Bilingual Education: Who Needs It?

Among the many points we agreed on was the necessity for immigrants (Hispanics and others) to learn English if they intend to remain in this country.

The only question is how best to teach English to recent immigrants and their children, hundreds of whom are entering Carson City schools this month.

Many politically correct folks, and some Hispanic groups, favor so-called "bilingual education." Others, including your humble correspondent and my friends Nannette and Raquel, advocate English immersion courses, which is the way it's done in Carson City.

I'm convinced that immigrants and their children should learn as much English as possible as fast as possible if they are to have any chance at living the American Dream.

As the Washington Post commented editorially last week, "Recent data from the Census Bureau should sharpen the debate on bilingual education. The Bureau reported that immigrants make up 11 percent of the U.S. population ..." How they fare in our country "depends on how successfully the immigrants blend into the mainstream and share in the nation's upward mobility." I couldnO't have said it any better myself.

And now that Hispanics account for more than 15 percent of Nevada's population, our politicians and school district officials should be paying particular attention to the importance of English immersion courses for children and ESL (English as a second language) classes for adults. Politicians and educators should hold the line against any attempt to institute bilingual education around here. I say that because by now, bilingual education is a proven failure that prevents immigrant children from attaining their full potential.

Remember when Californians voted overwhelmingly to eliminate bilingual education programs in 1998, and supporters of the measure were accused of being "racist," and worse? It reminded me of when I wrote a column endorsing "English only" legislation in Nevada and a UNR linguist accused me of wanting to punish immigrants and their children.

But with a Mexican-born wife and two Mexican-American children, I'm hardly an immigrant-basher, although I always object to illegal immigration. The linguist spoke for those who believe that immigrant parents opposed to bilingual education are uninformed or ignorant, or lack the intellectual capacity to decide what's best for their own children.

The liberal Washington Post grudgingly admitted that immigrant children are doing better since bilingual education was eliminated. "The early evidence from California is encouraging," the Post acknowledged. "In last year's standardized tests, second-graders classified as having limited English greatly improved their scores in both reading and math. This success has encouraged the proponents of immersion to organize further initiative campaigns in Colorado and Massachusetts. Oregon and Nevada are two other possible targets." I would be an enthusiastic proponent of such a campaign in the Silver State.

I also agree with the Post when it urges President Bush, the former governor of a border state, to retain a Senate proposal to quadruple spending on children with limited English and to become a cheerleader for English teaching. First Lady Laura Bush, a former school librarian, could be the lead cheerleader in that campaign. Because, as the Post concluded, "Immersion classes may not be a silver-bullet solution. But the status quo is not acceptable."

The best news in all of this is that it blocks a Clinton administration push for bilingual education favored by some multicultural and multilingual lobbies in Washington. As nationally syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer revealed late last year, "On Aug. 11, 2000, with as little public ado (as possible) ... President Clinton quietly signed Executive Order 13166," which ordered federal agencies "to guarantee that language barriers do not exclude non-English speakers from participation in all benefits and services." That effectively codified foreign language rights as federally protected "civil rights," which borders on political insanity.

According to Ms. Geyer, Clinton's executive order equated "the official citizenship requirement that immigrants learn and speak English with the idea that such expectations are as virulent as racial discrimination." Fortunately, the Bush administration appears to have consigned that particular executive order to File 13, where it belongs.

Another syndicated columnist, Linda Chavez, noted that when a federal program fails to achieve what it promises, politicians are frequently tempted to spend more money on it. "The worse the failure, the more money Congress pours into it," she added.

Therefore, enlightened lawmakers should support the current emphasis on English immersion courses instead of pouring more money into failed programs. So when it comes to bilingual education, our elected representatives should just say no to a bad idea.


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