The Bilingual-Ed Dead End

Too many new immigrants and native Americans with Hispanic surnames have been kept from becoming proficient in English.

IT’S weird for a self-made multi-millionaire to take a stand against a jobs program. But that’s exactly what Ron Unz, the wealthy California Republican, is doing – objecting to the jobs industry that, he says, is keeping new immigrants in ghettos. Ron Unz opposes bilingual education.

When stripped of layers of paternalism, bilingual ed amounts to funding for coordinators, administrators, researchers, and teachers who, says Unz, have “an extreme case of vested financial interest” in making sure children aren’t successful in learning English. Taught in Spanish (for example) rather than in English, new immigrants and language minorities are ensnared by these programs. That’s the plain-spoken message Unz brought last week to an all-ears crowd at a Manhattan Institute function.

A soft-spoken man, Unz didn’t have to thump the podium to enrapture the audience. Children, especially, he said, are adept at learning a new language quickly, provided they’re taught or “immersed” in it. But too many new immigrants and native Americans with Hispanic surnames in California have been kept from becoming proficient in English, and Hispanic parents are fed up, because they want their children to speak and write English. It’s the international language of commerce and multicultural interchange.

As one who is openly concerned about preserving a common American language, as much as he is chagrined about the sorry state of public education here, Ron Unz doesn’t come off as a social do-gooder. His agenda is open – he isn’t interested in forcing immigrants to leave bilingual programs, but he is bankrolling and leading a campaign (a California ballot initiative) to make bilingual ed optional.

In other words, Unz is betting on the parents of non-English speaking children pulling their kids out of bilingual ed, and placing them in chance” to acquire that proficiency, and make the college degree meaningful.

Oddly, in America – or is it only in New York? – a high school graduate can enter college as a veritable illiterate in English. Everywhere else, it seems, those in the know, and those who want to succeed, are insisting that their young learn English. We should catch up with the rest of the world, and with our own commonality as one people. To do so, we’d better make sure that our kids learn English – before they’re old enough to become uneasy about speaking, with all our different accents, like an American.

Michael Meyers is the Executive Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.

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