You can usually tell when somebody knows his or her argument is weak.

In court, it’s the attorney who shouts the loudest and longest. In the world of public meetings, it’s the people who pull out the specter of the latest tragedy or disaster, and claim that if they don’t get what they want, then public officials will be responsible for similar tragedies. You remember — a few months ago, parents in Haverhill were claiming that if their kids couldn’t ride the bus to school any more, then the school department would be responsible for a frenzy of kidnaping.

This same syndrome was on embarrassing display last week, when Lawrence Schools Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy presented his plan for revising the bilingual program in the local schools — a program that has been a longtime disaster itself.

According to one critic, Mr. Laboy’s plan to emphasize English “immersion” for younger Latino students will be so harmful to their apparently fragile self images that it will prompt more school shootings, because it will make them think Spanish is “less” than English. That line got a round of applause.

Yes, folks, you heard it right. Get those kids to learn English more quickly, and they’ll start packing pistols. Apparently, hustling them into the linguistic mainstream amounts to institutional bullying, which of course will lead to mass murder in the hallways.

Give me a break. Give us all a break. But most of all, give the kids a break.

Fortunately, Mr. Laboy can’t be accused of racism, since he’s just as Latino as his critics. But this is even worse — suggesting that he’s putting children’s lives in danger just because he wants them to learn English more quickly. I can see it now: “Wilfredo Laboy: Wanted for linguistic homicide.”

I’m not a consistent fan of everything Mr. Laboy says and does, but in this area, Lawrence parents should be holding parades in his honor, not vilifying him. The reasons should be obvious:

r Young children pick up languages much faster than older children or adults. Everybody has stories of little kids doing the translating for their parents. That happens all over Lawrence today. Teaching the youngest students by immersion is the best way to do it. They can handle it. In fact, they love it.

r Far from making them feel that their language is “less,” than English, Mr. Laboy is doing the kids a favor. As he has said so many times, in this country, “English is the language of access and power.” What parents in their right minds wouldn’t want that for their children?

r These critics should imagine how this kind of argument would play in their own country. Would they expect Anglo children to be taught in English by the public schools in the Dominican Republic? If not, would they expect those kids to start shooting up the school?

r How could anyone who cares about kids want to preserve such a disastrous status quo? School Committee members, at least some parents and kids themselves describe the current bilingual program in Lawrence as a failure. I’ve talked to bright, confident Latino high school students who are effortlessly bilingual, and who view the current program as a joke. Even if Mr. Laboy’s plan isn’t perfect, it deserves a chance. It would be hard to imagine things being worse than they are now.

Change is difficult at any level. But this one offers the promise of a brighter future for young Latinos. And that, after all, is why most of their parents came to this country. Let Mr. Laboy try to give that to them.

Taylor Armerding may be reached at (978) 946-2213 or at [email protected]

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