The Most Hated Fad Since the Dunce Cap

Bilingual ed went down in flames because it churned out two million California children who can't read and write English, despite years of U.S. schooling.

I am sure that Harry Pachon, president of Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, is a perfectly decent person who’s actually trying to help the masses of Latino immigrants in Southern California. But if I were the parent of a Latino child, Harry and his crowd are the last people I would want in charge of providing my kids with the one tool they absolutely must have — literacy in the English language.

Pachon is one of the platoons of opinion leaders and educators in Los Angeles County who will attempt to wield influence as the massive Los Angeles Unified School District lumbers forward to purportedly begin intensive English classes for Spanish-speaking kids this fall.

Last week, three days after Proposition 227’s landslide 61 percent victory, Pachon commiserated in a widely read opinion column that bilingual education had been disgraced for three reasons: The bilingual “establishment” had failed to tout its modest successes in such places as the border town Calexico; had ignored Latino parents’ right to some semblance of accountability from bilingual teachers; and had failed to explain to people that bilingual education did not mean gaining fluency in two languages but using Spanish for several years in order to “transition the child” into English.

Nada, Harry! Bilingual education did not turn into the most hated educational fad since the dunce cap because of a failure to communicate how great it was. Bilingual ed went down in flames because it churned out two million California children who cannot read and write in English, despite years of U.S. schooling.

This is a crucial distinction. Starting this week, the big-hearted lefties who strenuously fought Prop. 227 are now in charge of wiping out bilingual education and actually teaching children English reading and writing. Yet last week, Pachon led the charge in trying to shift the work over to the backers of Prop. 227. “Ron Unz and his ilk have torn the bilingual ed house down,” Pachon wrote, so now they must show everybody how to change the system to teach kids English.

I haven’t seen so much buck passing since L.A. Unified School Board President Julie Korenstein blamed the district’s armpit-low test scores on the absurd notion that Latino and other minority kids don’t get hugged enough by their parents.


In fact, in secret meetings last week of the L.A. Unified School Board, the United Teachers of Los Angeles leadership, and the newly emerged Prop. 227 resistance group known as On Campus, the discussion was frighteningly similar: The people in charge of dismantling bilingual education are not Unz’s sensible crowd, but the phalanxes of dreamy true believers who opposed Prop. 227 — L.A. school administrators and bilingual teachers.

This is the only “ilk” we need to worry about, Harry. They were rather neatly defined by the CNN/Los Angeles Times poll of voters leaving polling places, which showed that the only groups against Prop. 227 were urban Latinos and liberal gentile/Democrats. Urban Latinos, of course, are the people whose children are warehoused in disastrous bilingual education classes. Liberal gentile/Democrats are, of course, the majority of Los Angeles’ classroom teachers.

A case in point is the big-hearted lefty teacher Steve Zimmer at Marshall High School, who has gathered 1,500 signatures from teachers in L.A. who vow to refuse to teach children immersion English. As one colleague noted, Zimmer — who is a political ally of L.A. City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg — is a genuinely nice person, but he “is not even a bilingual teacher. He’s an English As A Second Language teacher who doesn’t teach a goddamn word of Spanish. Christ, Zimmer doesn’t even speak Spanish! He’s a fringe, middle-class, white rebel wannabe.”

Another example of this “ilk” is my favorite phony multi-cultchie wannabe, School Board Member Vicki Castro, who is said to be so emotionally devastated by the passage of Prop. 227 that at times she can barely talk. The new law allows Latino and other parents to personally sue obstructionists, such as Castro, if their children are not taught in English. Ironically, Castro (no relation to Fidel) is among scores of Latino leaders who skyrocketed into power as adults after being taught immersion English as children. Today, she plans to stand in the way of Prop. 227, using what one observer called “bureaucratic inertia.”

Next in our “ilk” parade is the sellout president of the teacher’s union, “Pay” Day Higuchi, who, along with his big-hearted lefty minions in the union leadership, has ignored the wishes of local teachers who oppose bilingual education. Half of the city’s teachers voted several months ago to formally oppose the district’s failed bilingual education approach. But, as teacher/activist Doug Lasken points out, “Higuchi buckled to the bilingual lobby in five seconds and acted as their puppet instead.”

So this, Harry Pachon, is the horrendous collection of power brokers who will now implement Prop. 227 in L.A. — fighting and resisting every step of the way.

I tried to explain these ubiquitous obstacles the other night to Ron Unz. Still giddy from victory, Unz was packing for his high school reunion where, he allowed, “I suppose I might even be a celebrity of sorts.” He was certain that L.A. Unified will launch its English-immersion classes when school begins in September, as now required by law.

Says Unz, “Los Angeles Unified has to physically implement this in every classroom by this fall, no ifs, ands, or buts. If school board members fail to obey the law, parents can bring legal action against any one of them. Vicki Castro, for example, can be sued, and it can be very frightening if Vicki suddenly faces 50 lawsuits from 50 parents.”

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the 300,000 children now warehoused in Spanish-only classes in L.A. have immigrant parents who generally emember the days, back in college, when liberal Democrats were thought to be the potential saviors of the schools — a belief I, too, stubbornly held for two downwardly spiraling decades. But for reasons that only a psychiatrist could properly explain, the liberal Democrats have become the saboteurs, not the saviors.

I was reminded of this while listening to journalist Warren Olney’s popular radio show Which Way, L.A.? a few days ago. Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, a bighearted lefty, assured Ron Unz that Prop. 227 “would be implemented in a bipartisan way.”

That would be lovely, but pardon my reeling skepticism.

On L.A. school campuses in Latino areas, MALDEF has been openly organizing parents against Prop. 227 — an illegal use of school sites for which the district should be sued. Moreover, MALDEF has already sued to stop implementation of Prop. 227. And, despite Villaraigosa’s disingenuous radio chatter, the Assembly Speaker well knows that a movement is already afoot among the Democrats, along with MALDEF, to rally Latino parents to demand “waivers” to keep their kids out of English classes.

And so, the status quo holds fast, and we come to a place where I, a longtime Democrat, never thought we could be: Establishment outsiders like Republican Ron Unz watch from the sidelines for signs of change, while education insiders like Harry Pachon dither on about the wrong “ilk” entirely.

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