Los Angeles Times
Saturday, May 30, 1998
Ignorance Is Behind This Proposition
By JOHN ESPINOZA
I am one of 5,500 bilingual teachers who work for the Los Angeles Unified
School District. For the past 19 years, I have taught students whose first
language is not English. Almost 100% of these students are, by my standards,
poor. I've taught kindergarten through fifth grade, gifted and remedial
students. While I know that many of our immigrant
students in LAUSD are successfully progressing through the system, I also
know that some of them are not.
Proposition 227 propagates the myth that
there is no English instruction or learning taking place in bilingual classes.
This is ludicrous.
In LAUSD, we have something called a Master
Plan for English Learners. This plan combines the goals of English learning
and academic achievement for every non-English speaking student in the
district. The plan includes instruction in the child's primary language.
Experience and research have shown that the development of a child's first
language sets a solid foundation for the learning of a second language.
The Master Plan for English Learners is not based on politics; it is based
on empirical research in the fields of linguistics and language acquisition.
Yearly, LAUSD systematically redesignates 25,000 English-learners to mainstream
English classrooms. This is roughly the same number of students the district
graduates from high school.
This year one of my second-grade students
is struggling with learning. He lives in a converted garage with his parents
and five brothers. His parents have a limited education. Because he is
behind in school, he struggles with self-esteem. At this point, should
I be concerned with his English language development or his overall academic
progress or both?
Outsiders to my profession might automatically
see English learning as this student's primary need. I don't. The bilingual
education that he is receiving in my classroom helps him to develop academically
while learning English.
If Ron Unz gets his way, this student would
be allowed only a one-year course of "sheltered English immersion."
During this year he would not be required to receive any other academic
subjects. He then would be thrown into a regular English-only classroom.
It is not hard to imagine what would happen to this child under these circumstances.
I have a doctor friend of Colombian ancestry
whose birth language is Spanish. He achieved a medical degree here in the
U.S. and is a practicing pediatrician. He still doesn't speak English perfectly
and he definitely writes better in Spanish. But the major factor in his
success was the strong academic background that he brought when he came
to this country as a teenager. His story is not unique; many limited-English
speaking immigrants, who have strong academic backgrounds or professional
training do just fine in our job market.
Well-designed bilingual programs like ours
in Los Angeles do just this: They combine the goal of academic achievement
with the objective of learning English. Four teachers at my school are
products of bilingual education. They are evidence of the effectiveness
of the bilingual program.
Proposition 227's plan of a one-year "crash
course" of "sheltered English immersion" for English learners
is based on ignorance of linguistics, ignorance of second-language acquisition
research and, most important, ignorance of what actually takes place in
a classroom of English-learning students.
There are shortcomings in public education
in general, but these same critics don't dare call for its elimination.
John Espinoza teaches at Malabar Elementary School.