An Email Exchange with Ron Unz
Chairman of the Prop. 227 Campaign

From: "Ron K. Unz" <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: English initiative
Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 05:56:18 -0800 (PST)

Dear Mr. Crawford,

I recently learned of your pro-bilingual, anti-initiative web site, and was very impressed with its quality and esthetics. Some of the design aspects which you use have given me ideas on enhancing the display of our own "English for the Children" web site.

I was also quite impressed with the comprehensiveness of the articles which you had available on our initiative. Then I noticed that by some remarkable coincidence you had left out most of the "starred" articles displayed on our own web site, i.e. those articles most significant and favorable to our effort (e.g. #12, 13, 27, 28, 59, 71, 86, 94, 106). Many of these articles were from the among most prestigious national and statewide publications to have covered the issue such as the Economist, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Sacramento Bee, and the Mercury News. But since presumably they came to the "wrong" conclusion, you left them out of the collection. By contrast, our web site contains just about every significant article touching on our initiative, including some of the most negative and unfavorable---but the mainstream media coverage has been so overwhelmingly favorable that the collection speaks for itself.

I can only conclude that the same selectivity used to produce your web site no doubt reflects the research methods used by you and other pro-bilingual advocates in your "scientific" studies "proving" the effectiveness of bilingual education, thereby explaining how a system with a nominal annual failure rate of 95% can be touted as a great success by its supporters.

None of this matters all that much. It looks increasingly likely that "bilingual education" will be completely wiped out in California within seven months, and nationwide shortly thereafter. And if so, I will make it a personal point to ensure that the national media and the history books properly record the true facts, namely that you and a few other academic loonies have done more damage to the education of more ... [message breaks off at this point]

From: James W. Crawford <>
To: "Ron K. Unz" <>
Subject: RE: English initiative
Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997, 15:49:01 -0500 (EST)

Dear Mr. Unz:

Thanks for your complimentary words about my Web site design. I'm sorry you don't approve of my editorial decisions. My policy is not to repost every article on the anti-bilingual initiative -- I worry that my site's limited space allocation could be exhausted before the campaign is over. Anyway, I'm not a fan of redundancy (I usually post just one account of major developments). Or of name-calling, which is prominent in some of your favorite articles (e.g., the egregious Jill Stewart piece calling Stephen Krashen a "windbag" and critiquing his research findings as characterized by Ron Unz [!]). Or of lazy journalism that merely recycles the conventional wisdom or presents only one side of an issue. I'm afraid that many of your starred items fall into this last category. But I'll take another look at them, and if any have news value, I promise to repost them.<1>

I didn't get your entire message. It broke off shortly after you lumped me in with the "academic loonies." (I take exception to that -- I am not now and have never been an academic.) I get your gist, though. You think bilingual education supporters are manipulating research evidence and concealing "true facts" about the program, which indicate that it's failing miserably. Is that about right?

This is not a new allegation. I first heard it when I started covering the field for Education Week back in 1985. Indeed, I reported such comments in my stories. At the same time, I investigated -- the research issues, the classroom practices, the history, the politics, etc. Gradually I came to my own conclusions, many of which can be found in my book Bilingual Education.

Briefly, I don't think using kids' native language is, in itself, a panacea for the ills that plague today's schools. Or that it's essential for all LEP students. But on balance, it's a lot more likely to keep them from falling through the cracks than an English-only program -- other things being equal. Of course, not all bilingual programs are well designed or well implemented or well staffed. When they are, they seem to help in counteracting other drags on student achievement -- such as poverty, family illiteracy, and social stigmas -- unlike most other pedagogies for minority kids these days. So I find that pretty exciting, even if the potential is just beginning to be realized. Finally, there's no question that bilingual education teaches English well, albeit gradually in programs that stress native-language development, and that it can produce superior academic outcomes over the long term. Which is what matters, after all, not how kids do after one year.

That's the way I read the research. So do the great majority of experts in applied linguistics and language education, who -- believe it or not -- are far more concerned with maintaining professional standards than with pushing any political point of view. It's significant to me that the handful of academic critics of bilingual education, such as Keith Baker and Christine Rossell, come out of fields like sociology and political science. They don't think psycholinguistic or pedagogical expertise is necessary to draw scientific conclusions about bilingual education. I'm skeptical of that. I'm also skeptical of their highly selective reviews of the research that throw out 80-90% of studies, which happen to be overwhelmingly favorable to bilingual program models. (If you don't believe me, read Baker & Rossell's own description of their methodology.)

Honest people can and do disagree on the merits of bilingual education. Still -- like you -- I can't help but notice that some people in this debate don't come across as very honest. I'm especially critical of those who seem to be ideologically motivated. They don't care to investigate this question for themselves because (1) they've made up their minds after hearing just one viewpoint, (2) their conclusion is popular with lots of voters, and (3) attacking bilingual education serves a larger agenda -- e.g., bashing Big Government or minority set-asides or "political correctness" in academia. Or perhaps it advances their political prospects, should they decide to run for office. So they don't think twice about advocating radical proposals affecting millions of children, without making a careful assessment of the potential impact. If they end up wrecking the schools, well, that's politics. They can always move on to another issue.

We've never met. I'm not certain whether this characterization could fairly be applied to you. After observing you in numerous media appearances, however, it wouldn't surprise me. Correct me if I'm wrong. But it seems to me that your knowledge of the issues surrounding your initiative is superficial at best. I've seen no indication that you've given bilingual education a fair chance.

  • Have you visited a bilingual program to see what goes on? There are plenty of well known success stories within an hour's drive of Palo Alto.
  • Have you sought out the views of respected researchers in the field? Kenji Hakuta tells me he lunched with you last spring but found you unreceptive to any views favorable to bilingual programs.
  • Have you even bothered to read any of the research literature you dismiss as "academic dogma"? If so, it's not obvious. Had you done so, you would know, e.g., that none of the major critics of bilingual education has claimed (as you do) that "a few months to a year" of special English instruction is sufficient to keep LEP kids from falling behind.
  • Does it worry you that your initiative would terminate numerous programs that parents perceive as successful -- including English-speaking parents whose kids are learning a second language? I've heard you say nothing in public that suggests an awareness of this problem.

You're obviously a bright guy. So you must understand how misleading it is to claim a "95% failure rate" for bilingual education based on the percentage of LEP students redesignated as fluent in English each year. These figures are so erratic and so influenced by extraneous variables that their validity for measuring anything is questionable. As I've noted on my Web site, some of the current English-only districts come up short by this crude yardstick, as compared with districts that have a commitment to bilingual education. Not that such comparisons mean much -- redesignation rates are raw data, not research evidence -- as you must know. (Didn't you study physics at Harvard?) What's more, it's disingenuous to use these numbers to indict a program that enrolls only 30% of the state's LEP students. That's been pointed out to you on numerous occasions. Yet, in front of poorly informed audiences, you continue to use this argument to score debater's points. Just as you level the absurd charge that educators support bilingual programs mainly for the money -- when the state's subsidy for LEP students is an infinitesmal slice of its total education spending. Just as you rely on anecdotes about a minority of parents within a single school to insist that most parents want their kids out of bilingual education.

So I'm wondering: If you honestly believe your claims, why do you need sophistry to make your case? Or is this campaign -- as I suspect -- just an ideological joy ride for you? An ideologue, by my definition, is someone who knows the "true facts" without doing his own investigation and who feels vindicated by popular opinion and favorable press. Not my idea of an intellectually honest person.

Who are you, anyway?

James Crawford

1. On inspection, it turned out that Ron Unz had awarded gold stars to 15 articles he found especially favorable to his cause. Of these, 7 had also been posted on the Language Policy Web Site, including an oped article by Unz himself.

From: "Ron K. Unz" <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: FW: English initiative
Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 16:44:52 -0800 (PST)

I'm gladly resending my message, so that not a single word is cut-off.

Ron Unz



None of this matters all that much. It looks increasingly likely that "bilingual education" will be completely wiped out in California within seven months, and nationwide shortly thereafter. And if so, I will make it a personal point to ensure that the national media and the history books properly record the true facts, namely that you and a few other academic loonies have done more damage to the education of more immigrant children than (possibly) any other bunch in the history of America. And that will be the primary historical legacy of James Crawford.

Yours Sincerely,

Ron K. Unz, Chairman English for the Children

From: James W. Crawford <>
To: "Ron K. Unz" <>
Subject: RE: FW: English initiative
Date: Sat, 8 Nov 1997, 10:14:21 -0500 (EST)

Mr. Unz:

I guess you've answered my questions, at least indirectly. You're unprepared to debate this issue on its merits. I must say I'm disappointed. During your 1994 gubernatorial campaign, the press portrayed you as a "genius" and an "intellectual" who loves a good argument over public policy. But it's impossible to argue effectively unless you've done your homework -- if only to understand what you're opposing. Clearly you haven't, and don't.

James Crawford

From: "Ron K. Unz" <>
To: "'James W. Crawford'" <>
Subject: RE: FW: English initiative
Date: Sat, 8 Nov 1997 08:27:37 -0800 (PST)

Frankly, I'm too busy right now---running my campaign to get rid of bilingual ed---to debate kooks, academic or otherwise. If you really want a debate, perhaps I can put you in touch with an anti-bilingual kook for you to spend your time with.

Ron Unz

OK, Ron. It's been enlightening. You get the last word.