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After almost seventeen years history may be about to repeat itself in California politics, though perhaps with a strong element of farce. Late last week, the Senate Education Committee voted 8-to-0 to place a measure on the November 2016 ballot repealing Prop. 227 and restoring “bilingual education” in California public schools. The long-dormant Language Wars may be returning to American politics, and based on the early indicators, the G.O.P. may have totally abandoned any support for English in the schools, with not a single Republican casting a No vote on the proposal.

Although many might be surprised by this political alignment, I am not. When I launched my “English for the Children” initiative effort in 1997 to replace California’s failed system of Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education” with intensive English immersion, I sought to avoid the political partisanship that could easily taint a project touching upon delicate ethnic issues. As matters turned out, I got my wish, and our campaign was among the most bipartisan in state history, being opposed by nearly every prominent Democrat and also nearly every prominent Republican.

Requiring that English be taught in public schools was opposed by the Chairman of the state Republican Party and the Chairman of the State Democratic Party, as well as all four party leaders in the State Senate and Assembly. President Bill Clinton came out to California to campaign against us. All four candidates for governor, Democrat and Republican alike, denounced the measure and together starred in a powerful television spot urging a No vote, ranked by many as the best advertisement of that election cycle. We were opposed by every California union, every political slate, and almost every newspaper editorial board, and were outspent on advertising by a ratio of 25-to-1. But despite this daunting array of influential opponents, our initiative still passed with one of the largest political landslides of any contested measure in state history, winning over 61 percent of the vote.

As is traditional with California initiatives, our critics hoped to win in the courtroom what they had lost at the ballot box and bilingual advocates immediately sued to block the law. However, in the weeks that followed, four separate federal judges ruled in favor of Prop. 227 and the law that had passed in the June vote began to be implemented statewide as the new school year began in September. All of California’s thousand-odd school districts were required to teach young immigrant children in English as soon as they started school, though some bitterly resisted and dragged their feet.

The consequences were quite remarkable. Although nearly every state newspaper had editorially opposed the change in educational policy, once their journalists began visiting the schools to report the results of such a sweeping educational transformation, the many dozens of major media stories produced were uniformly glowing, with teachers, parents, and children all very happy with the change, and everyone surprised how quickly and easily the students were learning English in the classroom.

The following year, academic test scores for a million-plus immigrant students in California rose substantially, confounding naysayers and putting the story back on the front pages of the major state newspapers. And in 2000, immigrant test scores continued their rise, leading to a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times and major coverage in the rest of the national media. The founding president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators publicly declared that he had been wrong for thirty years and bilingual education didn’t work while English immersion did work, becoming a born-again convert to “English” and appearing on CBS News and the PBS Newshour to make his case.

During the first four years following the passage of Prop. 227, the academic performance of over a million immigrant schoolchildren taught in English roughly doubled, while those school districts that stubbornly retained their bilingual education programs showed no improvement whatsoever. English-learners in English immersion classes academically outperformed their counterparts in holdover bilingual education programs in every subject, every grade level, and every year, racking up performance advantage of 80-to-0.

The political trends showed a similar trajectory, with Arizona voters passing an almost identical ballot measure by an even wider 26 point margin in November 2000 and the electorate of Massachusetts, arguably America’s most liberal state, favoring “English” by a colossal 32 point landslide in 2002, incidentally putting supporter Mitt Romney in the governorship as a political side-effect. Then in 2003, Nativo Lopez, one of California’s most diehard remaining backers of bilingual education, was recalled from office in Santa Ana by Latino parents outraged over his opposition to “English,” losing by a 40 point margin in America’s most heavily Latino immigrant major city.

With that last landslide vote over a decade ago in America’s most heavily Latino immigrant city, resistance to “English” completely crumbled and bilingual education largely disappeared from schools in California and much of the rest of the country while even the term itself almost completely vanished from public discourse or media coverage.

For decades since the 1960s, denunciations of bilingual education had been a staple of conservative campaign rhetoric—the so-called “language wars”—but with the provocative educational policy having disappeared, the rhetoric eventually followed and fewer and fewer elected officials or political activists even remembered that the program had once existed. A couple of years ago, Peter Brimelow, editor of the leading anti-immigration webzine VDare.com, included a rare denunciation of bilingual education in one of his columns, but felt compelled to explain the meaning of the term, which may have become unfamiliar to his younger anti-immigrationist readers.

Meanwhile, virtually all immigrant children in California quickly and easily learned English as soon as they entered school, and no one thought the process difficult or remarkable. Whereas for decades bilingual education theorists had claimed that it took seven to ten years for a young child to learn English—a totally insane claim that was ubiquitous in our schools of education—everyone now recognized that just a few months was usually time enough, with the new goal being for Latino children to learn English in pre-school and therefore become fully English-proficient before they even entered kindergarten.

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And inevitably, the Prop. 227 educational revolution has produced a generation of mostly bilingual young adults. After all, a large fraction of California Latinos are raised in Spanish-speaking households, and learn that language as children. Meanwhile, they now learn to read and write and speak mainstream English as soon as they enter school, while often continuing to speak Spanish at home with their parents and other family members. Thus, millions of younger Californians have ended up with complete fluency in both languages, effortlessly switching between the two, as I have personally often noticed in Palo Alto, a town in which perhaps half the ordinary daily workers are Hispanic in origin.

One reason this educational revolution has attracted so little ongoing attention is that it merely served to align instructional curriculum with overwhelming popular sentiment. Even a decade or more ago, while the policy was still under sharp political dispute, numerous state and national surveys had indicated that nearly 80% of all Americans supported having all public school instruction conducted in English, with these massive supermajorities cutting across all ideological, political, ethnic, and geographical lines, and support among immigrant Hispanics being especially strong. Indeed, I am not aware of any contentious policy issue whose backing was so totally uniform and overwhelming.

But politics abhors a vacuum and although almost everyone else has forgotten the topic of bilingual education over the last dozen years, the small number of bilingual zealots have remained just as committed as ever to their failed dogma. I doubt that there ever numbered more than just a few hundred hardcore bilingual activist supporters among California’s population of over thirty million, but their years of unopposed private lobbying and spurious academic research have now borne fruit. California politicians are hardly deep thinkers and term limits ensured that few of them had been prominent in public life during the late 1990s. Hence the 8-to-0 committee vote to reestablish bilingual education in California.

In reviewing the last twenty years of domestic policy battles in America, the replacement of bilingual education with English immersion in our public schools may rank as just about the only clear success for policies traditionally advocated by conservatives and Republicans—at least no other obvious example comes to mind. Meanwhile, the disastrous political choices made by California Republicans during the 1990s have placed what was once the most powerful Republican state party in America on the very edge of irrelevance and a descent into minor-party status.

For California Republicans to back the restoration of failed bilingual education programs would probably mark the final nail in their coffin, and rightfully so.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Bilingual Education 
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  1. “And inevitably, the Prop. 227 educational revolution has produced a generation of mostly bilingual young adults. After all, a large fraction of California Latinos are raised in Spanish-speaking households, and learn that language as children. Meanwhile, they now learn to read and write and speak mainstream English as soon as they enter school, while often continuing to speak Spanish at home with their parents and other family members. Thus, millions of younger Californians have ended up with complete fluency in both languages, effortlessly switching between the two, as I have personally often noticed in Palo Alto, a town in which perhaps half the ordinary daily workers are Hispanic in origin.”

    This is the crux of the matter. Moreover, some recent very exhaustive studies have shown that children truly bilingual from early years are on average more intelligent than monolingual children (in various languages–not just Spanish and English).

    Here again one faces the usual United Statesian confusion of terms–”bilingual education” does not produce “bilingual” children. English in school and another language at home does. But obviously this is well-known and the political point behind “bilingual education” is not to make things easier for “English-speakers” but to keep Spanish-only speakers isolated.

    One possible solution, which at first sounds bizarre, but makes much sense over the long run, would be to teach all children, including English only speakers, in some other language for all least part of the day.

    For all that the US education system over the last half century or more has become such an absurdity and is so egregiously bad, on all levels and in all areas, that any sort of rational, well thought curriculum reform is impossible. Moreover, one would have a hard time finding any qualified teachers to teach it.

    This, by the way, includes the supposedly well off suburbs.

    Not that long ago, for example, some of the leading universities, required demonstrating fluency in two other languages besides English to graduate, usually one ancient and one modern.

    The ersatz education “reform” that followed the launch of Sputnik, and the “education” schools, which supposedly teach teaching, while not teaching what is to be taught, put an end to most of that by the ’70′s, almost always with systematic pseudo-scientific sophistries.

    At any rate, it is imperative NOT to confuse this issue with the issue of “English only”, which is an idiocy quite as moronic as “bilingual education”, and also, not only unconstitutional but against clear treaties with various groups.

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  2. corr: “for at least part of the day”.

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  3. If the children don’t learn English then they aren’t going to get out of their social position at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy. They will lose out on learning resources because those resources require an understanding of the English language. They should make sure that the students are proficient at all their other studies including English before they consider adding on anything else. Children are capable of astounding feats of learning if they are interested in something but does that necessarily happen at school? Also high school and college students are required to take courses in a language other than English.

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  4. Dave37 says:

    Bilingual education may be the only way to reach some spanish speaking students here in California but our experience at the hospitals has been a lot of them can’t speak English which is not the time to find out you can’t communicate your pain to the nurses and doctors. Are you allergic to any antibiotics? Que? (actually some of them get mad when they find out the hospital staff doesn’t speak spanish). Yeah you can eventually find a translator, they even have some on call for a lot of SE Asian, Indian, Chinese, middle east and other languages but when you need medical help time passes slowly.

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  5. The best time to begin languages, or another language as the case may be, is before puberty–the younger the better.

    This is also the time to begin reading in another language.

    No doubt in the older system, before Sputnik, enormous numbers of true blue, all American “English-speakers” were mangled for life by having to learn Latin and French long before college.

    By the way, “English” is not genetically acquired, as many in the “English only” crowd think, if only privately, and the King James version of the “Bible” is not divinely inspired, or if it is, what is inspired is one of the worst translations from Hebrew and Greek ever made.

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  6. Euguene, eventually the tables will have turned and Spanish will be the dominate language in the US. Are you going to force them to learn English and attack naysayers by saying Spanish isn’t “genetically acquired,” but a legacy of Spanish colonialism? I wonder if people can really get along or we going to be like Iraq, Ukraine, and Syria? I agree about the Bible, but I think the translator did a pretty good job considering. Hypothetically, if the most of the world around them and college professors teach in Spanish, require people to write and speak in Spanish then why on earth should they put so much focus on learning English when the education system is poor at even producing monolingual students? When they have a bachelors in computer science then they can learn English if they want to be more cultured and talk to the untouchables in American society. In this scenario if the English language majority communities don’t learn Spanish because they can get by with English then they aren’t going to be climbing the socioeconomic ladder in a Spanish language dominated US.

    Latin is the language of science and intellectualism. Also English and the romantic languages use the same Latin roots. I think that would be worthwhile for a college bound child to learn it (I’d hate to learn it at school though). They are going to learn Latin words anyway. John Taylor Gatto found in his research that public school’s are meant to produce wage slaves and consumers for business and government. He found it was designed to inhibit learning. I think desire and a community is required for people to learn these languages. I went to school with kids from Pakistan, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Guatemala. They knew English to the point that they were more proficient at it than most of the native speakers. The Pakistani girl I knew and her parents acquired English by watching Sesame Street. I remember in elementary school she did a show and tell about being a Sunni Muslim. She could understand her mother tongue and explained it to us. She even did eloquent speeches in front of her elementary school in the school’s gymnasium. She didn’t require school at all to learn English. She was a 100% native speaker thanks to stuff like Sesame Street and her desire to learn the language. She was probably better prepared for school than children who were from the US. The desire part is really important that schools forget about. Also she lived in an English speaking community so she was immersed in it. I bet she has done well for herself because she learned the language of power in the US. If it is possible to teach children to be fluent bilingual native speakers before kindergarten then that would be great otherwise I have my doubts about the whole enterprise. I think people are expecting too much out of schools. They are logical institutions that are using dog training techniques on human beings who learn things by exploring their curiosity and through play. They are becoming more rigid with laws such as no child left behind. Is school the best vehicle for the task at hand? I personally would like to replace school with something new, family and community oriented, and for all ages that teaches people languages and skills. We have the technology to do it.

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    I highly doubt Spanish will become the dominant language of America. Simply because Hispanics actually assimilate rather well. They have High Intermarriage, by the 2nd Gen Overwhelmingly English Dominant and Become Americanized.

    Spanish is almost entirely dependent on MASS Latin American Immigration... Since the great crash that has tappered off and net zero now... Also the Latin Ameircan Baby Boom is over and it will grey... So not many "young workers".
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  7. “”public school’s are meant to produce wage slaves and consumers for business and government. He found it was designed to inhibit learning…”

    Public schools did not start out that way, even in the United States of P. T. Barnum, but that is exactly what they had become by the beginning of the 20th Century, and it is explicitly articulated as such by some of the leading “reformers” of that time, though the model is given as “the factory system” specifically. This was just the first wave, however–another more complex wave began in the 1950′s (with squawk boxes, for example) and continues today (corporate produced television in the classroom, etc,) But this is very complicated and also includes most private schools, from kindergarten on up.

    Ain’t Capitalism grand?

    As for the Bible, in the immortal words of Ma Ferguson, governor of the Great State of Texas, “Si el inglés era suficiente par Jésus, debe ser suficiente para los niños de Texas” or something along those lines.

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  8. corr: para Jesús

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  9. Rod1963 says:

    The California GOP has been dysfunctional for the last decade and a half or so. This was just their final stupid act and they can be sent to the pet food factory for rendering.

    But I suspect this was on order from national level people like Rove, and major party donors like Adelson, Norquist, and the Chamber of Commerce in their effort to pander for Mexican voters.

    Won’t work, Mexicans don’t vote Conservative they vote for El Patron, the sugar daddy which means the Democratic party and those who support open borders.

    But even if the state GOP didn’t commit hari-kari , the state is finished. It’s swarming with millions of illegals on the dole, we’re in a major drought and no one has a clue; the state is losing businesses and jobs; the state worker unions are bleeding it dry; the state university system is poisoned with PC/MC to such a degree it’s a joke; The secondary public schools are a 3rd world cess pit and a threat to students with a brain and are avoided by parents who care about their children’s education.

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  10. American says: • Website

    Because living in a state where people can’t understand each other magically somehow makes us all “stronger.”

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  11. […] eliminated bilingual education in California. Ron Unz, who authored Prop. 227, is fighting mad, noting that even members of the GOP abandoned the support of English in California’s […]

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  12. […] eliminated bilingual education in California. Ron Unz, who authored Prop. 227, is fighting mad, noting that even members of the GOP abandoned the support of English in California’s […]

    Read More
  13. […] eliminated bilingual education in California. Ron Unz, who authored Prop. 227, is fighting mad, noting that even members of the GOP abandoned the support of English in California’s […]

    Read More
  14. […] eliminated bilingual education in California. Ron Unz, who authored Prop. 227, is fighting mad, noting that even members of the GOP abandoned the support of English in California’s […]

    Read More
  15. […] eliminated bilingual education in California. Ron Unz, who authored Prop. 227, is fighting mad, noting that even members of the GOP abandoned the support of English in California’s […]

    Read More
  16. Turns out it’s not the damn immigrants’ fault – imagine that!

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  17. […] California Republicans Vote to Restore “Bilingual Education” […]

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  18. Federale says: • Website

    No, your support for Democrat voting immigrants ruined the Republican Party in California.

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  19. Bilingual education is at the end of the day a good thing. By limiting the English proficiency of non-white immigrants and their descendants, it will be more politically expedient to conduct mass deportations of them at a future date. We should quietly support the efforts of Democrats to retard assimilation.

    Unz seems to follow a harm reduction principle, which is all well and good but when not the continued existence of white America itself is at risk.

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  20. […] to that is the push to restore mandatory bilingual education to California schools, which was mercifully axed 17 years ago, and which, sad to say, is supported by Republican […]

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  21. rick1977 says:
    @Johnny F. Ive
    Euguene, eventually the tables will have turned and Spanish will be the dominate language in the US. Are you going to force them to learn English and attack naysayers by saying Spanish isn't "genetically acquired," but a legacy of Spanish colonialism? I wonder if people can really get along or we going to be like Iraq, Ukraine, and Syria? I agree about the Bible, but I think the translator did a pretty good job considering. Hypothetically, if the most of the world around them and college professors teach in Spanish, require people to write and speak in Spanish then why on earth should they put so much focus on learning English when the education system is poor at even producing monolingual students? When they have a bachelors in computer science then they can learn English if they want to be more cultured and talk to the untouchables in American society. In this scenario if the English language majority communities don't learn Spanish because they can get by with English then they aren't going to be climbing the socioeconomic ladder in a Spanish language dominated US.

    Latin is the language of science and intellectualism. Also English and the romantic languages use the same Latin roots. I think that would be worthwhile for a college bound child to learn it (I'd hate to learn it at school though). They are going to learn Latin words anyway. John Taylor Gatto found in his research that public school's are meant to produce wage slaves and consumers for business and government. He found it was designed to inhibit learning. I think desire and a community is required for people to learn these languages. I went to school with kids from Pakistan, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Guatemala. They knew English to the point that they were more proficient at it than most of the native speakers. The Pakistani girl I knew and her parents acquired English by watching Sesame Street. I remember in elementary school she did a show and tell about being a Sunni Muslim. She could understand her mother tongue and explained it to us. She even did eloquent speeches in front of her elementary school in the school's gymnasium. She didn't require school at all to learn English. She was a 100% native speaker thanks to stuff like Sesame Street and her desire to learn the language. She was probably better prepared for school than children who were from the US. The desire part is really important that schools forget about. Also she lived in an English speaking community so she was immersed in it. I bet she has done well for herself because she learned the language of power in the US. If it is possible to teach children to be fluent bilingual native speakers before kindergarten then that would be great otherwise I have my doubts about the whole enterprise. I think people are expecting too much out of schools. They are logical institutions that are using dog training techniques on human beings who learn things by exploring their curiosity and through play. They are becoming more rigid with laws such as no child left behind. Is school the best vehicle for the task at hand? I personally would like to replace school with something new, family and community oriented, and for all ages that teaches people languages and skills. We have the technology to do it.

    I highly doubt Spanish will become the dominant language of America. Simply because Hispanics actually assimilate rather well. They have High Intermarriage, by the 2nd Gen Overwhelmingly English Dominant and Become Americanized.

    Spanish is almost entirely dependent on MASS Latin American Immigration… Since the great crash that has tappered off and net zero now… Also the Latin Ameircan Baby Boom is over and it will grey… So not many “young workers”.

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