Universal Press Syndicate

Friday, July 17, 1998

Bilingual Wars Escalate

What happens when highly politicized, noneducational organizations and individuals become involved in our nation's educational process?

Education stops being determined inside the classroom and instead is dictated from the courts and the legislature. In the process, students, parents and teachers are reduced to political soccer balls.

Several months ago, a handful of New Mexico parents enlisted the support of the Washington D.C-based Center for Equal Opportunity, regarding various complaints, including that Albuquerque's bilingual programs are ineffective and that some English-speaking students were being wrongly placed into them. This resulted in a lawsuit funded by the center, Carbajal vs. Albuquerque Public School District, with the expressed intent of dismantling the district's bilingual programs.

Earlier this year, a flier soliciting plaintiffs stated: "Your child stands to receive $10,000 for damages and discrimination." It didn't mention that the lawsuit's objective was to eliminate bilingual education. Both the center, which is directed by archconservative writer Linda Chavez, and the plaintiff's attorney of record, David Standridge, have disavowed the flier and instead have attributed it to the parents.

In Albuquerque's public schools, bilingual education is optional and very few parents are complaining. In fact, 17 have sought to join as interveners in the lawsuit this past week -- in support of quality bilingual education, rather than against it -- and have been joined by five statewide organizations. If granted, the motion allows the interveners to represent their own interests in the lawsuit.

Despite this, it seems as if the majority of the members of the media continue to promote the myth that the majority of Latinos are against bilingual education. One reporter at the press conference announcing the motion to intervene, wanted to know why 80 percent of Latinos were against bilingual education.

"Parents are not rebelling," retorted University of New Mexico linguist Eduardo Hernandez Chavez. He noted that the only valid poll on the subject was conducted by the Los Angeles Times. It found that two-thirds of Latinos rejected Proposition 227. And in Albuquerque, at least 40 organizations support the motion to intervene. The center has found zero organizational support in New Mexico.

To eliminate bilingual education in New Mexico, Juan Jose Peña, chairman of the Hispanic Round Table, said that the center has to take on the state's constitution and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. "As mestizos and natives to this country who have fought in every one of this nation's wars, we have the right to speak our language," he said. Despite all this, no one disputes that parents who are opposed to bilingual education do have genuine complaints and the right to opt out of these programs. The concern, however, is that politicos are exploiting these concerns to further their own agendas.

In California, Proposition 227 was passed primarily by people with no stake in the matter, other than objecting to how other people's children are being educated, noted Shelly Speigel-Coleman, a member of the "No on 227" campaign. It calls for immersing children in English instruction for 180 days, then placing them into regular classes thereafter. The proposition is currently tied up in the courts.

At the core of the 227 argument was not research, but emotional claims that Latino parents nationwide are demanding that their children be taken out of bilingual programs. This myth centered around one school out of 8,000 in California -- Ninth Street Elementary School in Los Angeles. The school gained notoriety because some of the parents went out picketing several years ago, demanding that their children be placed into an English immersion program. Of the 74 students who were pulled from the bilingual program, only two were designated this year as having become "English proficient," noted Speigel-Coleman. This is the school that Ron Unz, failed gubernatorial candidate and architect and primary funder for 227, cited as being the trigger for the proposition.

Gloria Tuchman's first-grade classroom experienced similar results. None of her students were redesignated as English proficient this past year. Tuchman, incidentally, was also one of the principals behind 227 and is currently running for state superintendent of public instruction.

"Unlike the proponents of 227, we don't see those students as failing, but rather, simply proving that it takes longer than a year to learn English," stated Speigel-Coleman.

Jorge Amselle, a spokesman for the Center for Equal Opportunity, said that the fact that the voters turned thumbs down on bilingual education in California may be a sign of "how much they care about Hispanics."

Whoever "the voters" care about next ought to beware.