The Struggle for Bilingual Education
Whenever a teachers' convention meets and tries to find out how it can cure the ills of society, there is simply one answer; the school has but one way to cure the ills of society and that is by making men intelligent. To make men intelligent, the school has again but one way, and that is, first and last, to teach them to read, write and count. And if the school fails to do that, and tries beyond that to do something for which a school is not adapted, it not only fails in its own function, but it fails in all other attempted functions. Because no school as such can organize industry, or settle the matter of wage and income, can found homes or furnish parents, can establish justice or make a civilized world.1
—W. E. B. Du Bois
No one better understood the true purpose of primary and secondary school education than the author of these introductory lines, W. E. B. Du Bois, perhaps the greatest black radical scholar in the United States. Yet, throughout the history of American education, Du Bois's sound assumptions have met with unceasing challenge. Throughout their history, Americans have attempted to use education for pragmatic aims of the most contradictory kinds: for the purpose of saving souls, turning out good citizens, turning the foreign-born into good American citizens, or--more recently--giving students a better understanding of their racial or ethnic background so as to resist Americanization and develop multiculturalism.
The Struggle for Bilingual Education
In addition to becoming a religious battleground, schools frequently became involved in ethnic issues as successive immigrant communities attempted to use the classroom to maintain their respective linguistic and cultural heritages. Germans, for instance, though supposedly an assimilable group, sometimes went to extraordinary lengths during the nineteenth century to use every conceivable institution--public schools, parochial organizations, churches, gymnastic associations (Turnvereine), and even glee clubs (Liedertafeln)--for the purpose of strengthening Deutschtum on American soil, an issue of bitter controversy.2
During the 1960s and 1970s a nationwide debate developed over bilingual education. In the eyes of orthodox educators, bilingual instruction--in the child's native tongue and in English--should be transitional. The child's home language should be used for teaching purposes, so that students will acquire cognitive skills and avoid academic retardation. English should be taught as a second language only until the student becomes proficient in English, at which time native-language instruction should end. In theory, attention would continue to be paid to the child's heritage and culture. But the basic purpose, at least of federal legislation, was to get students to transfer into all-English classrooms as fast as possible, without falling behind in other subjects.
But the English-speaking public generally insisted that English should remain the sole language of instruction in schools. The use of native languages was often resented by the descendants of earlier immigrants, whose forebears had struggled to learn English. Anglo-Americans feared it would usher in multilingualism and artificial attempts to preserve ethnic cultures.3 Bilingual education, according to its critics, might turn into an instrument to increase ethnic employment in schools and to achieve the political, economic, and social goals of Hispanics. Bilingual education became for many Hispanics a civil rights issue and also a means of obtaining heightened respect for their culture, an instrument for fighting discrimination against non-English-speaking groups, and a device for obtaining jobs and increasing the Hispanics' political leverage.4
Spanish-speaking Americans were in fact slow to emulate their European predecessors' demands for bilingual education. Organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Mexican-American Political Association, and the American GI Forum, while not unmindful of their Hispanic heritage, stressed political, social, and economic equality for Mexican Americans and attempted to integrate Mexican Americans fully into American life. LULAC thus placed special stress on ending job discrimination and de facto segregation in school.
From the 1960s onward, the emphasis shifted from socioeconomic to broader and often contradictory objectives set by educational reformers. Some of them, making use of newly popular theories of "alienation," defended bilingual education for children reared at home in a language other than English by stating that its use in the classroom would prevent "inward maladjustment." The emotional fabric of the Mexican American child was said to be often overextended. In this view, the child was "disturbed, confused, and disoriented as the result of being pulled between two worlds," neither of which was capable of providing that "sense of security necessary for learning experiences" and of belonging. Coming from the love and warmth of his home into an unsympathetic school, the child supposedly underwent traumatic experiences that might lead him into anxiety, a retreat from society, or crime.5
The demand for bilingual education came from many sources. Cuban immigrants, many of them highly educated, called for quality schooling for their children, an education that would preserve the Cubans' Spanish culture. Bilingual education also was said to be essential for gaining a new sense of self-pride for the Hispanic poor, this in a country where Spanish enjoyed low esteem and where too many authors of schoolbooks, teachers, politicians, professors, advertisers, and even producers of television programs supposedly conspired to demean Spanish speakers by casting them into stereotyped characters. The most radical attacks on the existing system--launched in the 1960s when student unrest was at its zenith throughout the country--came from members of La Raza Unida, which then advocated biculturalism as a political weapon in the struggle to set up a "third politics" for the purpose of gaining power in predominantly Chicano regions.
Bilingual education also came to be considered essential because of the relatively poor performance of so many Puerto Rican and Chicano students and because of their high dropout rate from schools and colleges. Spanish-speaking educators stated that there were at least five reasons why Hispanics dropped out. (1) Many Spanish speakers fell behind early in their education because they did not know much English; by the time they reached high school, they were discouraged. (2) Many complained of bad teacher attitudes toward Hispanic students because of the students' color, accent, and poor English skills. (3) Students did not hear enough English spoken at home or in the barrios and received little help in reading and writing English in the home. (4) Failing to see the relevance or economic benefits of further education, they left school to find a job as soon as they could. (5) Moreover, a high percentage of illegitimacy, concubinage, and abandoned mothers and children among Hispanic slum dwellers created a poor environment for learning and staying in school.6
Hispanics, while better placed than blacks, also suffered more severely from unemployment than members of the so-called majority. Overall, Hispanic college graduates did best, followed by high school graduates; high school dropouts were at the bottom.7 Clearly, argued the advocates of bilingual education, more suitable courses of instruction would help to improve the Hispanics' economic as well as educational position. Faith in education commonly went with a characteristically American creed in the combined power of cash, gadgets, and the correct pedagogical method taught at almost every school of education in the United States. As Manuel H. Guerra said, "There is nothing about the bilingual problems of the Chicano child which money, electronic laboratory equipment, and appropriately trained, understanding teachers cannot solve."8 But time was to prove this assertion totally wrong, even though billions of dollars were devoted to bilingual education.
The call for educational reform fit the mood of the 1960s and early 1970s, when the ideals of the New Frontier and the Great Society seemed as yet untarnished, when educational expenditure in the United States had ballooned, and when there seemed to be no limit to what pedagogues, well supplied with funds, could accomplish for the betterment of mankind. Between 1952 and 1972, public expenditures for education in schools and colleges increased more than 700 percent, from $8.4 billion to $67.5 billion. The number of educational employees tripled, from 1,884,000 to 5,646,000.9 If money alone could buy excellence, the United States should have entered a golden age of public instruction instead of seeing declining standards in many schools.
Commitment to upgraded education for the poor was accompanied by determined attempts to desegregate schools. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the Elementary and Secondary Schools Education Act (ESEA). The federal government, through the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, became actively involved in desegregating public schools throughout the United States. At the same time, both politicians and educators turned to "compensatory education" to uplift the children of the poor and to "Americanize" immigrants. The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 was designed as yet another means of facilitating the learning of English by youngsters with a different mother tongue.
The parallel campaigns to integrate schools and to raise the standards of Spanish-speaking and other students did not, however, easily run in harness. Both Hispanics and blacks had experienced widespread segregation. According to a report issued by the Civil Rights Commission in 1970, one-third of all Mexican American students were attending schools defined as "ethnically imbalanced." In some districts in Houston, Texas, for example, administrators used the argument that Mexicans were legally white in order to accomplish token desegregation through mixing Mexican American and black students. At the same time, Mexican Americans complained that using ESEA compensatory funds for improving the lot of "disadvantaged" Mexican Americans made Mexican American children feel inferior. The concept of "cultural deprivation," used widely in the educational reforms of the late 1960s, ran counter to the Mexican Americans' pride in their language and culture. Although the civil rights movement made conscious efforts to eliminate hostile stereotypes from textbooks and courses, there was little attempt to present minority cultures in a positive fashion.
Puerto Ricans were equally outspoken in their criticism. In New York City, ASPIRA, a Puerto Rican cultural organization, assisted by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), took the board of education to court several times. The first suit began in 1972; in 1974, Puerto Ricans gained the "ASPIRA Consent Degree." In 1975, the plaintiffs again took legal action for failure to implement the consent decree--specifically, for failing to develop a method for identifying children in need of bilingual education. The court ordered the board of education to carry out the 1976 decree; in 1978, the contestants arrived at an agreement whereby the board of education would report both to ASPIRA and PRLDEF--without, however, solving all the points at issue.
At the same time, educators of many different national origins, following the example of black ethnic studies leaders, built an extensive network of Chicano studies, Puerto Rican studies, Cuban studies, Latin American studies, ethnic studies, and bicultural or multicultural education programs at many northeastern, midwestern, and California colleges and universities. A new journal, the Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingue (1974), began to discuss language problems. All these efforts combined to form a powerful lobby to push for bilingual education and to mobilize more federal funds for this and related purposes.
The Hispanics' complaints became more outspoken as their political power increased and as the federal government unwittingly favored their cause through a new statistical definition. Until l1970, the definition "Hispanic" was limited to those born in Spanish-speaking countries or to U.S. citizens with Spanish surnames. The 1970 census broadened the term to include both racial origin and Spanish-language speakers, irrespective of their birthplace. This resulted in a dramatic increase in those officially defined as "Hispanic," from 3.1 million in 1960 to 9.1 million in 1970 to 12 million in 1978. (The latter figure seems too conservative because it did not take illegal immigrants into account.)
At the same time, the Hispanic cause acquired increased status within the federal bureaucracy. In 1967, the Inter-Agency Committee on Mexican-American Affairs was set up as a coordinating body for cabinet-level programs; in 1970, a permanent cabinet committee was formed to serve as a forum for Spanish speakers. Growing numbers of Hispanic Americans obtained appointments to the staff of the Civil Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and the U.S. Office of Education. By their philosophies and the composition of their personnel, these bodies were committed overwhelmingly to the liberal cause. Self-styled progressives among the federal bureaucrats, judges, college professors, journalists, and congressional members and staffers formed an informal but powerful lobby committed to institutional change.
The Lau v. Nichols case stands out as another landmark on the road to bilingual education. This major case, brought against the school district of San Francisco, alleged discrimination against Chinese schoolchildren; in 1974 the Supreme Court decided that the provision of equal facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curricula for youngsters unable to speak English did not mean equality of opportunities--and all school districts were thereafter required to take "affirmative steps" to rectify the deficiency. In the following year, the Office of Civil Rights issued a memorandum (cumbrously entitled "Task Force Findings Specifying Remedies for Eliminating Past Educational Practices Ruled Unlawful Under Lau versus Nichols") outlining procedures to be followed by school districts providing bilingual and bicultural education. The 1976 California Bilingual Bicultural Education Act, which followed a similar philosophy, represented a major policy shift: bilingual education would no longer aim simply at a transition into the American mainstream but would strive for the maintenance of separate ethnic cultures. Only those teachers with appropriate social and bilingual credentials were now deemed qualified to provide bilingual education. In 1978 the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court, covering California, clarified Lau v. Nichols through the Guadalupe v. Tempe decision, ruling that "bilingual education" was not required by federal law.
The call for bilingual education became louder as the number of foreign-born children unable to speak English rapidly increased in the public schools. (By the early 1980s, for example, the San Francisco Unified School District contained 27,786 children with only a limited command of English; 48 percent of all students came from non-English-speaking homes.) At the same time, Spanish-speaking intellectuals, widely supported by the universities, called for affirmative action programs in employment and bilingual programs in schools. The federal government responded sympathetically to this demand, and, by 1978, the Bilingual Education Act was funding 518 bilingual, bicultural projects in sixty-eight languages ranging from Spanish (about 80 percent of the total) to Chinese and Vietnamese. Separately, Health, Education and Welfare's Office of Civil Rights instructed 334 school districts to begin bilingual and bicultural classes or face a potential termination of all federal school aid. Altogether, more than $500 million had been spent on these various ventures. Yet not one cent of federal aid went to the large number of "Saturday Morning Schools," in which foreign-born parents, dissatisfied with the language instruction as well as the disciplinary standards in public schools, privately organized and financed classes in a broad variety of tongues (German, Russian, and Chinese) taught by volunteers along traditional lines and with traditional values.
Until recently, therefore, the only basis for bilingual education, for example, in California was a mixture of state and administrative decisions and fear of a political backlash from Latino voters if the program was ended. In fact, most Latino voters oppose bilingual education; thus the Californian Republican Party's failure to back the "English for the Children" initiative in 1997 was wrong-headed.
The Case for and against Bilingual Education
Bilingual education raised many troubling controversies--for example, in the field of Hispanic-black relations. Blacks and Hispanics for a time had collaborated in common campaigns against racial discrimination. The massive disbursement of public funds, however, naturally led to struggles over the allocations among different ethnic communities. Some Mexican American activists argued that they had gained less than blacks from the poverty programs of the 1960s or that Hispanics were less fairly represented than blacks in the state and federal bureaucracies. Equally controversial was the issue of desegregation. Assuming that Hispanic children should be taught in the parental home language, they would have to be separated from other students; this would lead to the separation they were decrying--at a time when public schools were in fact becoming more segregated with the increase of Hispanic children nationwide. (According to a study prepared by Gary Orfield for the U.S. House of Representatives, more than 60 percent of Hispanic students in the western United States were attending de facto segregated schools by the early 1980s.)10 In addition, there were practical considerations. What was the value of bilingual education for the job market during a nationwide depression, when the larger issues involved not merely getting jobs for Hispanics but also protecting them against layoffs from jobs they already held?
Revisionist scholars broadened the campaign for bilingualism and biculturalism into a broad critique of American society.11 The melting pot, in their view, had failed--or had never worked in the first place. "Americanization" had injured not only the Spanish-speaking peoples but also the many ethnic minorities whose history in the United States allegedly was one of continued cultural and economic degradation. Far from having served the newcomers, American schools always had been prone to reinforcing existing ethnic, racial, and social class hierarchies. Those immigrants who had succeeded in entering the middle classes during the early twentieth century had done so not because of, but in spite of, their schooling.12
Bilingual education might have gained wider acceptance if its advocates had been content to describe bilingual education as no more than a transitional bridge to assimilation. Many academicians, however, went further. They linked bilingual education with bicultural education and bicultural education with cultural separatism, or "affirmative ethnicity," and "affirmative ethnicity" with a far reaching critique of traditional American values. By doing so, they alienated the great mass of conservative and middle-of-the-road voters who continued to constitute the overwhelming majority of the American electorate. The biculturalists, like their liberal and left-wing political allies, misjudged the temper of the nation as a whole. They assumed, as did President Carter in a well-publicized speech delivered in 1979, that the United States was in a state of spiritual malaise, that a sense of disenchantment had struck at the very heart, soul, and spirit of the American people, and that public opinion was ready for a fundamental change. A widespread "ethnic revival"--one transcending the Hispanic community--supposedly reflected a wider disenchantment with the white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon establishment by the white ethnics and their descendants.
These assumptions, in fact, were mistaken. The bulk of Americans liked their country and its institutions.13 The so-called ethnic revival did not, for the most part, represent a serious challenge to American patriotism. A delight in Oktoberfests and zithers, tartans and pibrochs, and Swahili names and bongo drums did not necessarily signify nationalist yearnings for blacks, Lithuanians, Estonians, or Latvians. Much of the ethnic revival represented a further step toward Americanization. Foreign-descended Americans with names like Wieruszowski, Gregoriades, and Katzenellenbogen demanded parity with their fellow citizens. The ethnic revival had little to do with serious efforts to study a foreign literature or language. For all practical purposes, the ethnic revival was apt to end where the irregular verbs began.
Bilingual education encountered criticism not only on patriotic but also on more narrowly technical grounds. For instance, the General Accounting Office in 1976 issued a report, Bilingual Education: An Unmet Need, which charged that the U.S. Office of Education (USOE) had failed to specify how effective bilingual education should be provided, how to train teachers, and how to produce suitable teaching materials. The USOE itself commissioned a critical report in 1978 that concluded that "most of the children did not need to learn English, [and] that those [who] did were in fact acquiring it; and that to the degree that children were already alienated from school, they remained so."14
This report led to the amended Bilingual Education Act of 1978, which limited the number of English-speaking children in the program to no more than 40 percent, involved parents more, required bilingual proficiency in both languages, and expanded programs to include not only speaking but reading and writing as well. By 1986, twenty-six states required bilingual education. The goal was to improve the programs, concentrate on teaching English, and teach the native language only in transitional, not maintenance, programs, thereby gaining more local support and better-trained teachers. But this did not happen, and by 1997 bilingual education was judged a failure by many experts and an expensive one, at that.
By 1983 the National Association for Bilingual Education was pushing for transitional bilingual programs, not for language maintenance. It accepted the primacy of English but wished to treat the native tongue as a second language. The American Federation of Teachers opposed maintaining the native language because, it claimed, this would keep the child from becoming proficient in English and from becoming assimilated.
When Ronald Reagan secured the presidency in 1980, his administration did not embark on as radical a shift in policy as its right-wing supporters had hoped. There was, in many fields, a good deal of continuity between the Carter and Reagan administrations. The Reagan administration, for instance, did not attempt to put an end to bilingual education, but Washington's previous sense of commitment declined. The political tide moved in the opposite direction, as officials such as Virginia attorney general J. Marshall Coleman criticized proposed federal rules on bilingual education as unwarranted intrusions on states' rights. Bilingual education came under heavy fire because of its costs, the expected growth of new financial burdens, the paucity of basic research in the field, the lack of qualified teachers, and the programs' real or supposed lack of success.
In 1982, as part of Reagan's "new federalism," the Department of Education announced that school districts in the future would not be held accountable for federal bilingual agreements that required native-language instruction for children speaking little or no English. The states, according to the new theory, knew best how to spend federal education dollars. The new administration also attempted to change existing tests for civil rights compliance, particularly in the field of equal educational opportunity. Henceforth, the bilingual program initiated by any state would no longer be judged by its results but by its intentions. A number of states began to modify existing laws. In 1982, for example, Illinois--for long the bellwether state in the field of bilingual education--was considering such far-reaching changes as eliminating the requirements to teach bilingual history and culture as part of the bilingual program, having local school boards decide the means and extent of parent and community involvement in bilingual programs, and giving school districts the power to set their own standards.15 The Twentieth Century Fund, in a report published in 1983, came to similar conclusions. Instead of bilingual education, the report favored "language immersion." The report called for an end to teaching in any language except English and said that U.S. government support should be limited to training in English.
The Reagan administration, in drawing away from bilingual education, took account of this profound shift of opinion in Congress, among educators, and in the public at large. Hostility to bilingual education had many sources: resentment at falling standards of education and discipline in many of the nation's schools; disenchantment with changing fads and fashions in education; growing resistance to an ever-increasing tax burden; growing unemployment, which resulted in enhanced competition for jobs; and concern about continuing foreign immigration. (By the early 1980s, two-thirds of the American public wanted fewer, rather than more, immigrants.)16
Opposition to bilingual education was accompanied by growing hostility toward multilingual ballots. The legislature in 1975, amending the Voting Right Act of 1967, required multilingual ballots and election information to be printed for non-English readers. Advocates of the change argued--giving little or no evidence for their contention--that minority-language groups were discriminated against by having to use English-language ballots. In fact, the overwhelming majority of voters in the country can read English; under existing legislation, foreigners must be proficient in English to acquire U.S. citizenship. The experiment turned out to be costly and divisive. In 1981, Senator S. I. Hayakawa introduced legislation to make English the only official language, thereby in effect abolishing multilingual balloting, but the amendment failed to pass. Hayakawa then founded U.S. English to push for a constitutional amendment to make English the official language on the federal and state levels. (In 1997 an English-language bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate.)
U.S. courts also have had to take notice of bilingualism. California and New York lead in the numbers of court interpreters who serve Spanish speakers. (In California, since 1978, interpreters have also been required in Arabic, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.) The California Court Interpreters Association, founded in 1971, has more than eight hundred members and is the largest organization of its kind in the United States. One-fourth of all federally certified interpreters work in California. A National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators has seven hundred members.
In 1982, the Bilingual Education Act was due for renewal. Hearings were held in 1982 and 1983. The Reagan administration wished to change part of the act to fund a greater variety of educational programs, to be determined by the local authorities, but designed to concentrate on training in English. Senate bill S 2002 ensured "that an extensive course of English instruction is an integral part of the bilingual education program and that participation in the bilingual education program will in most cases be limited to one year and for other purposes."17 The administration opposed the one-year limitation on bilingual education programs but supported other aspects of the bill. Secretary of Education T. H. Bell remarked that government support for bilingual education grew from $7.5 million in 1969 to $134 million in 1982 and provided help for between 1.2 million and 3.5 million children. (By 1997, 2.6 million students were in bilingual education at a cost of $12–$15 billion to the federal and state governments.)
Numerous pressure groups have continued to lobby for bilingual education, including the American Coalition for Bilingual Education, the National Advisory Board for Bilingual Education, and the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Administrators of several state bilingual education programs have continuously opposed the one-year limitation on the program and attacked the "total immersion in English" approach. But there have been doubts all along about bilingual education, not only among Anglo-Americans but also among some Hispanics. A good many Mexican Americans have come to believe that the new programs might retard the progress of immigrant children in American society. Richard E. Ferraro, president of the Los Angeles School Board, was one of their number. "When you're talking about language," he argued, "English is essential for success in this country." John Alvarez, a young Californian of Hispanic descent, put it more graphically: "Many of our people prefer to speak English. They get pissed off when you speak to them in Spanish."18
Conditions differ widely, of course, from one Hispanic group to another, from one part of the country to another, and even from one city to another. By stressing linguistic skills, bicultural programs may have diverted Hispanic students from making their way in such fields as engineering and computer science, seriously neglected by Chicanos and Puerto Ricans, nearly half of whom graduate in fields that are less financially remunerative.19 Many Mexican Americans understand little or no Spanish; but, according to Gallup pollsters, by 1982 English was widely spoken in many Hispanic homes, and nearly half of Hispanic children spoke English with their friends.20
Bilingual education, with its inherent critique of the melting-pot theory, became part of the educational system at the very time that the melting pot had begun to work. Television, radio, advertising, automobiles, rock music, sports, and fashions in clothes all transcend ethnic divisions. Intermarriage for most races, including Mexican Americans, was on the increase, especially for second-generation immigrants (Puerto Rican New Yorkers forming the main exception). By the early 1980s, about 25 percent of all Mexican American marriages in California were mixed, and by 1997 more than 50 percent were.21 Even the Hispanic media employed English, with Spanish as a second language. By the 1980s, 54 percent of Spanish speakers preferred to read and speak in English. The editors of the magazine Caminos claimed that 85 percent of their readers read articles in English first.22 (But with massive Latino immigration, legal and illegal, since 1986, knowledge of English may have seriously decreased.)
Bilingual educators were accused of disregarding such developments; they often admitted children who were proficient in English to bilingual programs and kept them there too long. A U.S. Office of Education–sponsored investigation of thirty-eight bilingual projects for Hispanic Americans judged that about 70 percent of the pupils involved used English rather than Spanish for the purpose of taking tests.
Bilingual education also met with massive criticism from those who did not object to bilingualism as such but who argued that bilingual programs often interfered with the proper teaching of English. These critics (including experts working on a 1983 Twentieth Century Fund study) considered bilingual education an ineffective teaching tool. It was a mistake to assume, they argued, that there was no alternative between the "sink-or-swim method," on the one hand, and bilingual education conducted in a foreign tongue, on the other. There was an answer: teach English to the foreign-born in English, and provide this instruction in special courses adjusted to the students' special needs. Students would then be forced to use the new tongue immediately. They would more readily answer a question in English if they knew that the teacher might not speak their first language or might not speak it well. Despite massive expenditure on bilingual education, there was no evidence that it had been more effective than the old-fashioned way of teaching English through English, a method used in Los Angeles and many other major cities during and even before World War II. This method, one might add, had also proved its utility in Israel, where ulpanim (special language schools) effectively taught Hebrew through Hebrew to Israel's polyglot immigrants.
As it was, the critics went on, bilingual education had turned into a massive political pork barrel. During the mid-1960s, to give a specific instance, Los Angeles managed with only two language consultants, paid on the same modest scale as ordinary teachers. By the mid-1970s, Los Angeles had engaged a director of bilingual education, two assistant directors, and eleven advisers, all of whom received much higher salaries than the best-paid classroom teachers. Bilingual education therefore was apt to accentuate the besetting weakness of American public education: the disproportion in pay, power, and prestige between the classroom teachers and the administrators. Bilingual education, moreover, had created a new political lobby of bilingual supervisors, aides, counselors, instructors, publishers of textbooks, producers of films, tapes, and other aids, and professors in education providing courses in bilingual education.23
The concept of bicultural education raised further difficult questions. How should any ethnic culture be identified? What was German culture? Goethe's or Dr. Goebbels's, Marx's or Bismarck's? Should the schools try to transmit Hispanic, Mexican, Mexican American, or Chicano culture, a question far from theoretical for members of a community who have defined themselves in many different ways. A survey conducted by Carlos Arce at the University of Michigan's School of Social Research found that 46 percent of the Mexican-descended respondents chose to be called Mexicans, 21 percent Mexican Americans, and only 16 percent Chicanos; the remainder picked a variety of other labels or none at all. Corresponding figures elicited by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project for San Antonio and Los Angeles for Mexican American voters were, respectively, 20 percent, 50 percent, and 7 percent.24
Biculturalism seemed to entail additional disadvantages. Well-qualified bilingual teachers were hard to recruit, particularly in the "hard sciences" and especially when U.S. schools were suffering a grave shortage of science instructors. This deficiency was all the more serious during a period when the United States was lagging behind Japan and other industrialized countries in the teaching of languages, mathematics, and scientific courses in high school.
Much to its disadvantage, bilingual and bicultural education came to be linked, for many of its academic defenders, with the assumption that the classroom should provide therapy as well as instruction. But, as Mary Ellen Goodman and Alma Beman pointed out in their investigation of a Houston slum in 1970–71, Mexican American working-class children were well adjusted.25 They appreciated their grandparents, they respected their fathers as the family's money-earner and supreme court of discipline, and they loved their mothers. Mexican children had a realistic appreciation of their chances in future life. They aspired to better jobs than their parents held, but they were not seduced by the glamor and riches they saw on television. The mood of Mexican American working-class people in Houston was expansive and optimistic. They found that "Anglo" prejudice had lessened and that industrialization had improved the workers' lot.
I too see no merit in theories that turn "Anglo" color and racial prejudice into a single-cause explanation of social ills. Racial prejudice assuredly exists in the United States, as it exists everywhere else in the world. Racial prejudice, however, is crisscrossed by class prejudice and, above all, by prejudice linked to the facts of ethnic succession. The most unpopular people in America are those who have arrived in some numbers and last in this country--not necessarily the most dark-complexioned.26 Racial prejudice alone does not explain why the children of some immigrant groups--Chinese, Vietnamese, Jews, and Cubans--do better, at school, on average than the children of others, including blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans. The explanation for their performance differential derives from a variety of social factors that are difficult to disentangle. One of them is family size: parents who have only a few children can spend more time and money on their individual upbringing. Equally important is the content of education, both at home and at school. In Wilhelminian Germany, for example, Protestants were more likely to explore the sciences than Catholics and therefore enjoyed a natural advantage in an economy apt to pay better salaries to engineers and scientists than to teachers of Latin. A similar distinction has now arisen in the United States between Asian students on the one hand and Chicano and Puerto Rican students on the other. There are proportionately more Asian than Chicano or Puerto Rican graduates in computer sciences, engineering, and other scientific pursuits; hence, the Asians enjoy a natural advantage in the struggle for well-paid jobs. Puerto Ricans and Chicanos would profit financially by being guided into the sciences.
Above all, learning begins at home; the parents' values are more important than the pedagogues'. People of Mexican heritage do not on the whole appear to be as distressed by low educational achievement as are blacks and whites.27 Moreover, children from a middle-class family, or from a family aspiring to middle-class norms, enjoy educational advantages: mother and father will help with the homework, buy books, and lavishly praise good grades; they will censure a boy when he comes home, blood stained but proud, from a fight on the school grounds. Such children will have a better chance than youngsters from a home where the television and stereo blare, where books are scarce, and where a man is thought a man for occasionally coming home drunk or brawling in a bar. Teachers can help to reinforce the values of the home, but they cannot be expected to do the parents' work. Nevertheless, schools can play a major role in creating an environment that supports high expectations and has a clear focus and a strong instructional leadership that can help the poor as well as the rich student.
Overall, one of the tragedies of bilingual and bicultural education has been that its growth coincided with the spread of educational norms that many parents dislike--permissiveness, submission to peer pressure, hostility to "elitism," and enforced busing. The disenchantment with education was accompanied by a major demographic shift: by the 1980s, only one-third of the students in big-city schools were "white." The middle class had attempted to fashion the schools in its own image. After 1920, the high schools attempted to include all American youths within their scope; the educators achieved this objective during the 1950s. In doing so, they sought to prepare children primarily for white-collar jobs or for employment in skilled trades; but, as the school system expanded, its achievements all too often contracted.
The growth of the educational establishment and the educational bureaucracy--and their seeming loss of purpose--has accordingly coincided with public disillusionment with the schools, evidenced by the growing number of school bonds, once popularly supported, that are now often rejected by the voters. (Between 1957 and 1967, the electorate approved 73 percent of school bonds; between 1968 and 1976, the number dropped to 48 percent.) There was bitter and sustained criticism of U.S. educational performance. According to the National Commission on Excellence in Education, only about one-fifth of all seventeen-year-olds in the United States were able to write a persuasive essay; no more than one-third could solve a mathematical problem requiring several steps. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a survey in 1983 found that 35 percent of the corporations investigated had to provide remedial training in basic skills for new employees.28 If schools are to serve the special interests of the poor, they must get away from courses in "life adjustment," driver education, and "family living." They must restrain widespread antipathy to "elitism" in academic subjects. They must instead offer incentives to learning and promote academic excellence.
Multilingual and Multicultural Education: A Positive Approach
How is excellence best obtained? The schools' achievements ultimately must depend on well-qualified teachers who are well paid and who are not burdened by paperwork extraneous to the classroom. And they must enjoy the public's respect. Education also needs a sense of purpose. As I see it, the supreme object of education should be to turn out citizens who can take a worthy part not only in earning a living but also in governing and defending the republic.
The foreign born and their children must be encouraged to learn the national language, an indispensable means to success. Given the enormous diversity of the U.S. population, there is no single formula for attaining linguistic competency. The children, say, of a foreign-born professor who teaches in an all-English-speaking college town require no bilingual education program. Their parents will know English and probably will help with the children's homework. The youngsters will pick up spoken English on the playground, as well as in the classroom. The theory of linguistic immersion works at its best with such people.
The position, however, is quite different in a multilingual city like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Miami, where a large proportion of the students are "limited-English-proficient" (LEP). Such students are looked down on by their Anglophone schoolmates for "talking funny," are apt to associate only with their own kind, are unable to make use of the instruction offered to them in a regular public school, and thereby waste both their own time and the taxpayers' dollars. According to the National Institute of Education, the limited-English-proficient students aged five to fourteen numbered about 2.5 million in 1995; within twenty years, their number might rise to 3.4 million. Altogether they spoke more than eighty languages (about two-thirds of them use Spanish); they came from every conceivable socioeconomic background; and their cultural and education backgrounds varied enormously. They professed almost every religion known on earth. They presented a most difficult linguistic problem to educators. The Santa Clara School District in California, to give one example, in 1983 provided education in an astonishing variety of tongues, ranging from Spanish to Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, Japanese, Portuguese, Cambodian/Khmer, and Lao. A 1980 report from the Los Angeles schools stated that non-English-speaking pupils, or students with a poor knowledge of English, between them numbered 110,000 and spoke eighty-seven different languages. Los Angeles at the time spent almost $46 million to furnish these youngsters withbilingual education.
San Francisco, traditionally one of the nation's most polyglot cities, is another case in point. At the end of 1982, the city contained 27,786 students speaking twenty-seven home languages other than English. San Francisco's record has been a troubled one. Students unable to converse in English had been sent to a special Continuation High School, where they mixed with truants and delinquents and learned to use drugs and get into trouble. It was the deficiencies of the San Francisco school system that in 1974 caused the Lau v. Nichols case to go to the Supreme Court.
San Francisco thereafter developed a system remarkable for its intelligence and effectiveness, one that could serve as a model for other cities with a polyglot immigrant population, whether in the United States or Europe. Students incompetent in English were tested for academic competency and ability to speak English and were then placed in appropriate schools; they also received help with immunization and other services. The Bilingual Education Department developed a variety of programs to meet different needs, including programs for students unable to read or write in any language, handicapped students, and gifted students.
In addition to setting up special programs in the public schools, San Francisco established special education centers for members of particular ethnic communities in which children were taught in their own language until they were sufficiently proficient in English to transfer to public schools. The syllabus was practical and "success oriented," with classes in reading, writing, hygiene, nutrition, social studies, and English on the primary level, to which were added mathematics, history, geography, art, and music in the intermediate daily program.
San Francisco took another step of major consequence in 1979, when the city opened Newcomer High School to provide a transitional education program for foreign-born youngsters (grades nine through twelve; ages fourteen to seventeen) unable to speak sound English. The new high school provided thorough instruction in English as a Second Language (ESL), bilingual classes in such fields as social studies and mathematics, and also such electives as art, cooking, typing, and office management. After spending a year or less at Newcomer High School, students transferred to a district public high school or an appropriate vocational school or college. Youngsters sent to district high schools received continued ESL instruction and bilingual "support" classes in other subjects until they were able to profit fully from all-English-speaking classes.
On the surface, the staff at Newcomer faced an almost impossible task. Their students included youngsters from all over the world: Asia, Latin America, the Near East, and Europe. Many students had gone through experiences that might cause anyone's hair to turn gray. The following are entries in the Newcomer High School Yearbook (1981–82):
Noraworg Phuovieng is 16 years old and he comes from Laos. He arrived in this country only 3 months ago. Noraworg's father was a soldier with the Laotian army but as the Communist regime became more and more oppressive, he and his family decided to defect to a free country. Noraworg still remembers where they managed to take a boat to Thailand.
Ever Gomez is 14 years old . . .. He was born in El Salvador, now being torn by a bloody civil war. Ever and his mother fled their native country because his father disappeared after he had been to a political rally.29
For these youngsters and others like them, Newcomer High School turned out to be a haven where they benefited from small school size (about five hundred students), from the efforts of a highly qualified and gifted staff, and from the experience of meeting other youngsters from all over the world. I was impressed by what I saw: an elderly Chinese-born instructor teaching history in the manner of a traditional storyteller; a chef simultaneously imparting a knowledge of cookery and practical English; and a teacher who had fled from Southeast Asia explaining, in a social science class, the significance of the words refugee and immigrant by a mixture of simple English and enjoyable ham-acting. There were no serious disciplinary problems. Attendance figures were outstanding, ranging from 93.8 percent in 1979–80 to 97.3 percent in 1982–83. Test scores also were good. Newcomer turned out to be exactly what a well-run school should be.
Many American cities have had to accommodate themselves to immigrants and refugees, most of them poor. They strain city budgets for housing, education, and health care. In 1983, Los Angeles authorities estimated that 27.1 percent of the city was foreign born. Sixty-two percent of its children in kindergarten and more than 40 percent of the children in the first five grades were Hispanic. By the 1990s a majority of the students in Los Angeles schools were Hispanic. Hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent in bilingual education in the United States, with the federal and state governments providing most of the money.
Los Angeles worked under great pressure as early as 1983 to provide bilingual education to some 110,000 students who spoke eighty-seven languages. There was no separate school for non-English speakers; bilingual classes were taught in local schools. Ninety percent of the students in bilingual programs were Hispanic. The goal was transitional instruction--not language maintenance or bicultural education, as it had been in the late 1970s. (Lack of money and bilingual teachers made language maintenance impractical.) As in San Francisco, Los Angeles administrators pointed to better attendance figures and test scores for bilingual students. But by the 1990s the bilingual program had reverted to bicultural education and, according to the consul-general of Mexico in Los Angeles, hundreds of Mexican teachers had to be imported to maintain a good level of Spanish. And hundreds of untrained people who spoke Spanish were rushed into service as teachers in cities like Los Angeles and New York.
By 1986, in New York City, 70,000 out of 900,000 students were in bilingual education programs. Most language training was in Spanish; but 52,611 students were taught some subjects in their native language, and 17,000 or so received instruction in all subjects in English. To support this program, New York City obtained $16 million from the federal government. By contrast, there was little bilingual education in the Denver school system; teaching was done primarily in English, even though one-third of Denver's sixty-two thousand students had Spanish surnames. Only about four thousand students receive bilingual training (and that in English); only a few schools provided tutoring in Spanish.
Texas has experienced a massive increase in immigration since the late 1970s, with about 260,000 children in bilingual programs, costing $50 to $75 million a year, by 1983. Poor border communities were overwhelmed as children illegally crossed the border to be educated. Tests showed that the majority of these children did not develop even minimal skills in English. The federal government had to assist local schools suffering from large immigration. Federal courts insisted that children of illegals should be educated and that the federal government should pay the bill. Local communities along borders were mostly poor; forced to dilute their education resources to include illegals, the children of citizens found themselves disadvantaged through poor education. But by the 1990s Texas was prospering and had better relations between Anglos and Spanish speakers than did California.
Miami, in contrast, had one of the most advanced bilingual programs in the country. More than 95,000 out of 220,000 students were in bilingual education programs in 1983. English speakers learned some Spanish, and Spanish speakers received intensive English instruction, plus training in basic academic courses in their native language. Dade County was and is heavily populated by Spanish speakers (40 percent); Miami has 56 percent. In the school system, 39 percent of the students were Hispanic. There was much public discussion about bilingual training in the schools, especially its slow pace. But the debate was less heated than in the past, and there was less opposition to bilingual education. Also one school, Coral Way in Dade County, had achieved a truly outstanding bilingual program.
In 1983, there were more than 660 teachers in the program, with a budget of $17 million. The average school day for those not proficient in English was two hours of instruction in English through English, thirty minutes in Spanish (or other first languages) through Spanish, ninety minutes in academic subjects (math, social studies, etc.) through Spanish, and the remainder of the day through English. Once the students became proficient in English, they did one hour a day in Spanish at the high school level and thirty minutes at the primary school level.
Generalizations are hard to make because standards of bilingual education, like those of education throughout the United States, differ enormously: some schools are deplorable, some mediocre, and some superb. No single formula can be applied to every community, but there should be a commonsense direction. Some critics of multilingual education fear that, by encouraging it, the American taxpayer may unwittingly turn the United States into another Lebanon, Cyprus, Belgium, or Canada--countries torn by ethnic-linguistic strife.
Up to 1986 we had no cause to fear bilingualism. American society, as we saw it, was too mobile and assimilative in character to be frozen into permanent ethnic molds. There were indeed great ethnic aggregations, but these were in constant flux as families continued to move out of ethnic neighborhoods and new ethnic groups move in. (For instance, Vietnamese and Chinese replaced once-solid Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in Los Angeles or San Jose.) No immigrant group in American history has ever succeeded in forming its own "Quebec." But such linguistic enclaves become possible when bilingual education, multiculturalism, and affirmative action for ethnic groups begin to divide America and when the majority of legal and illegal immigrants are Spanish speakers.
The Franco-American example is instructive in this respect. Unlike immigrants from Europe, Franco-Americans from Canada possessed a territorial base adjacent to the United States--the province of Quebec. Between 1870 and 1929, about one million French-speaking immigrants made their way from Quebec to New England. French clergymen, journalists, educators, and politicians dreamed of permanently entrenching French civilization in New England. They created their own schools, newspapers, trade unions, and religious congregations--to little avail. The men and women from Quebec became "Franco-Americans" and thereafter Americans. Not until the 1970s did Franco-Americans cautiously tried to reidentify themselves ethnically. They succeeded in creating bilingual education programs; for instance, the University of Maine at Orono set up a Franco-American studies program.30 But for all the New England bumper stickers showing a frog and the legend le francais--je le parle par coeur ("French--I speak it by heart"), New England will never join Quebec. In the same way, Spanish would die out in time if the border were closed and bilingualism ended. Hispanics will remain an ethnic group but not a language group, according to Calvin Veltman, a sociolinguist at the University of Quebec who has studied Chicanos.
Bilingual Education since 1986
The legalization of illegal immigrants in 1986 brought millions of Asians and Spanish speakers to the United States. Schools became more crowded in big cities that had large Spanish-speaking populations. The flood of illegals continued as well, further inundating the schools and public services.
In the previous peak years of immigration (1900–1910), the old immigrants, however diverse, all derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The new immigrants include not only Hispanics, but also Muslims, Confucians, Buddhists, adherents of Shinto, and votaries of Voodoo. Given such cultural multiplicity, and bilingualism and cultural maintenance programs--anti-immigrationists argue--the United States may split linguistically and spiritually in future.
Immigration has had numerous unintended consequences. The old-style immigrant was usually a European. Since 1965, the new-style immigrant mostly comes from Asian, Latin American, or Caribbean countries whose political and social traditions greatly differ from those of the United States. The new immigrants (much like previous immigrants), moreover, have higher birthrates than the natives. Hence immigrants have a disproportionately powerful impact on the United States' demographic composition and school population. The post-1970 population growth, according to demographer Leon F. Bouvier, is nearly all due to immigration. (Immigrants now account for 37.1 percent of all new population growth, compared with 27 percent at the peak years of immigration.)
Does this matter? Did not the United States, in the olden days, successfully absorb Irish, Germans, Poles, and many other nationalities? True enough, argue the anti-immigrationists. But the position has changed. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States had a confident core culture. The United States insisted that newcomers should assimilate and learn English--and so they did; there was little or no bilingual education. By contrast, the new immigrants come at a time when the cultural self-reliance of the United States has eroded. Mexican and Asian activists have learned from the civil rights struggles conducted by black Americans and thus demand bilingual education and seek group rights, "brown pride," and restoration of "brown dignity," while rejecting assimilation and Western culture. The new immigrants, or rather their self-appointed spokespeople, now desire official recognition as groups and proportional representation--requirements incompatible with the operation of a free market. Group rights are demanded in the makeup of electoral districts, in employment, in the awarding of official contracts, in education, in every sphere of public life. Opposition to such programs, it is falsely claimed, is yet one more proof of white America's inherent racism.31
Multiculturists want to preserve immigrant cultures and languages, not absorb or assimilate the American culture. (The melting-pot metaphor is rejected by multiculturists.) The United States, the anti-immigration argument continues, therefore must restrict immigration and at the same time promote cultural assimilation. Otherwise multiculturalism will lead to political fragmentation and disaster. Imagine the United States as a Bosnia of continental proportions--without a sense of common nationhood, a common language and culture, a common political heritage, with dozens of contending ethnic groups and a population of half a billion! These problems will become even harder to face because immigration has exacerbated income inequalities within the United States, worsened the economic prospects of poorly educated black Americans and recent Hispanic immigrants, disrupted local communities, and--through sheer force of numbers--further injured the environment. The United States, argue critics such as Peter Brimelow, will in the long run cease to be a mainly white nation; its ethnic character will be transformed--this without proper policy discussion and against the declared will of America's overwhelming majority. Nativists are accused of hysteria when they talk about a threatened Mexican reconquista of California. Nativists incur equal censure when they charge foreign-born activists with scorning the anglo-sajones and their values. But nativist fears merely reflect the ethnic propaganda common in campus rallies held by ethnic militants.
Critics of immigration such as Brimelow (Alien Nation) doubt that assimilation can work today as it once did. The number of Hispanic immigrants is growing; affirmative action, bilingual education, and multiculturalism are roadblocks to assimilation and Americanization. The new immigrants are less well educated than previous immigrants, are not forced to learn English, and enter a labor market ill equipped for well-paying jobs. Wages for the unskilled have actually declined in the 1980s and 1990s, and new illegal immigrants will work for lower wages, thus replacing earlier immigrants.
In the field of public education the Americanizing of immigrant children has fallen into disrepute. The method of teaching English by the immersion method has been widely replaced by bilingual education (now required by nine states in all school districts with a designated number of limited-English-proficient [LEP] students). In Massachusetts twenty LEP students in one language group in a district will trigger native-language instruction, even if there are only two students in each grade in a separate classroom taught by a certified bilingual teacher. As a result, forty thousand students in fifty-one Massachusetts school districts received bilingual education in 1993–94. Spanish-speaking students, who represent more than half of the LEP population in Massachusetts, are taught to read and write Spanish and also are instructed in Spanish in other academic subjects. But thousands of Cape Verdeans are instructed in a pidgin Portuguese-Crioulo--though the majority do not know the language; indeed in Cape Verde only Portuguese is taught since Crioulo is a spoken language, not a written one. Teachers in Massachusetts had to invent and print up Crioulo materials. Such examples have intensified the debate on bilingual education.
A recent study by the National Research Council, however, found that the arguments in favor of bilingual education were based on a number of myths. There was no evidence of long-term advantages in teaching LEP children in their native language. Further, teaching these children to read in English first, not in their native language, did them no harm. In contrast, emphasizing cultural and ethnic differences in the classroom was counterproductive. It caused stereotyping, did not improve the self-esteem of minority children, and reinforced the differences of these children from the others. Nor was there any research support for the idea that teachers who were themselves members of minority groups were more effective than others who worked with children from those same groups. The study concluded that the U.S. Department of Education's management of bilingual education research had been a total failure, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, using the research agenda for political purposes to justify a program that had not proven its worth, and keeping its research from educators who could use it to improve their school programs.
I agree with Charles L. Glenn, a bilingual specialist, who insists that there is no reason to spend more years searching for a "model" teaching program, while another generation of language-minority students is damaged by inferior schooling. And there is certainly no reason to put any future research in the hands of the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA).32
I would leave considerable latitude to local authorities to determine their own needs in public education. But I reject "cultural maintenance" as a legitimate object of public education. U.S. citizens and residents alike have an indefeasible right to speak whatever language, and practice whatever customs they please in their own homes. But the aim of public education should be to assimilate the immigrants- not to preserve their status as cultural aliens. (Assimilation means to learn English, become part of American society, follow American laws, values, and institutions, and know American history--in short, become Americanized.) Bilingualism not only divides Americans but also limits Latinos' job and education opportunities because of their poor English and low graduation rates.
The high school graduation rate has been rising for whites and blacks but not for Latinos, whose dropout rate remains very high--30 percent--only slightly less than it was twenty-five years ago. The high rate for Latinos is not fully explained by their immigrant status or their limited English proficiency. Studies show that a high dropout rate persists among Latino students even if they were born in the United States and speak fluent English--21.4 percent of them did not finish high school, and 17.9 percent born in the United States did not finish. Both these figures are higher than the dropout rates of 8.6 percent for whites and 12.1 percent for blacks. (See appendix.)
Latinos: A Profile
California, because of its large Latino population, has a higher dropout rate than the rest of the country (21 percent to 12 percent). In Los Angeles County, where most Latinos live, the rate is 28 percent. In California 10 percent of Asians, 12 percent of whites, 28 percent of Latinos, and 33 percent of black students do not complete school. As a result of this high dropout rate, many Latinos do not have the level of education necessary for good jobs in the U.S. economy.
But the reason Latinos drop out at such a high rate is disputed. Latino organizations claim it is because of a lack of bilingual education and courses in English as a second language. If this is so, how can the low level of Asian dropouts be explained? Although most California schools are bilingual in Spanish and English, only a few teach Asian languages. Hispanic students, it is charged, feel isolated and neglected and go to school in high poverty areas. A fact seldom admitted, however, is that Latinos have low expectations about the benefits of education. And Latino culture appears not to place as high a value on schooling as do Asians and whites, for example.
Socioeconomic status, not race, can help explain the difference in dropout rates between whites and blacks, some experts insist. When you control for income, the dropout difference in rates disappears between whites and blacks but not Latinos. The Latino rate is much higher in all income levels. Although black and white rates have dropped significantly since 1972, Latino rates while lower--34 percent to 30 percent--are still much higher than for blacks and whites. Blacks are now within 3.5 percent of the white rate.33
Latinos appear to have become the poorest ethnic minority in the United States. The 1995 Census Bureau statistics show that median household income rose for all America's ethnic and racial groups but declined for the twenty-seven million Latinos by 5.1 percent. For the first time in our history, the poverty rate was higher among Hispanics than among blacks. Spanish speakers, in 1997, represent 24 percent of America's working poor--up 8 percent since 1985. (Part of this increase resulted from the 1986 amnesty of 1.3 million illegals, who then brought in their relatives, two million or so, who were also poor, uneducated, unskilled, and with little or poor English.) By 1993, 30 percent of Latinos were considered poor; that is, they earned less than $15,569 for a family of four, and 24 percent were in the poorest class, earning income of $7,500 or less. (These figures, however, do not measure Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamp transfers, or indeed income in the underground economy.) Still, the drop in income for Hispanics since 1989 has been significant--14 percent, or from $26,000 to $22,900. At the same time black income was slightly rising.
The influx of illegal and family reunification immigrants since 1986 has, therefore, worsened Latino income. But even American-born Latinos have experienced "an almost across-the-board impoverishment."34 Arturo Vargas, head of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Los Angeles, admits that a Latino middle class is growing but claims that most Spanish speakers are trapped in jobs like gardener, nanny, and restaurant worker, which will never pay well and from which they are unlikely to advance.35 Others deny this and say most people move out of these low-paying jobs and are replaced by new immigrants who in turn move on to higher-paying jobs. This has been the experience in agriculture in California, for example, and in restaurant work in Washington, D.C., for people from Central America.
The declining income among Latinos is not well understood by researchers, but Thomas Sowell, a Hoover Institution economist, has explained that low income for many groups is caused by lack of education and large young families in which the mother seldom works. Furthermore, Latinos (like black Americans) are very diverse; there are middle-class Cubans in Miami and poor Puerto Ricans in New York, and poorest of all are the newest immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Scholars also point to structural changes in the U.S. economy, for example, the loss of jobs for unskilled and blue-collar workers. There are plenty of jobs in the high-tech economy, but these require greater education than most Latinos can attain, given their high school dropout rate--which now exceeds that of blacks. In 1990 census figures showed that, even among American-born Latinos, only 78 percent finished high school, compared with 91 percent of whites and 84 percent of blacks. In addition, some employers may discriminate against Latinos who often speak English poorly, have few marketable skills, and are seen as "disposable" workers. Certainly the presence of millions of new immigrants keeps wages down and incomes lower because the newest Latino immigrants are young, poor, and unskilled, so take jobs in low-paying industries such as agriculture, poultry processing, and janitorial services. This hurts earlier Latino immigrants who must move on to other unskilled jobs if they can find them.
For many scholars, such as Frank D. Bean, a demographer at the University of Texas, the main reason for the plight of Latinos is education or the lack of it. Even some Mexican Americans whose families have lived here for at least three generations have less schooling than their parents. Latinos have been steadily falling behind non-Latinos in college attendance rates. (In 1994 only 9 percent of Hispanics over twenty-four years of age had college degrees, while 24 percent of non Hispanics had degrees. Disturbingly, Latinos were doing better in 1975 when 5 percent had college degrees compared with 11.6 percent of non-Latinos.)
In 1997, in the Los Angeles Unified School District, 70 percent of the students are Latinos, and education levels are low because of underfinancing, overcrowding, busing, and bilingualism. Lack of skill in English, in particular, is a critical barrier to Latino success. Most Spanish-speaking immigrants who come to the United States have low education and skill levels and speak little or no English. But even the children of immigrants born here do not always acquire proficiency in English, and they drop out at an earlier rate than others. Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California at San Diego, put it starkly: "Limited English proficiency is the single most important obstacle to upward mobility among Mexican immigrants." Hard work is not enough; only instruction in English, not Spanish and English but English primarily, will give Latinos a chance to climb up the economic ladder.
The predicament of Latinos emerges more starkly when Latino immigrants are compared with other immigrant groups. Latino immigrants know less English than earlier European or Asian immigrants did. Asians, who have not as yet pushed for bilingual education, excel in high school and frequently graduate from college. Yet some Latino elected officials and multiculturalists still insist on bilingual-bicultural instruction.
Although some Texans support bilingual education, more support making English the official language--two-thirds of those polled would conduct government business in English only. Even in immigrant-hostile California, attitudes are changing. Asian and Hispanic immigrants are creating a new California, writes Patrick Reddy, a California pollster. In 1996, Anglos were half of the state's population with Hispanics at 32 percent, Asians 11 percent, and blacks 7 percent. If this trend continues, by 2000 California, Hawaii, and New Mexico will all be non-Anglo states. The new ethnics have profoundly influenced the workforce: 80 percent of Hispanics are working, and, by 2025, two-thirds of California workers will be Hispanic. By 2020 Hispanics are projected to be a majority in California and will change the state's social profile. Asians and Hispanics have more durable families, a strong work ethic, and thus a healthy lifestyle. But Hispanics in the United States, because they are urbanized and have more children, have a higher crime rate than Asians and Anglos. And Hispanics in the United States, who on average have less than ten years of schooling and a high dropout rate, have lowered California's ranking in educating its citizens. Asians are better educated than Anglos and have shown strong business skills, while the Hispanics have demonstrated a strong work ethic. California, therefore, will be a better, more prosperous place because of the new ethnics, says Reddy.36 Others argue the opposite, especially if bilingual education continues.
Bilingual education expenditure under a Republican-controlled House and Senate increased from $117 million in 1995 to $157 million in 1997 (an increase of 34.2 percent), even though most objective analyses show bilingual education is a waste of time for Latino Hispanic students, reducing their mastery of English and access to better-paying jobs. (For 1998 the budget will have $199 million for a million LEP children and to provide training for four thousand teachers. There is also $150 million for the Immigrant Education program to help more than a thousand school districts provide supplemental instructional services to 875,000 recent immigrant students.)
In the 1996 elections many voters perceived the Republicans as an anti-immigrant, mean-spirited, right-wing party dominated by white males. The party lost two governorships and eleven seats in Congress to Latino voters, pollsters claim. It lost many Hispanic votes especially among the new citizens (1.2 million) rushed to citizenship by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. (New Latino voter registration was only 11 percent for the Republican Party in the 1990s, and turnout of self-identified Latino Republicans declined 36 percent in 1996.) In 1997 another 1.6 million applications for citizenship were received, and 80 to 85 percent are expected to vote for the Democratic Party as they did in 1996.
How to win back Latino voters remains a major question for the Republicans. One plan called for ending bilingual education in California by pushing the "English for the Children" initiative sponsored by Ron Unz and educator Gloria Motta Tuchman, which qualified for the June 1998 ballot. But efforts to end bilingual education could be risky for Republicans. Even though some polls show that more than 80 percent of Latino parents want their children educated in English rather than Spanish, other polls show that 86 percent of state and Latino voters support bilingual instruction and more than 58 percent oppose eliminating bilingual education. The Republicans must be careful to get the right message across, that is, that English-language competency aids Latinos and gives them access to well-paying jobs in the state's economy. The "English for the Children" initiative must not be seen as a threat to Latino immigrants and should emphasize Spanish-language instruction while opposing bilingualism. The Republicans, however, are divided on the issue and failed fully to support "English for the Children", although it passed 60 to 40 percent in June 1998.
Bilingual Education: Yes or No?
Some members of the education bureaucracy, guided by the principle of "cultural maintenance," want Hispanic-surnamed children to continue to be taught Spanish language and culture and English only as a second language. The extremists among them even want Spanish to be a second national language. The Center for Equal Opportunity's president and CEO, Linda Chavez, accuses these advocates of bilingual education of being politicized and manipulated by cultural activists. The programs they favor, she claims, have failed and have undermined the future of the Latino children they were meant to help.37 Chavez's criticisms are supported by the evidence. Latinos, Hispanics, or Chicanos taught in bilingual programs test behind peers taught in English-only classrooms, drop out of school at a high rate, and are trapped in low-skilled, low-paying jobs.
As noted earlier, the problem began in 1974 when the Supreme Court in Lau v. Nichols ignored two hundred years of English-only instruction in America's schools and said that students who did not speak English must receive special treatment from local schools. This allowed an enormous expansion of bilingual education. Advocates of bilingual education in the U.S. Office for Civil Rights had begun a small program in 1968 to educate Mexican American children, but by 1996 it had expanded from a $7.5 million to an $8 billion a year industry. The initial objective to teach English to Spanish speakers for one or two years was perverted into a program to Hispanicize, not Americanize, Spanish speakers. The federal program insists that 75 percent of education tax dollars be spent on bilingual education, that is, long-term native-language programs, not English as a second language. Asians, Africans, and Europeans are all in mainstream classes and receive extra training in English-as-a-second-language programs for a few hours a day. Hispanic students, in contrast, are taught in Spanish 70 to 80 percent of the time. New York is especially irresponsible in this regard, forcing children with Spanish surnames, even those who speak no Spanish at home, to take Spanish and to spend at least 40 percent of the class time in Spanish classes. New England schools are about as bad, forcing Spanish- and Portuguese-surnamed children to take Spanish or Crioulo!
Some critics of bilingualism claim that the vast majority of Spanish speakers want their children to be taught in English, not Spanish, and do not want the U.S. government to keep up Hispanic culture and language. The bilingual bureaucracy at local and federal levels wants to Hispanicize and to capture federal funds for schools. Meanwhile, other ethnic groups achieve higher academic scores, in part because they are not wasting time on bilingual classes and culture and failing to master the language of the marketplace and higher education--English. Since there are seldom enough bilingual teachers, Arab, Asian, and European students go right into classes with English-speaking students. They achieve higher scores and more of them graduate than the bilingually taught. The Center for Equal Opportunity in its reports shows the dangers of bilingualism and demands its reform. Otherwise the United States will become deeply divided linguistically and be stuck with a Latino underclass that cannot meet the needs of a high-tech workplace because its English is poor.
Since Latino immigration--legal or illegal--is likely to continue in the future and since Latino fertility levels are high, the Latino population will grow. According to Hoover economist Edward Lazear, the economic costs of not adequately educating Hispanics will be great, and their economic well-being will be lower than if they were to stay in school longer and focus on English, not on bilingualism.38 Lazear argues that much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in America is generated by government policies that reduce the incentives to become assimilated and emphasize the differences among ethnic groups in the population. Examples are bilingual education and unbalanced immigration policies that bring in large numbers of Asians and Hispanics who move into large and stable ghettos.
Rosalie Pedolino Porter, a bilingual education teacher for more than twenty years, is convinced that all limited-English-proficiency students can learn English well enough for regular classroom work in one to three years, if given some help. The old total immersion system still works best; the longer students stay in segregated bilingual programs, the less successful they are in school. Even after twenty-eight years of bilingual programs, the dropout rate for Latinos is the highest in the country. In Los Angeles the Latino students dropped out at double the state average (44 percent over four years of high school). Special English-language instruction from day one gets better results than Spanish-language instruction for most of the day.
Latino activists now call for limited recognition to be accorded to Spanish--inglés y más ("English and more") runs the slogan. (Official documents of various kinds are now printed in Spanish and other languages as well as English. At the Democratic convention of 1996 speeches were given in Spanish as well as English.) If this course continues, the demand for recognition of Spanish will inevitably change into a demand for recognition of Spanish as an official language. Such a transformation would give great benefits to Spanish speakers in public employment but leave others at a disadvantage. Bilingualism, or multilingualism, imposes economic transaction costs; the political costs are even higher. I do not wish to see the United States become a bilingual country like Canada or Belgium, which both suffer from divisiveness occasioned by the language issue.
I also would like to insist on a higher degree of proficiency in English than is at present required by applicants for naturalization in the United States. A citizen should be able to read all electoral literature in English--no more foreign-language ballots! For similar reasons, I oppose those educators in publicly funded high schools who believe that their task is to maintain the immigrant's cultural heritage. Such endeavors should be left to parents, churches, "Saturday schools," and the extended family. The role of the public schoolteacher is to instruct students in English and American culture and political values. English plays a crucial role in cultural assimilation, a proposition evident also to minority people. (In Brooklyn, for example, the Bushwick Parents Organization went to court in 1996 to oppose the Spanish-English education of Hispanics in the local public schools, arguing that this instruction would leave their children badly disadvantaged when they graduated.) As Ruth Wisse, herself a distinguished educator, puts it, before we encourage ethnic-language revivals in the European manner, "we should recall what millions of immigrants instinctively grasped: that English is the most fundamental pathway to America's equal opportunities."39 (The European experience is likewise clear. "In general, mother-tongue education is unrealistic and unsuccessful. The children of immigrant parents rapidly acquire the language of their country of residence, and are often less comfortable and successful in their parents' mother-tongue.")40
A Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder (April 1996) asks the question, "Are immigration preferences for English-speakers racist?" The Center answers in the negative because one-third of humanity has some knowledge of the English language and most of these people are nonwhite. Although the 1996 immigration bills in the House and Senate had an English requirement for certain employee-based categories of immigrants, it was removed lest it discriminate against nonwhites.
Knowledge of English is an acquired, not an inherent, skill--anyone, white, black, or brown, can learn English. Immigrants line up to learn English because they believe that learning English will improve their prospects--and it does, significantly. English is the most widely used language in history. English is the language of science, technology, diplomacy, international trade, and commerce. Half of Europe's business is carried out in English, and more than 66 percent of the world's scientists read English. Eighty percent of the world's electronically stored information is in English. The world's forty million Internet users mostly communicate in English. Experts conclude that one-third of mankind speaks or understands some English. Selecting immigrants on the basis of some command of the language therefore cannot be discriminatory.
Bilingual education in California is a vast industry--about 1.3 million children attend bilingual classes at a cost of more than $5 billion a year. (In the United States 2.6 million students are enrolled in bilingual classes. There is, therefore, a financial incentive to keeping the system.) Schools that provide bilingual education are able to get numerous federal and state grants. Yet bilingual education is a bizarre and unsuccessful program. Only about 5 percent of children in bilingual classes ever make it into English-speaking classes each year. And large numbers of children, mostly Spanish speakers, leave school unable to read or write English, the official language of their adopted country. Shockingly, the federal legislation calling for bilingual education "expired a decade ago," yet bilingual education persists.41
Bilingual education was on the California ballot in 1998 thanks to Silicon Valley entrepreneur Unz. He launched a drive to get 433,000 signatures to put an end to bilingual education in California schools. Some polls show that most Latino parents prefer their children to learn English as soon as possible. They believe, correctly, that English literacy is the key to success in the United States. Bilingual teachers are paid more, and schools with bilingual programs get large grants from federal and state programs. Nevertheless, most studies by independent researchers charge that bilingual education is unnecessary and a failure. Most student never really learn to read or write English well, and Spanish speakers leave school at the highest rate of any ethnic group. Bilingual education also defeats efforts to assimilate children into U.S. society and is against the wish of most parents. The solution, Unz and others insist, is one year of sheltered English immersion, then into regular classrooms. Most people seem to agree except bilingual teachers, administrators, and multiculturists who want not only language training but also cultural maintenance or, in other words, want to create little Quebecs in states like California, New York, Texas, and Florida. The evidence is overwhelming: bilingualism does not work, is expensive, is divisive, and ill serves Spanish speakers to advance and compete in American society.
The "English for the Children" ballot initiative called for stopping the teaching of non-English-speaking children in their mother tongue, unless their parents request it. Instead a year of "sheltered English immersion" should be required before placing them in English-only classrooms. Ron Unz, the initiator of the ballot, also mandates $50 million a year for ten years for adult literacy programs. Although the ballot measure passed, opposition to the new law has already begun at local school levels.
Advocates of bilingual education reluctantly concede the system does not work. But political infighting in the California legislature has prevented rational reform. Large numbers of children each year are forced into bilingual classes even if their parents don't want it. Bilingual teachers, moreover, are in short supply, so some teachers are hired who have no teacher training but speak Spanish or some language other than English. This results in poor teaching and little or no English-language teaching.
Bilingual Education Advocates
Some children are forced into Spanish-speaking bilingual classes because they have Spanish surnames, even though they understand and speak English well and do not speak or read Spanish. As a result they are held back and do not improve in English. Time and again, because they have Hispanic surnames, they are put in classes with immigrant children who speak little or no English.
Parents have complained bitterly for some time that all day long their children are exposed to Spanish and only for a few minutes to English. Efforts to get their children transferred are resisted--"We know best" the teacher or principal says. In some cases it has taken as much as a year to remove a child from bilingual education even if the child speaks no Spanish when he/she enters the class. Teachers would say, "Isn't it a shame your child doesn't know his native language." Even the Mexican consul-general in Los Angeles justifies supplying native-born Spanish teachers to the county system in order to protect Latino children's Spanish heritage.
Why is bilingual education able to continue this way against the wishes of many parents and the almost total failure of bilingual education in most schools in the United States? Bilingual education began about 1967 as an effort to help immigrants, mostly Spanish speakers, learn English. Unfortunately "it has become a multi-billion dollar hog trough that feeds arrogant education bureaucrats and militant Hispanic separatists."42
White Hispanic parents have been protesting for some time, but only in the past few years have they been occasionally successful. Parents in a Los Angeles elementary school had to go on strike to get their children taught English. One hundred and fifty Hispanic families in Brooklyn's Bushwick district had to sue New York State to get their children out of bilingual classes. An affidavit to the court said a child was put into the bilingual program because he had a Spanish surname even though he spoke no Spanish. By the seventh grade such children could not read in either English or Spanish. Denver schools are set to limit students to three years in bilingual programs instead of six years because so many of their students have been performing below grade level. In Las Lunas, New Mexico, students protested against the lack of English tutoring. In Dearborn, Michigan, the school board was forced to reject $5 million in federal funds for bilingual programs when parents complained. Across the country the story is the same: parents reject bilingualism and want their children to learn English. A Los Angeles Times poll in October 1997 showed California voters favored limiting bilingual education four to one; Hispanics opposed it by 84 percent. The most impressive opposition to date is the ballot initiative in California--"English for the Children"--which was passed in June 1998 by a 60 to 40 percent vote. Of course, bilingual teachers and administrators reject opposition to their programs: "We know better, we're the teachers," said Cochairman Joseph Ramos of the New Jersey Bilingual Council.43
Misunderstandings abound over bilingual education: it is not about speaking two languages; it is not about learning two languages at the same time; it is not a program conducted mostly in English. Bilingual education is not structured English immersion or English as a second language when the children are expected to move into English quickly after a year or two of bilingual classes. Transitional bilingual education (TBE) was supposed to have students take most courses in their native languages while they learned English. This way they would not fall behind in other courses--this was the rationale in the highly successful Newcomer school in San Francisco and other places. But TBE fell victim to theorists of language education--"facilitation theorists"--who claim that children cannot learn a second language until they are fully literate in their first. This process supposedly takes six or seven years, during which the students are supposed to be taught their native language. Slowly English is worked into the curriculum until the "threshold" is crossed and then the student can go into English. In other words, children are to learn English by being taught in Spanish. As the principal of a Los Angeles school said, "loco, completamente loco."44
Since the Bilingual Education Amendment passed in 1968, Hispanic activists, especially militant Chicanos, have seized the chance to get Spanish-language instruction. The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) started sending out guidelines making school districts set up bilingual programs. The Supreme Court then ruled in Lau v. Nichols (1974) that non-English speaking children had a right to special language programs. HEW then expanded the concept to mean bilingual programs for all children from homes where English was not a primary language. So children with perfect English would have to go to bilingual classes if their parents preferred to speak Spanish or Chinese at home! As early as 1980, there were five hundred school districts in the nation with bilingual programs.
Yet no one could show that bilingual education was working. That is why "facilitation theory" was introduced; it claimed to show that children needed six years or so to be taught in their native language before they could learn English. Children would be cognitively deprived if they were not taught in their native tongue. In practice, this meant Spanish speakers because no school system could provide bilingual programs for the scores of languages existing in many states--New York has 121 different languages. Nor are teachers available. In 1993 California had a shortfall of twenty thousand bilingual teachers.
And then there was "Spanglish," an attempt in the 1970s to force a combination of Spanish and English on school children. Such absurdities abound in bilingual education. So desperate are bilingual educators to target students that, in one documented case in San Francisco, 750 black children were put into Spanish or Chinese classes even though not one spoke either language at home.
TBE has been a failure, has kept many students too long in the program, and has retarded the students' ability to learn either Spanish or English. Immersion programs do much better--80 percent who enter in kindergarten are mainstreamed after three years whereas only 22 percent of TBE are moved out of the program after the second grade. Most students stay in the TBE program for six years and are not competent in either language when they leave. After six years of TBE one student wrote: "I my parens per mi in dis shool en I so I feol essayrin too old in the shool my border o reri can gier das mony putni gire and I sisairin aliro sceer." This is incomprehensible in either Spanish or English. The parents say the school district claims the boy is doing fine and is nearly ready to leave bilingual classes.45 Typically students in TBE classes get less than an hour's instruction a day in English.
Even though poll after poll in Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, Miami, and New York shows that parents want their children taught in English, not Spanish, Hispanic activists keep insisting on bilingualism, as do academic supporters of bilingualism. The debate has overtones of ethnic politics; it is about Latino power and culture, ethnic pride, so-called victimhood, and preferential treatment through affirmative action. Money and grants are involved; to trigger funds a minimum number of students is required. There is a huge bureaucracy of administrators, bilingual teachers, psychologists, and textbook publishers at the funding trough! Money flows from state, local and federal levels.46 The issue has been seized by the Democrats to bash the Republicans and picture them as anti-Latino.
Once again California was at the center of a big, national debate--this time on the bilingual education ballot initiative set for June 1998. The Unz campaign, however, had a fair chance of success. Latinos, even more than whites, favored ending the program. In the Los Angeles Times poll, Latino voters favored the initiative by 84 percent to 16 percent.47 Most Americans, even recent immigrants, felt schools should make students proficient in English, the language of the country and marketplace. This support remained solid even though the debate became politicized.
Mexican American activists reject assimilation, insist on bilingualism and multiculturalism, and lay claim to Southwest America as belonging to Mexico! Wave after wave of illegals push inexorably into the United States and find refuge in Spanish ghettos. Many Mexican American politicians and activists claim to speak for these new immigrants. Their message is not pushing assimilation but rather the protection of Spanish language and culture and the theme that the Southwest United States belongs to the descendants of Mexicans who lost the war of 1848.
Thus Rodolfo Acuña's Occupied America claims the Southwest for Mexicans. Chicano activists (Chicanismo) push not only for civil rights for illegal Mexicans but also for the return (reconquista) of the lost provinces to form Aztlán. Chicanismo demands Spanish language and culture education, not English or American cultural schooling. The Movimiento Estudiante Chicano de Aztlán (MECHA) in 1970 formed a political party, La Raza Unida, won control of Crystal City, Texas, and tried to make it into a Chicano city. The party split and has had little political impact since but could easily revive in California or Texas. MECHA survives in dozens of Chicano studies programs in the western United States. Chicano leaders have been courted by the Democratic Party and appear to have a bright future there. Add the newly made Spanish-speaking citizens of 1996 to Chicano activists and Latino politicians, and the situation becomes explosive. For example, 30 percent of the population of California is Latino; by 2000, the number will be 40 percent.
Mexican American leaders are split; on the one hand they emulate African Americans and see themselves as an aggrieved racial group demanding group rights and preferment, but on the other they boast of how they are like previous ethnic groups. The Mexican American leadership is certainly ambivalent: Chicano nationalists claim to be the inheritors of Mexican civilization and want to restore Aztlán, but others want to assimilate, have their children learn English, and become Americans as other immigrants did. Unfortunately a few Mexican American politicians such as Art Torres, a former California state senator, play the race card often. MECHA accused the Republican Party of being made up of racist/fascist European settlers.48 The virulent, antiwhite high school textbook, Five Hundred Years of Chicano History in Pictures, boasts of Chicano "resistance to being colonized and absorbed by racist empire builders." Throughout Chicano studies programs in college and universities, one sees " a process of racialization and reawakening ethnic consciousness." These feelings are "reinforced and given a political twist by organizations like MECHA, by Chicano Studies departments, by the intrusions of Mexican politicians, and above all by an unceasing flow of new immigrants."49 Both parties court the Latinos, the Anglos even sang Viva Mexico! at a meeting of the National Council of La Raza. No criticism was made when the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials boasted of the rising Latino demographics, "We will overwhelm."
At present, therefore, the only basis for bilingual education in California is a mixture of state and administrative decisions and politicians' fear of a backlash from Latino voters if the program is ended. In fact, most Latino voters oppose bilingual education so the Republican Party's failure to back "English for the Children" was politically inept. Opposition to the Unz initiative came from the National Association for Bilingual Education, the California Teachers' Association, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Trust, which claimed that one year of English immersion for LEP would not be enough.
A poll in November 1997 showed less support for ending bilingual education--57.6 percent--but the outcome of the bilingual initiative depended heavily on how the issue was framed. The Unz group was careful to spell out that "English for the Children" would not throw LEP children into regular classes where they would have to "sink or swim," nor would it cut special funding for children learning English nor bar all "bilingual education programs."
In regard to the best manner of teaching English, my approach is eclectic. There are several ways in which a language can be taught--the United States does not have to tie itself down to any one of them. The variety and flexibility of U.S. education has in fact always been its strength. There is a case for the "sink-or-swim" method (one from which most immigrants benefited until 1968). There is a case for special instruction in English for a year or so for students not proficient in English. There is also a case for transitional, well-run bilingual classes. The choice among the different methods should be left to parents, most of whom do not want bilingual education, and to the local education authorities, who should heed local desires and needs.
The maintenance of foreign immigrant cultures, however, should be a matter of private, not public, endeavor. I do wish to stress, however, the value of maintaining the intellectual capital represented by the foreign-born students' existing language skills. I also wish to enter a plea for improving the teaching of foreign languages and the geography of foreign countries. All too often in the United States, the best--or the only--geography teaching is done by travel bureaus with their posters.
English is the most widely used language in history. English is the language of science, technology, diplomacy, international trade, and commerce. Half of Europe's business deals are carried out in English, and more than 60 percent of the world's scientists read English. Eighty percent of the world's electronically stored information is in English. Immigrants lineup to learn English because they believe that doing so will improve their prospects--and it does significantly.
Nevertheless, cultural considerations aside, the United States has become far more dependent than in the past on foreign trade. There is increasing need for merchants, bankers, diplomats, and soldiers able to communicate in foreign tongues, yet this country has been remiss in educating a sufficient number of men and women with the requisite linguistic skills. Yielding to demands for "relevance" and students' pressure for easy grades, American schools, colleges, and universities have long ignored language requirements. (Between 1966 and 1979, the percentage of U.S. colleges and universities insisting on a foreign language as a qualification for admission dropped from 34 percent to 8 percent--at a time when America's foreign commerce continued to increase as a proportion of the gross national product, from 6 percent in the 1940s to 17 percent in 1982.) U.S. schools and colleges contain too many youngsters who cannot speak, read, or write any language correctly--regardless of their national origin or native language. This deficiency is deplorable, as is the mind-set that assumes competence in one language to be incompatible with the command of another. On the contrary, a student fluent in Spanish can more easily acquire good English than a student who is incompetent in either tongue.
The United States must seek to turn the tide of linguistic ignorance. Compared with such countries as Switzerland or Holland, the United States is poorly equipped to teach foreign languages, often with deplorable, and sometimes even tragicomic, results. (To give one example: sales of the Chevrolet Nova automobile were said to have dropped in Latin America because "Nova" [no va] signifies "no go" in Spanish.) Far from spending less on maintaining linguistic proficiency, Americans should spend more. Spanish, in particular, has an important part in this country's educational future, given America's stake in the Latin American world. Spanish might well be encouraged as the first foreign-language elective in schools and universities in such states as Texas, New York, California, and Florida. But Spanish, like all other languages, can best be taught if students are given a grasp of grammar and orthography, those traditional skills frequently derided by experimental education theoreticians.
Unfortunately, "English-only" on the job is becoming more prevalent. Companies says it is for reasons of safety and employee unity. Yet it seems excessive to many to prevent people speaking their native language when on breaks or on the telephone to family members. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are filing discrimination suits over the new English-only rules. More than twenty-four states have now declared English as the official language. Meanwhile other businesses (telephone companies in Texas and California) are encouraging and seeking out bilingual employees, even though unions refuse to allow differential pay for people with second-language skills. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been filing lawsuits over dismissals because of second-language use. The EEOC claims that English-only is discriminatory, that it is illegal to require all employees to speak English at all times, and that it is justified to require English-only when it is a business necessity. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the English-only rules of a local meatpacking plant against EEOC guidelines. (But five other companies have agreed to end their English-only policies.)50
Similar considerations apply to the teaching of history. U.S. schools on the whole have grossly neglected history, especially world history. American culture is in many ways antihistorical; too many research institutions are concerned with public policy; too many government departments and educators act as if history began last week. Students at every level, whether English or Spanish speaking, quickly get the message. Few students of any linguistic background can intelligently explain why Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo as a national holiday or why, for that matter, Ulstermen once a year act as if the Battle of the Boyne (1690) had been fought yesterday. Chicano nationalists may be justly criticized for some grotesque distortions; they are fully justified, however, when they call for a better understanding of history--not only of the numbers of minorities that have enriched the United States but of the countries from which they came.
Overall, American schools should seek to preserve our multifarious heritage and extend it; and they should endeavor to blend traditional with innovative skills in education. In regard to methods for attaining this goal, conservative and liberal educators alike can do no better than to learn from W. E. B. Du Bois, whose introductory observations at the beginning of this essay may also serve as the conclusion for this section.
I reiterate that assimilation through English-only should be the United States' national object--not bilingualization and the ethnicization of America. I observe with pleasure that assimilation and intermarriage are ongoing processes. I am pleased that ethnic separatists at U.S. universities have not had much success in converting to their own viewpoints those popular masses for whom the ethnic elites profess to speak. Compared with any other multinational state on this globe--be it Nigeria, Russia, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Bosnia, or whatever--the United States has been the most successful society. The United States can rightly demand that immigrants be loyal to its language, its laws, its flag, its constitution. Only those who accept this proposition merit welcome. The biggest challenge facing the United States and the new immigrants is adaptation because conditions are so different from those faced by previous immigrants, who came from Europe. The acceptance of immigrants by native-born Americans is crucial to their adaptation. The current rise of an immigrant-baiting mood does not bode well for a quick, peaceful integration of the new immigrants.
To conclude, affirmative action and bilingual programs should be terminated; "English-only" should be required in the law, in government, in schools, and in the political system; no long-term bilingual education programs should be mandated; a transition year or two can be provided for those who do not speak English, then "English-only" in all academic courses (training in foreign languages as a second language to English should be encouraged.) "Becoming proficient in the language of America is a price that any immigrant should want to pay" and so should their children.51
1 W. E. B. Du Bois, cited in Kenneth James King, Pan-Africanism and Education: A Study of Race, Philanthropy, and Education in the Southern States of America and East Africa (Oxford, Eng.: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 257.
2 For a highly readable account of the Germans, see, for instance, Richard O'Connor, The German-Americans (New York: Little, Brown, 1968). The fullest recent history is LaVern J. Rippley, The German-Americans (Boston: Twayne, 1976).
3 See the Immigration History Newsletter 14, no. 1 (May 1982), for a bibliographic essay on bilingual education in American schools.
4 For a defense of bilingual education, see, for instance, Manuel H. Guerra, "Bilingualism and Biculturalism: Assets for Chicanos," in Arnulfo D. Trejo, ed., The Chicanos: As We See Ourselves (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1980), pp. 121–32.
5 Ibid., p. 126.
6 According to the 1971 report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, only sixty of every hundred Mexican Americans who entered first grade graduated from high school, compared to eighty-six "Anglos." The situation was no better for Puerto Ricans. Whereas Puerto Ricans in 1965 constituted twenty-five percent of New York's public school students, they formed barely 4 percent of the city university's enrollment. According to the 1980 census, the educational standards of Hispanic New Yorkers still left much to be desired. (Only 5.9 percent of Hispanics twenty-five years old and over had completed four years of college; 9.7 percent had attended college for one to three years; 23.9 percent had four years of high school; 20.3 percent had been at high school for one to three years; and 40.2 percent had only an elementary school education.) Hispanics not only have a low rate of college enrollment (4 percent) but also a low rate of receiving a degree (only 2 percent in 1976–77). Between 1976 and 1981, the percentage of public school professional staff in New York State had increased slowly (from 4.4 percent to 5.1 percent).
7 The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Unemployment and Underemployment among Blacks, Hispanics, and Women (Washington, D.C.: Clearing House Publication 74, 1982), pp. 5, 43. The figures for 1980 stood as follows: 6 percent of majority males and 5.6 percent of majority females were unemployed; corresponding figures for blacks were 13 percent for both men and women; for Hispanic men and women they were 8.1 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively. "Majority" college graduates had an unemployment rate of no more than 1.6 percent for males and 2.4 percent for females. Corresponding figures were 5.5 percent and 3.1 percent for black males and females, respectively. For Hispanics, the corresponding percentages stood at 3.8 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively.
8 Guerra, "Bilingualism and Biculturalism," in Trejo, Chicanos, p. 128.
9 Roger A. Freeman, The Growth of American Government (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1975), p. 15.
10 Cited by MALDEF (organ of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) 12, no. 3 (fall–winter 1982):3.
11 For these controversies, see, for instance, Ellwyn Stoddard, Mexican Americans (New York: Random House, 1973); Thomas P. Caner and Roberto D. Segura, Mexican Americans in School: A Decade of Change (New York: College Board Publications, 1979); and N. Epstein, Language, Ethnicity, and the Schools: Policy Alternatives for Bilingual-Bicultural Education (Washington, D.C.: George Washington University, Institute for Educational Leadership, 1977).
12 Colin Greer, The Great American School Legend: A Revisionist Interpretation of American Education (New York: Basic Books, 1972).
13 See Public Opinion 4, no. 3 (June–July 1981):20–36. Eighty-three percent of all respondents said that they were extremely proud to be Americans; 65 percent of the black respondents said that they were "extremely proud" to be Americans. Eighty-five percent of whites thought that the United States had a special role to play in the world; 80 percent of the black respondents agreed. Ninety-four percent of the whites thought that the United States was the very best country in which to live; 86 percent of the black respondents agreed. Ninety-one percent of white respondents considered that the private business system in the United States worked better than any other system; 85 percent of black respondents agreed. Seventy-nine percent of all respondents (no separate racial breakdown given for this answer) opposed any measure that would place a top limit of $100,000 on all incomes.
14 Quoted in Immigration History Newsletter, May 1982, p. 5.
15 See, for instance, James Ylisea, "Bilingual Bellwether at Bay," Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 1982, for a critique of Ronald Reagan's policy.
16Public Opinion 5, no. 3 (June–July 1982): 1–10.
17 U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, hearing, April 23–26, 1982.
18 David Hoffman and Lorenzo Romero, "Spanish Current Flows into the English Mainstream," San Jose Mercury, "Mercury Special Report," November 4, 1981.
19 Abdin Noboa-Rios, "An Analysis of Hispanic Doctoral Recipients," Metas 2, no. 2 (winter 1981–1982):95.
20 Gallup Poll 1982, summer, pp. 463–64.
21 Milton L. Barron, ed., The Blending American: Patterns of Intermarriage (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1972). For intermarriage figures of first- and second-generation Hispanics in New York, see Office of Pastoral Research, Hispanics in New York (New York: Office of Pastoral Research 1982), vol. 2, p. 133, table 13. All Hispanic groups increased their rate of outgroup marriage, except the Puerto Ricans.
22 See Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 1983, p. 12.
23 Robert E. Rossiter, "Bilingual Education: Training for the Ghetto," Policy Review 25 (summer 1983): 36–45.
24 Ibid., p. 467.
25 Mary Ellen Goodman and Alma Beman, "Child's Eye Views of Life in an Urban Barrio," in Nathaniel Wagner and Marsha J. Haug, eds., Chicanos: Social and Psychological Perspectives (St. Louis: C. V. Mosby Co., 1971), pp. 109–19.
26 According to a survey carried out by the Roper Organization in 1982, 66 percent of respondents thought that the English immigrants had been "a good thing" for the United States, 59 percent thought so of the Jews, 46 percent of the blacks, 25 percent of the Mexicans, and 9 percent of the Cubans (the latter mainly a "white group"). Conversely, 59 percent of respondents thought that Cubans had been "a bad thing" for the United States, 34 percent thought so of Mexicans, 16 percent thought so of blacks, 9 percent thought so of Jews, and 6 percent thought so of the English. See Public Opinion 5, no. 2 (June–July 1982): 34.
27 See John Mirowsky II and Catherine E. Ross, "Minority Status, Ethnic Culture, and Distress: A Comparison of Blacks, Whites, Mexicans and Mexican Americans," American Journal of Sociology 86, no. 1 (July–November 1980):479–95.
28Time, May 30, 1983, p. 64.
29 Newcomer High School Yearbook, 1981–1982 (San Francisco); see also Newcomer High School pamphlet, "General Information," and San Francisco Unified School District, Lau Consent Decree Progress Report 1982–1983 (San Francisco: Office of the Superintendent of Schools, 1982). I am indebted to personal information from Newcomer High.
30 Jacques Portes, "The Franco-American Reawakening," November 29, 1982, The Guardian (London), January 3, 1982, p. 18, reprinted from Le Monde.
31 Lawrence Auster, "Massive Immigration Will Destroy America," Insight, October 3, 1994, p. 18.
32 Rosalie Pedalino Porter, Introduction, Charles L. Glenn, "Improving Schooling for Language Minority Children: A Research Agenda," review of the National Research Council Study, in Read Abstracts Research and Policy Review, May 1997, pp. 1–2.
33 See article in Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1997, Al 6.
34 Carey Goldberg, "Hispanic Households Struggle as Poorest of the Poor in the U.S.," New York Times, January 30, 1997. See also the Census Bureau's figures for 1996; median household income in 1996 were for Asian-Americans, $43,276, for African-Americans, $23,482, for Hispanics (of any race) $24,906, and for whites, $37,161. These figures were roughly the same in 1995, except for Hispanics, who were up 5.8 percent in 1996.
35 Goldberg, "Hispanic Households."
36 See his article in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 17, 1996.
37 See Jorge Amselle, ed., The Failure of Bilingual Education, 1996 (Washington, D.C.: Center for Equal Opportunity, 1997.)
38 Edward P. Lazear, Culture Wars in America, Essays in Public Policy series (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1996).
39 Ruth Wisse, "Shul Daze," New Republic, May 27, 1996, p. 19. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the U.S. population stood at 253,451,585. In 1975 the total number of legal immigrants admitted amounted to 386,194. By 1993 this figure had more than doubled, to 904,922 (not counting illegals). An annual immigration rate of two per thousand would still let in more than half a million every year. Reduced immigration would facilitate the assimilation of immigrants in this country. In case of need, the number of legally admitted newcomers could be increased.
40 Zig Layton-Henry, The Politics of Immigration: Immigration, "Race" and "Race" Relations in Post-War Britain (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992), pp. 223–24.
41The Economist, August 30–September. 5, 1997, p. 16. California has half the country's 2.6 million public school students who are labeled "limited-English-proficient" (LEP). Massachusetts, New York, and Florida are the other states with large numbers of LEPs, and they too are planning antibilingual initiatives so they will watch California closely.
42 Glen Garvin, "Loco, Completamente Loco," Reason, January 1998, p. 3.
43 Ibid., pp. 5–6.
44 Ibid., p. 7.
45 Ibid., p. 14–15.
46 Ibid., pp. 15–20.
47 See Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1997, p. 1.
48 See Scott McConnell, "American No More," National Review, December 31, 1997, pp. 30–35, for an excellent survey of this topic.
49 Ibid., p. 35.
50 Shelley Donald Cooledge, "Language Rules," Christian Science Monitor, January 15, 1998.
51 See Issues '96 (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, 1996), p. 355; for reforms of the U.S. immigration, see chap. 11, pp. 333–57.