PLAIN-TALKING Mayor Bloomberg made a big gaffe over the weekend – he told the truth about bilingual education: It doesn’t work. A businessman, Bloomberg dares to think that things should be continued only if they work.
But as mayor of New York, it’s said, he can’t expect everything to work – especially things affecting ethnic minorities; it would be unfair. Demanding success from bilingual-ed programs, we’re told, is unfair to recent immigrants.
Unlike past immigrants from Europe, it’s claimed, these newcomers want to retain their native tongues and customs. The bilingual lobby says the schools must nurture and educate immigrant kids in their native languages. And the politicians chime in.
Indeed, at the 1996 opening of Newcomers High School in Queens, all the pols in attendance spelled out how “special” and “different” from previous immigrants are children from Vietnam, China, the Ukraine, India, Poland, Africa and South America.
It’s all a lie: The melting pot can work as well now as ever.
To all of the lobbyists’ claims, Bloomberg says baloney. To all of that paternalism about how today’s immigrant kids can’t do what yesterday’s did, he says: Nonsense. To the bilingual jobs lobby, the mayor says: Get a real job.
Can the anti-bilingual-ed movement take hold in New York City?
It’s already swept California – where voters, including the majority of Hispanics, got rid of bilingual programs as they’d known them. And now countless California kids are learning English faster – and seeing their scores increase across the curriculum.
The English-immersion movement has raised teacher expectations of the immigrant kids. It’s also institutionalized a truth that the bilingual lobby has denied for decades: Recent immigrants want to learn English, and they want the public schools to teach their kids in English.
But the mayor didn’t have to look as far as California to see that English immersion works and that bilingual education doesn’t. Everybody – save for the bilingual-ed lobby – knows that bilingual ed is a big bust.
Educators who know anything about schooling know that youths pick up a language more readily when they are immersed in it in the classroom.
“The Failure of Bilingual Education,” a Center for Equal Opportunity report, documents this. It cites one successful teacher of English as a Second Language, who explains: “A focus on teaching English works.” She’s taught kindergarten through university through adult education and “seen it succeed with students from dozens of languages and cultural backgrounds.”
Immersion in English is the trick. The children know this, their parents know this, the successful educators know this – but somehow the Board of Ed doesn’t get it.
Which is still another reason Mayor Bloomberg must take control of the public schools. We need someone at the top who knows some elementary truths about what a child from wherever he hails needs in order to succeed in America.
That’s what Bloomberg meant when he said on Sunday, “This is an English-speaking country, like it or not.”
Of course not everyone speaks English in this country. Even some native-born kids don’t speak or write English proficiently. But that’s an educational problem, not a language deficit.
Whether he succeeds or not in wresting control of our schools, Bloomberg knows that any sticking with bilingual education will condemn yet another generation of kids to the dour ethnic ghettoes of difference and shame that comes with their not being able to function and thrive in the common discourse and culture of the United States of America.