With Florida chad-counting now fast becoming a fading memory, our nation’s major newspapers are faced with a newly vacated news hole to fill, only partially met by current speculation surrounding the rather bland and unsurprising Cabinet choices of the incoming Bush Administration.
In New York City, the growing storm over bilingual education appears to be temporarily filling part of that gap. Sunday’s front-page New York Times story on the subject was followed by a second story on Monday, this time focusing on the aftermath of November’s landslide victory of Proposition 203 in Arizona. That same day, NPR aired a segment on NYC’s battle over “English,” and perhaps most importantly, the liberal Daily News ran yet another full-page editorial on the subject—its fourth in two months—indicating that paper’s unbending commitment to this crucial local issue, a rarity in today’s journalism.
But all of this was merely the warm-up for Tuesday, when New York’s four dailies ran a total of seven separate pieces on the subject, including a Times columnist’s third recent attack on bilingual education and its third contrasting defense by a Daily News columnist. The ongoing cross-fire between news, opinion, and editorial pages has reached considerable intensity.
Over the past two months, the clear juxtaposition of a recent report on the consistent failure of bilingual ed programs in NYC with the media accounts of English immersion’s consistent success in California has led to various proposals to change New York’s bilingual education policy—the first such change in nearly thirty years. School Board President William Thompson, Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, and Giuliani ally Randy Mastro are all putting forth somewhat overlapping suggestions, most of whose details are still rather sketchy at present.
But the most pungent observation in the current debate came from the city’s sharp-tongued Mayor himself, who noted that the recent evaluation report blamed some of the failures of bilingual programs on the fact that many “bilingual” teachers lacked English proficiency—or as the Mayor aptly translated the bureaucratese: “They don’t know English”! Apparently knowing English has never been considered a crucial part of the job description of bilingual practitioners.
What more proof that for decades “bilingual” has been mere euphemistic short-hand for “Spanish-almost-only.”
Links to this varied collection of New York area articles and others is available at: www.English4Children.org/nynews.html
New York City elects a new mayor in just over ten months, and well before that time, the tendrils of political power and influence will have begun to slip away from the current holder of that office, regardless of his popularity or stature. If during that period Mayor Rudolph Giuliani were to invest significant energy and political capital—in close alliance with prominent local Democrats and major liberal media organs—to ensure that henceforth all his city’s students will be taught English in school, then millions of current and future immigrant families would long remember the name of the Mayor who gave their children the Gift of English. What better legacy could any elected official desire?
P.S. Supporting “English” seems rather good politics as well. A Zogby poll of 1000 likely voters taken in Florida just before the November election found support for all-English instruction in public schools leading by 83% to 12%. A lead of 72 percentage points is somewhat larger than the margin separating George W. Bush from Al Gore in that state, whether we count dimpled chads or not.