an idea. On Jan. 1, passports were issued in Chechnya, the Caucasus area of southern Russia that fought a terrible war with Moscow three years ago. The passports are in Chechen _ and English. So faraway, troubled but world-wise Chechnya, which can see which way the world is going better than some Americans can, is making English its second, world-opening language.

Maybe we should send some of our poor bilingual students to Chechnya: At least there, they would be able to learn English.

Georgie Anne Geyer’s column is distributed by the Universal Press Syndicate

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