This past Monday’s raucous debate at Harvard University brought back many fond memories of my 1998 California campaign. Although my opponent, Prof. Catherine Snow, one of America’s most prominent bilingual theorists, was new, nearly everything else was quite familiar. As usual, the standing-room-only crowd of over 400 was around 95% intensely hostile, with many dozens of the more enthusiastic participants carrying assorted protest signs or wearing “No Unz” armbands.
Rather more surprisingly familiar was the nature of the arguments made against our new Massachusetts initiative, nearly all of which were absolutely identical to those made some four years earlier.
While such consistency in public position might normally be considered praiseworthy, factual reality has certainly changed considerably during this period.
In particular, the test scores of over one million immigrant students in California have risen by over 50% during this period, with those school districts most strict in their embrace of Prop. 227 having actually doubled their academic performance. And since these remarkable results had been highlighted and validated by a front-page lead story in the New York Times and similar stories in the Boston Globe and almost every other major media outlet in America, I had expected such facts to have even reached the cloistered inhabitants of the Harvard Faculty Club.
When I queried my esteemed opponent Shattuck Professor of Education Catherine Snow on the matter of these test scores, she responded that while a 50% rise in test scores of over one million students after less than two years was “interesting,” she was uncertain whether such results were statistically significant, and suggested that a scientifically-controlled fifteen- year longitudinal study be undertaken to answer this question. She then pointed to the five books on bilingual education that she had brought along to the debate, claiming that they proved the success of the program, and suggested that such books should carry far much more weight than anything that had recently happened to the test scores of a million students in California.
Such statements sadly confirm the opinion of myself and probably every other theoretical physicist in America that the IQs of most professors of education are not statistically significant.
Even more determinative was her response to my claim that bilingual education was substantially based on the unusual theory that the older you are, the easier it is to learn another language, with adults being best at new language acquisition and small children having the most difficult time. Since Prof. Snow was in fact the originator of this theory, she courageously defended it, again citing her books as proof. At these statements, a small hush of unhappy disbelief settled over many of even the most vigorous bilingual proponents in the audience.
Once upon a time, a Harvard professor of Theoretical Reality developed an exciting new theory that rocks fall upward. Although numerous illiterate bricklayers and drunken carpenters disagreed with this conclusion, few of such individuals had Ph.D.’s or faculty positions and so their opinions counted for nothing in the world of academic discourse. And as the years went on, that Harvard professor’s students and disciples and colleagues propagated her views on the upward falling of rocks far and wide, through their books and their articles and their lectures.
Eventually, Congressional hearings were held and new federal safety ordinances drafted. It was required that all houses be securely anchored in solid bedrock to prevent them from flying into the sky, and that all students in school learn their lessons while standing on their heads lest they injure themselves while falling into the ceiling.
Over the past thirty years, many millions of young immigrant students in America have been required to learn their lessons while standing on their heads, and many of them have had their educations and their lives destroyed as a consequence. I do not believe that history will be kind to those individuals who brought this about, nor to those whose cowardly and silent acquiescence allowed this policy to continue.
For a somewhat different account of the Harvard debate, I am including an article below from the Harvard Crimson.
Next week, I am participating in another Boston area debate, this time hosted by Lesley University, one of America’s largest teacher training institutions.
- Harvard panel heatedly debates bilingual education
Harvard Crimson, Tuesday, October 16, 2001