Memo from a Bilingual Teacher
Malabar Elementary School
Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)
To: Malabar Colleagues
From: John Espinoza, 2nd grade teacher
Re: In defense of Bilingual Education
February 16, 1998
The current state of affairs in the world of education
has motivated me to write about out our school, our community, and the
need to support bilingual education. Yesterday I went to the Los Angeles
Coliseum to see the soccer game between the USA and Mexico. And as I was
sitting in the midst of 91,000 mostly Latino-Spanish speaking people, it
hit me, and hit me hard. No matter what we do as educators, Los Angeles
has already become a city that speaks two languages. One hundred and fifty
years ago this region was officially Mexico, and if you had attended yesterday's
game you wouldn’t have noticed any difference. Of course, LA isn’t Mexico.
But Los Angeles and California have certainly become home for millions
of Spanish-speaking people, and it is not likely that they will forget
their language. Some, such as people in the business community have taken
note of this situation and adjusted accordingly, by marketing goods and
services in two languages.
Others, such as Ron Unz, have either not realized that
we already have a bilingual society, or they do realize it, and they are
afraid of it. They believe that it is possible and desirable for our schools
to erase Spanish and replace it with English. Some of these Ron Unz types
even believe that what they propose will actually help uplift these “downtrodden”
immigrants, and will bring our American society together. In their opinion,
the forced imposition of a common language is a key factor in the unification
our society. They rant on and on: “Bilingual education is a failure, the
students are not learning English.” Of course, all of this is ludicrous.
But what can we do as educators working in a city and
state that is already de facto bilingual? I say, work to make the bilingual
education system better. Our city is bilingual. But not enough of our citizens
speak the dominant language, English. Our focus in bilingual education
still has to be what it has always been, a bridge to English learning.
Does this mean less primary language teaching. No. Less primary language
development means, in the long run, poor quality English learning. Our
practice as educators and the research and practice of over 30 years of
bilingual education in this state confirms that bilingual education is
the best way to learn English, quality level English that enables our students
to compete in college and in the job market.
With all the political pressure of the English only movement
upon us, there will be a tendency for us to give less primary language
instruction and to push for an early exit of students from the bilingual
program. This is wrong, and we would be doing a disservice to our students
if we succumb to this pressure. Our own LAUSD master plan promotes a patient
approach in bilingual education. Faster transition to all-English classrooms
usually means a low-quality transition.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere created by the Unz movement
will encourge misguided people from within our own teacher ranks to undermine
our program. Whether or not you are teaching in a bilingual classroom,
and whether or not you have questions, doubts, or even opposition to the
bilingual program, you still have an obligation to carry out district policy.
In addition, as educators, who have chosen to work in a bilingual community,
we have an added obligation to uphold and defend bilingual education with
our parents. Advocacy and agitation against the bilingual program with
parents only helps to undermine our unified purpose of quality education
for every Malabar student.
The fight to defend bilingual education will not end on
June 2 with the Unz initiative (Prop. 227). No one can predict what exactly
will be consequences of the passage of this proposition. But I do expect
there to be a prolonged fight. LAUSD, individual teachers, and the massive
Latino community have invested too much time and effort in establishing
and building up our bilingual education system. As bilingual educators,
we need to do more to defend bilingual education. We need to talk to parents,
go to meetings and get involved. Contrary to misinformation being let out,
there is tremendous support in the Spanish-speaking community for bilingual
education (65% according to polls published in La Opinion on Feb. 11).
So far, LAUSD and our superintendent have been supporters of the rights
of English-learning students. But they need to do more, such as publicly
assuring parents that bilingual education will continue in this district
even if Unz passes. They need to use the weight of their authority and
let the public know that Unz is unconstitutional and that the fight will
be taken to the courts.
Thirty years ago Chicano students and community activists
felt strongly enough about educational issues, including the demand for
bilingual education, to sit in for three days at the LA School board. It
probably will take similar formidable efforts and organization in our school,
in our community, and yes, even in politics to defend bilingual education