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In early March I realized that the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of the English Wars in 1997 was almost at hand. The successful dismantling of America's Spanish-almost-only so-called "bilingual education" programs in California and across the rest of the country has been my most notable personal accomplishment. The programs were once enormous, and by... Read More
Dismantling Bilingual Education in American Public Schools
The English Wars began twenty-five years ago. On a May 1997 morning I stood in the Las Familias del Pueblo daycare center in downtown Los Angeles and announced that I had filed an initiative to dismantle California's decades-old system of "bilingual education" for Latino immigrant children, a curriculum that amounted to Spanish-almost-only instruction. Although the... Read More
When I'm driving, my car radio is invariably tuned to KOIT, the leading "easy listening" station in the San Francisco Bay area. My tastes are humdrum and unsophisticated, so the songs merely provide some pleasant background music, occasionally punctuated by commercial ads, mostly annoying but occasionally amusing. One of the better ones began running only... Read More
Twenty years ago, California public schools were forcing thousands of Latino children into Spanish-almost-only classes against the wishes of their parents. In 1996, The Los Angeles Times told the story of a group of Latino immigrant parents who began a public protest against their local elementary school for refusing to teach their children English, boycotting... Read More
Keeping English, Raising the Minimum Wage, Fixing Immigration
I'm willing to take clear stands on issues, including some controversial ones, regardless of ideology or political orientation. Maybe you'll agree with me and maybe you'll disagree with me, but at least you'll know what I believe. As a U.S. Senator, I'll carefully listen to both sides of every issue, do my own research, and... Read More
Some countries had little choice but to live with the diverse languages they inherited. Americans long had one less issue to brawl over because our ancestors accepted a common language rather than cling to the cacophony of tongues imported by their immigrant ancestors. When I took up temporary residence in Canada in 1980, the locals... Read More
Victory Night for Prop. 227 in 1998. Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP
As some of you may have already heard, a few days ago I made a last-minute decision to enter the U.S. Senate race for the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer in California. I took out my official papers early Monday morning and returned them with the necessary 65 signatures of registered voters on Wednesday... Read More
Over the last few months I've been much too preoccupied with my Harvard University Overseer project to pay much attention to the unfolding saga of the presidential race; I've closely read my morning newspapers as I always do, but not watched a single one of the endless debates. Still, even out of the corner of... Read More
Last week I noted in a column that the California Republicans in the Education Committee of the State Senate had joined an 8-to-0 vote to repeal Proposition 227 and restore Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education” in our schools. The academic performance of over a million immigrant student had doubled in the four years following the implementation of... Read More
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... Read More
Christopher Halloran /
Romney owes his only win to English for the Children.
With Mitt Romney now the de facto Republican presidential nominee, I sometimes recall how I inadvertently launched his political career a decade ago, which is less implausible than it might sound. Unlike the vast majority of previous major-party presidential candidates, Romney has a remarkably slender record of election victories, having previously won just a single... Read More
Yesterday morning's San Jose Mercury News (Sharon Noguchi, March 20, 2009) carried a very rare report on the topic of "bilingual education." Apparently, a decision has been made to reduce and perhaps eventually close one of the last remaining "bilingual" public school programs in Northern California, provoking sufficient public controversy as to reach the newspapers.... Read More
A couple of weeks ago, the San Jose Mercury News carried a large, photo-filled front-page "community interest" story, which caught my eye (Latino Baby Boom Changing Demographics in California, Mike Swift, July 29, 2007, Front Page). The focus was on the local aspects of California's burgeoning Latino immigrant population. Now I'd suspect that most anti-immigrationists... Read More
Here's our latest presentation of the California student test scores, based on the official numbers released by the State Department of Education. For convenience, we've provided a graph of the results, broken down between Limited English students in bilingual and those not in bilingual. As you can see, there's almost a factor of three difference.
Within political circles, it is widely recognized that the perception of political power is the largest component of political power itself. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of leaders claiming to speak on behalf of large ethnic minority or immigrant groups, whose true views on many issues are often opaque or even... Read More
Although Wednesday’s headlines were mostly dominated by the unfolding debate surrounding our likely war with Iraq, papers in a large swath of Southern California newspapers carried front-page reports of the conclusion to an equally lopsided contest, a Santa Ana vote on the fate of Nativo Lopez, the leading political figure of that city. If November’s... Read More
Although Massachusetts and Colorado may not quite be exact ideological polar opposites among American states, they do come pretty close. As one of the few states in which Republicans enjoy a distinct advantage in registration, Colorado forms an important piece of the Rocky Mountain wing of the national Republican base, voting in 1996 to put... Read More
This morning’s Boston Globe poll showed our “English” measure in Massachusetts still enjoying a very comfortable lead of some 27 points among voters, virtually unchanged from its 28 point lead a month earlier in the same poll. To date, we have not spent a single dollar on advertising, while our opponents have deluged the airwaves... Read More
One of the rarest characteristics of any prominent individual, especially in the fields of politics, education, or the media, is the willingness to admit a mistake. To read the speeches or media commentary of our national leaders is to be presented with an unbroken chain of far-seeing, even brilliant decisions, unerringly correct and endlessly successful.... Read More
Letter to the Editor
In his defense of bilingual education programs ("The Voters' Prerogatives and Bilingual Education," Lessons column, Oct. 23), Richard Rothstein implies that previous generations of European immigrants would have greatly benefited by spending the first five to seven years of their schooling in classes taught mostly in Italian, Yiddish or Greek, as is called for under... Read More
Given the abysmal standards of modern political campaigning, it is certainly quite rare for major newspapers to bother devoting their lead editorials to stinging denunciations of a particular advertising campaign, using words like "lies," "ugly distortions," "reprehensible," "false and inflammatory charges," and "ethnic prejudice." Now consider the implications if that major newspaper is directing those... Read More
As Stalin, a leading authority on such matters, once observed, “A single death is a tragedy, million deaths is a statistic.” This important but subtle distinction between major tragedies and mere statistics certainly arises during any examination of our decade-long discussion of “hate crimes,” especially those involving race or ethnicity. As is well known, whenever... Read More
An otherwise rather bland and boring---though hard-fought---election season has now been enlivened by a rather unusual spectacle. A billionaire heiress from Fort Collins, Colorado has decided to spend millions from her personal fortune funding the most intense political advertising campaign in her state’s history, an advertising campaign focused on the terrible threat that racial desegregation... Read More
Divisive American initiative measures, especially those touching on controversial ethnic issues, almost inevitably follow a consistent pattern. First, for a year or more, the two sides wage a ferociously contested political campaign, frequently with massive funding and the political establishment on one side and overwhelming popular sentiment on the other. Harsh television ads and influential... Read More
The September 2, 2002 of National Review carried a cover story that tellingly revealed the utter decrepitude of today's mainstream conservative movement. Entitled "The Best Governor in America," the piece highlighted Colorado's Bill Owens, a relatively obscure first-term governor from a small Rocky Mountain state, whom it portrayed as a future leader of America's Republican... Read More
About a month ago, a prominent former political figure in Colorado who is openly sympathetic to our “English” initiative invited me to his home to meet with a group of his friends and discuss the details of the issue. These friends, perhaps representing a reasonable cross-section of Denver’s mostly liberal political elite, astonished me by... Read More
Today's Boston Globe carried a short piece buried on page B3 that might signal the most important change in American political campaigning in one hundred years. Some months ago, the political campaign committee organized to defeat our proposed "English" initiative in Massachusetts received a $100,000 check from a Philadelphia- based philanthropy, the Shefa Fund, which... Read More
One subtle aspect of the political world is that lies are frequently more revealing than truths. When a politician tells the truth, he may be doing so for a wide variety of possible reasons. Perhaps he is an honest person, perhaps the actual facts are to his advantage, perhaps he is worried that his lies... Read More
Although Americans frequently condemn the bipartisan cowardice and outright dishonesty of our elected officials, there is an obvious excuse for such failings. Politicians live in a hyper-Darwinian world, in which their survival is tested ever two or four or six years. The more idealistic elements of both Left and Right may protest, but the First... Read More
Late Wednesday night, I returned to the Bay Area on a midnight flight from two exhausting days in Denver. Much of the time spent there was rather run-of-the- mill and typical, with an hour-long televised debate on our “English” initiative on the local PBS affiliate and additional live debates before an organization of Colorado business... Read More
Letter to the Editor
Re 'The Millionaire's Club; Why leave ballot initiatives to the rich?' Aug. 18 Perspective. I must respond to Daniel A. Smith's rather ignorant piece criticizing our initiative to dismantle bilingual education in Colorado. Mr. Smith disparages our measure by suggesting that there has been no public outcry on the issue. But this statement indicates either... Read More
One of the more underreported aspects of America’s nationwide system of state ballot initiatives is their tremendous diversity across our different states and regions. Most obviously, about half of our states allow initiatives and half do not, with the former generally concentrated in the regional strongholds of the old Progressive movement, namely the Great Plains... Read More
This Monday, we watched as the Colorado Secretary of State accepted our petitions containing the signatures of some 140,000 registered voters in support of our initiative to replace bilingual education with English programs. With just 80,000 valid signatures being necessary, our measure is now virtually assured of a place on the November ballot. Auspiciously enough,... Read More
In any society or intellectual movement there always exist those realities, often embarrassing ones, that are widely acknowledged in private but remain unspoken in public. Since these are exactly the sort of truths that seldom appear in published books or articles, they may eventually vanish forever with the generation of individuals who recognized them, leaving... Read More
Little Linda Brown of Topeka, Kansas probably ranks as the most prominent plaintiff of an eponymous Supreme Court decision in 20th Century American history, with Ernesto Miranda of Phoenix a close second (and Jane Roe disqualified from the running as a pseudonym). But placing high in the second tier of such landmark cases would be... Read More
Any lingering doubts regarding the unpredictable combustibility of American racial issues have certainly been removed by the uproar that greeted my recent comments in an informal email concerning Rod Paige, George W. Bush's Secretary of Education. Although my remarks were hardly racially-sensitive or "politically correct"---I strongly suggested that Paige was a rather dim individual, a... Read More
For all those who might question whether Massachusetts voters are among the most liberal in the nation, the results of a recent statewide poll conducted by the Boston Herald on several proposed ballot initiatives constitutes interesting evidence. For example, American notoriously regard income taxes in a very negative light, and Massachusetts’s particularly high tax rates... Read More
This last Friday, while the leadership of our English for the Children campaign was holding a press conference in Denver to tout the post-Prop. 227 test scores from California and scrambling to gather the tens of thousands of Colorado signatures required before the early August cut-off, we received a cruel blow from a not-unexpected direction.... Read More
Now that the last embers of Fourth of July fireworks have died down, America has entered the summer vacation months, often described by journalists as the Silly Season. As might be expected, few things better typify this description than the activities of our nation’s desperate defenders of Spanish-almost-only instruction.   In Colorado, diehard advocates of... Read More
Letter to the Editor
I must take issue with the ignorant and rather insulting tone of Yvette Cabrera's column on the subject of bilingualism. Ms. Cabrera wrongly characterizes me as an "English-only" advocate, implying that I somehow fear the use of other languages. Instead, I'd told her during our long conversation that although knowing more languages is better than... Read More
Several weeks ago I was contacted by Stephanie Finucane, a reporter for the San Luis Obispo Tribune, who was beginning work on a follow-up story examining the impact of Proposition 227 in her portion of California’s underreported Central Coast. Since I had not previously dealt with anyone from her newspaper, I gladly answered all her... Read More
Many years from now, when the definitive educational histories of late 20th Century America are finally written, the story of “bilingual education” will certainly rank as one of the more bizarre episodes. For nearly thirty years, millions of Latino children, some immigrant and some native born, were not taught the English language in our public... Read More
A story in today’s Denver Rocky Mountain News trumpeted the startling fact that nothing had recently changed in the political dynamics of our forthcoming “English” initiative aimed at Colorado’s November ballot. More precisely, the story revealed that a third-party Talmey-Drake public opinion commissioned by local media outlets had found statewide support for our initiative running... Read More
At some point, as all of us in America's audience grow restless, we begin to wonder when the Fat Lady will approach the center of the stage and Sing. Yesterday's California newspapers may have carried the first few notes of that concluding tune. Over the past few years, at enormous cost and effort, the educational... Read More
The political behavior of the opponents of our Massachusetts "English" initiative is beginning to follow an interesting, though not entirely unexpected pattern. When we first launched our campaign almost nine months ago, a prominent local politician named Jarrett Barrios quickly assumed leadership of the No side, having successfully led the opposition to various legislative attempts... Read More
One of the clearest distinctions between ordinary citizens and those deeply enmeshed in political activities is their terminology. Normal people live in neighborhoods or cities, but candidates and those who help elect them live in "media-markets." A media-market is the approximate geographical region served by the main and intersecting sources of media information such as... Read More
At times during this past half-year of our Massachusetts “English” campaign, friends have asked me what support we were receiving from the local conservative movement in that state. My response has been that he happened to be out of town during my last few trips there, so I hadn’t yet met him. Joking aside, by... Read More
Although the populist supporters of controversial ballot measures endlessly decry the tendency of courts to temporarily block or nullify implementation, such arguments are unreasonable. Judicial review is at the heart of the American constitutional system, and if courts are permitted to overturn the actions of Presidents or legislatures, they must surely be allowed to play... Read More
Yesterday's edition of the Los Angeles Times carried a long and interesting story about the enormous efforts that ambitious parents in Korea are taking to provide their children with fluency in English, the international language of opportunity and academic success. Among the perhaps excessive steps regularly taken are English-only educational programs from the age of... Read More
A few years ago California's legislature enacted at then-Gov. Pete Wilson's request a sweeping deregulation of our state's energy policies. That this measure enjoyed considerable bipartisan support is something of an understatement. Not only did the bill itself, carried by Republican leader Jim Brulte, pass with a unanimous vote in both houses of the state... Read More
Topic Classics
The unprecedented racial transformation of California and its political consequences.