Changing of the Guard

Under many circumstances, strong praise from one’s opponents is a very significant means of political validation. I attach below excepts from the remarks of James Crawford, one of America’s most prominent pro-bilingual activist/organizers, delivered at a national bilingual education conference held a couple of months ago.

Although I would take strong issue with many of Crawford’s views, he contrasts our political effectiveness with the extreme ineffectiveness of traditional anti-bilingual groups such as U.S. English (as well as the Republicans in Congress).

It should be noted that aside from signature-gathering expenses, our entire Prop. 227 campaign, a statewide, yearlong effort in gigantic California, cost only about $400,000, amounting to one of the cheapest initiative campaigns in state history.

By contrast, U.S. English has raised and spent almost $200,000,000 during the 1990s with little to show for it except the enlarged bank accounts of a host of consultants.

It is apparent why Crawford views our efforts as a far greater threat to the survival of bilingual education nationwide.

Incidentally, the corrected California test scores should be released within the next few days. With luck, they should provide a fairly clear indication of the success or failure of Prop. 227.


“Life in a Politicized Climate” James Crawford, Linguistic Minority Research Institute Conference on the Schooling of English Language Learners in the Post 227 Era Sacramento, California May 14, 1999

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Changing of the Guard

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at the character of today’s anti-bilingual movement. The devil in all its details. In case you hadn’t noticed, it is no longer dominated by the flag-waving, immigrant-baiting, single-issue zealots at U.S. English and English First.

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Long ago they ran out of new ideas. They continue to enjoy a following, to raise money through the mail, and to run patronizing ads about English unlocking the American Dream. Nevertheless, they seem to be approaching a political dead-end.

Their attacks on bilingual education over the years have rarely been effective because, while they paid lip service to helping children learn English, they also tended to portray language minorities in a sinister light: as a big problem for the country. English leaders have never been able to decide whether they truly want to help assimilate immigrants or to slam the Golden Door in their faces.

So, if bilingual education had to have an opposition, these old-time English-only leaders were ideal. They were crude, extreme, xenophobic, unsophisticated, and amateurish. It’s too bad that Ron Unz has supplanted these people. Because he is none of those things. Which makes him a far more formidable opponent.

In effect, Proposition 227 represented a changing of the guard in the anti-bilingual leadership. While Unz led the most consequential English-only campaign ever, U.S. English and English First stayed in Washington to lobby against the Puerto Rico plebiscite bill, fretting about the possibility of a Spanish-speaking state sometime in the future. An obsession that few other Americans seem to share.

Ron Unz, by contrast, knows all too well what worries American voters. Not only immigration and language diversity, but also the performance of public schools in an era of social and demographic change. He recognized the advantages of stressing the latter, not the former, as themes of the Proposition 227 campaign.

New Platform for Attacks

In effect, Unz repositioned the attack on bilingual education ñ no longer launching it from a stance of nativism and intolerance, but from the more respectable platform of school reform. As a neoconservative, he sought to capitalize on the voters’ fears and frustrations about public education. The 227 campaign gave him an opportunity to demonize favorite villains of the Right: supporters of Big Government, teachers’ unions, ivory tower academics, civil rights advocates, and of course, the dreaded “education establishment.”

Bilingual education turned out to be an ideal target for these purposes. And, of course, a vulnerable one as well. That was something the traditional English-only activists had failed to grasp because they were so wrapped up in symbolic politics.

Unz opposed bilingual education not as an internal security threat or an undeserved benefit to immigrants, but rather as a “failed social program” of the 1960s. An educational “fad” promoted by liberal elites. Part of a litany of “wrong-headed pedagogical experiments,” including “whole language, invented spelling, ‘fuzzy math,’ constructivist science, and endless self-esteem programs.”

That quote, by the way, demonstrates the success of Unz’s efforts to be treated as a sincere reformer, a responsible conservative. It comes from an article he published two weeks ago, not in the National Review or the Wall Street Journal, but in the Nation magazine, one of the last vestiges of Left-wing journalism in this country.

His reception by California media during the 227 campaign was equally respectful. Basically, after it was established that Unz had no white sheets in his closet, journalists lost interest in his larger political agenda ñ which remained effectively hidden in plain sight. Most reporters took most of what he said at face value. In fact, they did such a thorough job of recycling his message that he didn’t even need to run TV advertising in the late stages of the campaign.

None of this happened by accident. It was part of Unz’s conscious strategy. As you’ll recall, he carefully avoided being labeled an immigrant basher. Instead he posed as an immigrant advocate against unresponsive schools. Not only did he recruit Jaime Escalante, Gloria Matta Tuchman, and other Latinos as campaign figureheads. He also spurned the support of Pete Wilson, citing the governor’s record of divisiveness. And he provoked California’s nativist fringe groups into opposing 227.

On a pragmatic basis, if nothing else, Ron Unz recognizes that pandering to nativism ñ as many of his Right-wing comrades have done ñ is self-defeating in the long term. Because after passions cool, members of the majority tends to forget about their own excesses, but the victims have long memories. And if they vote, watch out. A lesson that California Republicans recently learned.

The full text of James Crawford’s remarks can be found at:


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