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"End bilingual education in California by June 1998." That's the slogan of a new ballot initiative entitled English for the Children. It could become a reality unless an effective opposition can be mounted.

In November 1997, California's Secretary of State certified that anti-bilingual activists had collected at least 510,796 petitions from registered voters – more than enough to qualify the measure for the June 2 primary ballot. The campaign is led by Ron Unz, a Republican candidate for governor in 1994 and a multimillionaire software developer, who plans to dig deep into his own pockets and spend whatever it takes to get the measure passed.

If he succeeds, the results could prove disastrous for California's 1.4 million students with limited English skills. Though confusing and poorly drafted, the Unz initiative will benefit from public misunderstanding of bilingual education – its rationale, methods, goals, and results – and from a climate of xenophobia that has dominated the state's politics in recent years. 

Yet Ron Unz is not just another immigrant-basher. To the contrary, he made a name for himself as a conservative opponent of Proposition 187. His Only-English campaign is targeting California's Latino communities, capitalizing on discontent with the public schools and seeking to make bilingual education the scapegoat. Expensive ads promotiong the initiative are appearing in Spanish-language media. Some alleged advocates for immigrant rights, along with a few Asian and Latino politicians, have already signed on.

Nevertheless, in a recent fundraising letter, Unz did not hesitate to exploit crude ethnic stereotypes. He compared today's Spanish speakers unfavorably to his own Jewish grandparents, "who came to California in the 1920s and 1930s as poor European immigrants. They came to WORK and become successful . . . not to sit back and be a burden on those who were already here!" (Los Angeles Times, 31 August 1997).

Cochair of the initiative is Gloria Matta Tuchman, a 1st grade teacher from Santa Ana and another would-be politician – who finished 5th in the 1994 race for state superintendent of public instruction. While eager to advertise her Mexican American roots, Tuchman has been less forthcoming about her ties to the English Only movement. She joined the U.S. English board of directors in 1989 – shortly after the scandal over its founder's scurrilous memo about Latinos – and served until 1992.

So far, however, this campaign remains independent of the established English Only groups. Its agenda is even more extreme than their attacks on bilingual education over the years. At minimum, the initiative would:

  • outlaw the use of languages other than English to instruct any student in California public schools, except under limited circumstances – a restriction that harkens back to Meyer v. Nebraska;
  • dismantle successful programs that not only teach English but also keep children from falling behind in other subjects while they acquire valuable bilingual skills;
  • impose an unproven pedagogical approach – "sheltered English immersion ... not normally intended to exceed one year" – without regard for the expertise of educators or the wishes of local school boards;
  • violate children's civil rights, as guaranteed by Lau v. Nichols, to receive effective help in overcoming language barriers that impede their access to the curriculum;
  • deny parental choice by restricting waivers to the English-only rule to older or "special needs" students, and even then failing to guarantee that native-language instruction would be available;
  • limit options for English-speaking students to learn another language, by requiring them to score above grade level in English to receive a waiver;
  • destroy what is widely hailed as the most effective language-learning model for English- and non-English-speaking students alike – two-way bilingual education;
  • invite civil lawsuits to enforce the English Only mandate and hold teachers and administrators personally liable for such "crimes" as using another language in class; and 
  • stimulate yet another round of ethnic conflict in California, already polarized by anti-immigrant and anti-affirmative-action Propositions 187 and 209.

Full text of the initiative statute
Detailed analysis

Official Voter Information Guide on Prop. 227

A media project to combat the Big Lie
en español

About the notorious Los Angeles Times polls

University of Southern California poll
Analysis by James Crawford, Stephen Krashen, and Haeyoung Kim

An email exchange with Ron Unz

Who is Ron Unz? 1994 campaign profile

The Unz Initiative: Extreme, Irresponsible, and 
Hazardous to California's Future
by James Crawford 
for the National Association for Bilingual Education 

Pending bilingual education legislation in California

Commentaries on the Unz Initiative

Resolutions Opposing Prop. 227

Clinton Administration Position on Prop. 227

Political Fallout

Press Criticism

Online Discussions


Study Guide


News Archives on Prop. 227

Editorial Archives on Prop. 227

What Research Says about Bilingual Education

    Videos Now Available

    James Crawford vs. Ron Unz: Debate on Prop. 227
    Santa Rosa, California
    March 31, 1998

    90 minutes; $15 postpaid; checks payable to:
    Dr. Guillermo Rivas
    Sonoma County Office of Education
    5340 Skylane Blvd. 
    Santa Rosa, CA 95403

    Proposition 227: 
    How Will It Affect Our Children?

    12-minutes; designed to help inform the public about the potential impact of the Unz initiative 
    Teacher Roundtable: 
    Language, Learning and Proposition 227

    30 minutes; for house meetings, group discussions, workshops, or anyone interested in teachers' perspective on bilingual education and the Unz initiative.


This page was last updated on June 3, 1998.

For current developments on the impact of and resistance to the anti-bilingual initiative, click on Life after 227.

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