English—Except in America

A powerful irony of the current “English” debate is that whereas countries throughout Europe and the rest of the world are increasingly requiring their schools to teach English, the international language of business and technology, most parts of America retain their Spanish-only bilingual education programs. The attached column by Robert George of the New York Post makes this point effectively.

The other attached column, by Linda Chavez, raises an even greater irony. Ms. Chavez, one of America’s most long-standing critics of bilingual ed programs, is a disciple of Albert Shanker, the legendary founder of America’s teacher union movement, in which she began her career. Shanker himself had waged a long and unsuccessful struggle to eliminate those disastrous programs, leaving her public position far closer to that of her mentor than many of his other erstwhile followers, who have gradually made their peace with a program they had come to view as impossible to uproot.

Shanker’s general politics multiply these ironies. For him, opposition to bilingual education was coupled with equally strong opposition to affirmative action, and other ethnic policies he viewed as unfair and divisive; and his position was well within the mainstream of the leadership of the American labor movement of his era.

An interesting indication of the ideological transformation of today’s Democratic Party is that if Shanker returned to life today and sought the Presidential nomination of his own party, he would clearly have no chance whatsoever, his stature as a giant of the 20th Century labor movement counting for nothing with party activists outraged at his ethnic policies. On the other hand, I suspect that the sum total of his notoriously pugnacious views and rhetoric—belief in a big strong America, with big strong unions looking out for the little guy, one united America with no place for ethnic separatist policies such as affirmative action or bilingual education—would make him a strong contender for the Republican nomination. He would thus be following in the footsteps of another ardent New Deal Democrat and union president who had to leave his party to reach the Presidency, Ronald Wilson Reagan.

For various reasons, Democrats have generally made the most successful Republicans.

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