Is there a psychoanalyst in the house? Many U.S. newspapers reflexively oppose proposals to ban bilingual education, most recently in last week’s election. It might take a clinician to explore their motives and the self-destructive implications.
English-language newspapers ought to be gung-ho for teaching English quickly to all immigrant kids -- so more immigrants can read English-language newspapers. Isn’t boosting readership at the top of the industry’s to-do list? But four years ago, nearly every daily newspaper in California opposed Proposition 227, the statewide ballot initiative that largely ended the practice of teaching English-learning students in Spanish rather than English.
Prop. 227's success can be measured. In every subject area tested, grade-school immigrant children in English immersion classes have outpaced kids whose parents signed "waivers" that kept them in bilingual ed. Nevertheless, the pattern of newspaper nay-saying continued in the 2002 election. Prominent papers in Massachusetts and Colorado urged "No" votes on anti-bilingual initiatives that largely mirrored California’s. (An exception was the Boston Herald, the smaller, conservative alternative to the Globe.)
Most voters in Massachusetts ignored the Globe’s warnings not to uproot the bilingual bureaucracy. Belying its reputation as liberalism’s last band stand, the Bay State gave a 68 percent majority to Question 2, which replaces bilingual ed with English-only classes.
In Colorado, however, Amendment 31, a nearly identical measure, failed. While the loss may be mainly due to an opposition ad blitz financed by an eccentric heiress, campaigners for the status quo were also able to tout No-on-31 editorials from the state’s two biggest papers, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.
There is something in the genetic code of mainstream American journalism that often trumps business sense and the journalism industry’s own best interests. Call it ideology or timidity – fervor for political correctness, or fear of the PC police – it’s there. And it makes for irony that you could cut with a knife. Editors and publishers fret endlessly about the need to serve "at risk" readers – defined as minorities and women, and anyone under 35. "Diversity" hiring campaigns search for the elusive black and Latino college graduates willing to gamble their futures with an industry in decline. Newspaper in Education programs rain free newspapers on public schools, trying to wean young eyes from computer monitors and capture "subscribers of tomorrow."
But how genuine is the newspapers’ survival instinct if they can’t bring themselves to insist, with Ron Unz, sponsor of the anti-bilingual initiatives, that all immigrant children, without exception, be taught English in English?
The boldness of billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio offers an instructive contrast. The owner of Univision, the Spanish-language television network, he funded ads against Prop. 227 in California. An unamused Ron Unz observed that Perenchio "had an obvious economic motive in preventing Latino children from learning English in school."
Perenchio's audacity is matched only by the squeamishness of the anti-Unz newspapers. Nearly all of the editorials against his immersion measures begin with assurances that, by all means, energetic English instruction is to be supported in principle. But the concrete English-instruction proposal on the ballot isn’t perfect enough. Across-the-board English immersion is too "rigid," the Boston Globe lamented. There must be more nuance, more opportunity for kids to be taught in other ways – i.e., in Spanish. In Denver, the Post and News worried about a plank in Amendment 31 that would essentially eliminate waivers by exposing teachers to lawsuits if they grant them.
If English immersion without waivers or other opt-outs is unreasonably "inflexible," editors should inform the Army Language School in Monterey, California, which has built an international reputation by forcing students to think in the language they’re learning. Catholic schools also should be let in on the news. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who didn’t shrink from opposing Proposition 187, the initiative targeting illegal aliens, or Proposition 209, banning racial quotas, kept monastic-like silence on Prop. 227. Hardly surprising, because his parochial schools teach all students in English. Latinos account for more than 46 percent of L.A. County’s 92,500 Catholic school students, but there is no bilingual ed. No waivers. No exceptions.
And no problems, judging by the results. While nearly three in 10 Latino students in California’s public schools drop out of school, more than 97 percent of the state’s parochial school students go on to two- or four-year colleges, according to Catholic school figures.
Does the Constitution frown on English-only classes? Not according to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel recently upheld the constitutionality of Prop. 227, and they didn’t even mention the initiative’s waiver option. There was no hint that their ruling would have gone the other way if the waiver option weren’t available and all classes were all-English, as in parochial schools.
English immersion equips immigrant kids for success in America’s economy. Just as important, it promotes social harmony and a shared American identity. These goals are memorably voiced than in the famous "Prayer for our Country," in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. Attributed to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, it asks the Almighty to "fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues."
Interestingly, this historic prayer for harmony and cohesion was adopted decades ago as the official prayer of the League of United Latin American Citizens. LULAC has since been captured by multiculturalists who back bilingual-ed to the bitter end. They’re the kind of people Al Gore may have been slyly sending a signal to when, at a campaign stop two years ago, he mangled America’s motto, "E Pluribus Unum." Instead of translating it correctly as "From Many, One," he said,"From One, Many." But LULAC was not always of this bent. One of its original goals, announced in its constitution, was to "Foster the acquisition and facile use of the English language," and in the 1950s it sponsored intensive English programs for Latino preschoolers.
As LULAC leaders once understood, English immersion is good for kids and good for the country. It’s also good for newspapers, even though many editors cannot find the common sense or courage to agree.