Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, April 15, 1998

Riordan on 227

Mayor Richard Riordan has just lost my support ("Riordan Backs Move to End Bilingual Classes," April 10). Obviously he has not done his homework on Prop. 227, nor on the facts facing the L.A. school district. Students whose primary language is not English represent 60% of L.A. students, 80% in kindergarten through third grade. True, there are shortcomings in public education, but bilingual education is part of the cure, not part of the disease.
     The last 20 years I've taught students whose primary language is not English. Many of my students have gone on to college and successful careers. I voted for the mayor last time, but his ill-advised pro-227 stance puts him in the extremist English-only, anti-immigrant camp. In this town that primarily translates to anti-Latino.
Los Angeles

* Riordan made some good observations but came to the wrong conclusion on the Unz initiative.
     He is correct when he says there are many bilingual failures. He is equally correct when he says that under "laboratory" conditions, bilingual education succeeds. This is because under the right circumstances bilingual education is a powerful tool to teach students English while allowing them to develop in other subjects as well. When it is misapplied, however, it is a disaster. The same is true with most other educational models.
     Passing an initiative that mandates what many responsible educators on both sides think to be a flawed model is no solution. Instead, we need to move more in the direction that the State Board of Education did (April 9)--allowing each district to assess the needs of its own students and select from the many methodologies available.

* The April 12 political cartoon by Michael Ramirez on bilingual education prompted me to think about my experiences as a child beginning my education. I am a 56-year-old, highly educated American who happens to be of Mexican descent. When I was laid off in the 1990s from the aerospace industry, I chose education for a new career.
     I straddled the bilingual issue until I saw the faces of my non- or nearly non-English-speaking children when I conducted the compulsory English portion of the school day. Prior to that, they would have been perceived as obviously bright and inquisitive by anyone entering the room. The blank faces and stares during the English teaching used to be labeled "dumb Mexicans." Need I say more?