Calif. election & bilingual education

Tom Condit tomcondit at
Thu Jun 4 14:17:31 PDT 1998

Proposition 227 lost in only two counties, San Francisco and Alameda (Oakland, Berkeley), although it carried other San Francisco Bay Area counties only narrowly. In general, the "no" vote exceeded 40% only in those highly urbanized counties which also tend to vote Democratic and to cast relatively high votes for Green and Peace and Freedom Party candidates. The biggest exception here was Imperial County, an agricultural county which is heavily hispanic.

The "yes" vote was highest in the counties which are white and rural, most of which don't have any bilingual education programs to begin with.

When the campaign began, hispanic voters were 67% in favor, but this fell off steadily as election day grew nearer. The most prominent supporters of 227 -- Ron Unz and Diane Callahan (spelling?) -- grew increasingly hysterical in their attacks on educators as only favoring bilingual education because of the money they could make out of it, since they didn't really have any good replies to the attacks.

In general, the more people took the trouble to learn something about 227, the less likely they were to support it. Unz commented at one public forum that the audiences at meetings were always 10 to 1 against him, while the callers on radio talk shows were always 10 to 1 for him.

I still feel that the basic problem in fighting measures like this is that they are part of a general educational backlash in which many leftists share, and which has been articulated on this list. Diane Callahan commented on one radio program that students wouldn't be put behind in other subjects by being shoved into English-immersion classes because "language acquisition" is all children do in kindergarten, first and second grade. This implies that "language acquisition" consists of listening to words and sentences and regurgitating them, whether they have any meaning to you or not. In reality, children acquired language as part of acquiring general cognitive skills -- learning about the world and the things in it, and how to describe them and understand other people's descriptions of them. That encompasses elementary math and science, field trips, music, etc., and it's obviously most easily done in a language you can understand and communicate with your family in.

Instead we have the simple-minded notion that children should learn English, and that we will therefore set a deadline for them to learn it -- 180 days in the Unz initiative. This not only denigrates the children, it denigrates English -- any language you can learn in 180 days has to pretty useless for anything complex.

This does along with the whole "standards" scam. "Not enough U.S. students understand math and science. Let's make them pass an exam in calculus before graduating from 8th grade." You just set a goal and arbitrarily declare that it's going to be met, sort of like the old Soviet "planning" process.

In reality what this does is take us right back to my school years in the 1940s and 1950s, when the majority of latino children didn't finish 8th grade in California. You sat in a room, in nice little rows, and you memorized things the teacher said, whether you understood them or not. If you were a good reader, as I was, you made sense out of them. If you weren't, or if English wasn't your native language, then like many of my classmates you decided that school was meaningless and got out as soon as you could.

David Stratman has put forward the notion that all of this emphasis on standards, the implicit revival of tracking, etc., has an underlying logic: that late capitalism is in fact not going to produce decent jobs for the majority of kids, so a system has to be put in place which will let them blame themselves for failing to get the education "necessary" to get decent jobs, rather than the system. The strongest evidence for this is, of course, the increasing educational requirements for jobs which could in fact be performed by people with a sixth-grade education if necessary.

Tom Condit

P S Here's some stats from the L A Times / CNN exit poll:

Prop. 227: Bilingual Education

Nearly half of all primary voters said they believed that "if you live in America, you should speak English," and nearly four in 10 felt that "bilingual education is not effective."

Not surprisingly, given those sentiments, Prop. 227 passed on Tuesday. Only 19 percent of the state's voters felt that Prop. 227 would discriminate against non-English speaking students. There was a slight gender gap on this ballot initiative, with 54 percent of men voting for it and 53 percent of women against.

Prop. 227

Voters Who Believe That...

All Americans should speak English 45%

Bilingual education isn't effective 37%

Prop. 227 is discriminatory 19%

Vote By Gender

Support Oppose

Men 54% 47%

Women 46% 53%

On a somewhat depressing note, the same poll showed that the lower people's incomes were, and the less education they had, the more likely they were to vote for Al Checchi. But, showing that bourgeois "education" doesn't do that much for you either, high-income voters who considered themselves "liberals" voted for "G. I. Jane" Harman.


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