Contra Costa Times
Monday, April 6, 1998
Q & A With Gloria Matta Tuchman
Name: Gloria Matta Tuchman
SANTA ANA -- Teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman walks with her first-graders to the lunch line, chats with colleagues, heats a bowl of soup, makes a phone call, prepares a lesson and answers questions about Proposition 227. Not bad for a 40-minute lunch period.
The 56-year-old Tuchman is pressed for time.
She is co-sponsoring Prop. 227, a June ballot initiative that would dismantle bilingual education in California in favor of her sheltered English immersion program. She's making a second bid for state schools superintendent. And she's teaching 20 first-graders at Taft Elementary School how to read.
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Tuchman tends to adopt positions that are unpopular with Hispanics. She joined the board of U.S. English -- a controversial nationwide organization that promotes English as the official language -- in the late 1980s. She is a Republican who supported Proposition 187, the statewide ballot initiative, recently ruled unconstitutional, that sought to cut social services and public schooling to undocumented immigrants.
Tuchman has heralded bilingual education reform in California and nationwide for more than a decade. The following is an excerpt from a recent interview in her Santa Ana classroom:
Q. What is behind this initiative? Why did you co-sponsor it and why do you care about this issue?
A. It's all about English literacy. It's all about getting children to be able to become literate in English because that's the goal of bilingual education. That's the goal of education, period. And that's what we strive for, excellence.
Q. Why do you think Taft's model is going to work for the state of California?
A. It's been in existence -- teaching English like this -- for years. It's nothing new. Sheltered English immersion is really good basic teaching, even for an English (speaking) child because it's explaining everything to the children. You don't take for granted anything that they know.
I utilize primary language. That's been one of the criticisms of the initiative, but I hope people understand there's not going to be language police. You're not precluded from using any other language. We have Vietnamese translators here at the school. We have Hispanics. I use Spanish with the children if I need to.
I have no hesitation about using primary language. But if I can use other means for getting my thoughts across, such as pictures, visuals, whatever, I will use anything. And the children are capable of learning. I don't feel Hispanics' brains are different than anyone else and they are not wired any differently from than anyone else. And I feel that they can achieve English literacy as well as anyone else.
Q. Wouldn't the initiative make teachers vulnerable to lawsuits if they don't teach "overwhelmingly" in English?
A. Sheltered (English immersion) allows for primary language support. That's ridiculous. I wouldn't have put it in if I was going to open myself up to a suit. What it does do is open up teachers who are not doing their job and not teaching the children English -- for the parents to question, "Why is my child not being taught English?" I'm not afraid of accountability. But those teachers are. Especially the ones who make $5,000 extra for bilingual education. They care more about the money than they do about the kids. Believe me.
Q. You mentioned that this initiative is for Hispanic children. But in some circles, it's perceived as an anti-immigrant effort.
A. How can it be anti-immigrant when people are talking about English literacy? English proficiency. It has nothing to do with immigration; it has nothing to do with affirmative action. It has to do with children learning, and if the language that the children needed to stay in school and graduate from school happened to be Farsi or happened to be Swahili, that's what I would be advocating. But it happens to be English.
Q. Maybe the model of sheltered immersion is working here, but why take away local control statewide?
A. It isn't taking away any control. Right now the parents don't have control. And that's the control that this initiative gives.
We've had bilingual education in this country for 30 years and we've had it here in the state of California for 20. It has been a failure. As far as I'm concerned, it has failed a whole generation of Hispanic children. It's time to stop the political business and say we're going to look at education.
Q. If you don't teach Spanish-speaking children in Spanish, they may not become biliterate in Spanish and English. Aren't you missing an opportunity?
A. That is not the responsibility of school districts. Maintenance of language and culture is a family responsibility. Appreciation, respect and tolerance is something else that I do subscribe to.