A few years ago, when I first began preparing our successful “English for the Children” initiative in California, my conservative friends darkly warned me that America’s teachers’ unions were the powerful hidden force behind our massive system of Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education” for immigrant students.
This widespread perception is largely mythical. Although some union leaders do support bilingual education, many, perhaps most, quietly do not, but fear to voice their views given the notorious fervor of bilingual advocates. In fact, Albert Shanker, the legendary (and legendarily pugnacious) founder of the modern American teachers’ union movement, was for decades our nation’s most determined national opponent of bilingual education.
Other conspiratorial conservatives have speculated that Latino politicians and administrators are the true force behind this program, viewing it as a means of maintaining the cohesion of their ethnic base by preventing Latino children from learning English.
This view is equally mythical, with most Latino politicians and administrators actually regarding bilingual programs with a mix of skepticism or even outright opposition; their silence or mumbled public support derives largely from their similar fear of provoking the organized fury of bilingual backers. For example, some of California’s highest ranking Latino Democrats privately provided me with encouragement and advice during the Proposition 227 campaign, hoping that the measure might finally rid them of their endless troubles over the issue; naturally, those same timorous “leaders” eventually urged a No vote on election day. But in this, they merely mimic the behavior of Anglo Republicans, whose recent pro-bilingual votes in Congress have the same root cause. Fear of being endlessly yelled at by a particularly obstreperous and fervent special interest group is a powerful, powerful force in politics.
But even if Latino politicians actually have very mixed feelings about the program, surely this is not the case with left-wing Latino activists. The general perception that Latino ethnic nationalism (and ethnic nationalists) constitute the program’s hardest hard core support base is virtually universal (if merely whispered) among conservatives, school administrators, and many members of the media. But while there is certainly an element of truth in this dark picture, the actual reality is actually far more complex and nuanced.
For example, during my own endless battles in recent years with bilingual activists across five different states, the number of Latino activists whom I have actually encountered in the front ranks of the opposing forces has been pitifully small, and most of these have seemed completely confused and befuddled by the nature of the issue. To me, their support for “bilingual education” seems quite similar to that found in the words and deeds of our own equally confused and befuddled President “Jorge” W. Bush.
In fact, Latino activists of impeccably strong credentials have often been found among the most committed foes of these disastrously harmful bilingual programs.
For example, Colorado’s current “English” initiative campaign is led by Rita Montero, whose unassailably ultra-progressive and Latino activist roots go back nearly thirty years to her days in the La Raza Unida Party of the American Southwest, a long-vanished Latino political movement whose very name still evokes utter terror in the hearts of Anglo conservatives everywhere in America.
As the attached article from yesterday’s Denver newspaper indicates, Rita’s leading public opponent—the chief defender of bilingual education in Colorado—is by contrast a Mr. Guilford Stanford, an Anglo-Irish actor and self- proclaimed European Democratic Socialist, whose deep roots in Denver’s Performing Arts community have provided him with enormous insight into the educational needs and wants of poor Mexican immigrant families.
A recent voter survey by a major Denver television station found our “English” initiative to be leading by about forty percentage points. This impressive initial margin, coupled with the prospective match-up between fiery Latino activist Rita Sandoval Montero demanding “English” and the rather snooty Mr. Guilford Stanford defending—in his upper-crust British accent—Spanish-only in the schools might seem to portend an election contest along the lines of American B-52s vs. Taliban muskets.
But our devious and desperate opponents hope to prevent our forces from ever even reaching this field of battle, and their main weapon is—as always—the extreme skittishness of comfortable establishment Anglos toward any issues containing an ethnic tinge.
Attorneys hired by Colorado’s bilingual education industry have filed legal briefs with the state Supreme Court, urging that the recent favorable rulings by Colorado’s official State Title Board be overturned, and our measure preemptively declared unconstitutional and blocked from reaching the ballot. Since California’s virtually identical measure has been repeatedly upheld by numerous federal judges and the Ninth Circuit on almost all possible grounds, this claim might appear to be a weak one.
And their primary argument, that the packaging of an “English” requirement together with its enforcement provisions in a single initiative violates the “single subject rule,” seems a very curious one indeed, since almost all other laws contain such enforcement provisions. But they clearly hope that the overwhelmingly Anglo Colorado Supreme Court might use this legal excuse to block a democratic vote on the policy; and as the concerned editorial below from the Denver Rocky Mountain News indicates, this hope is not an entirely forlorn one.
Thus, the educational fate of a hundred thousand or more Colorado Latino students appears to rest in the trembling Anglo hands of Colorado’s most insular and elite legal body, the sort of group most easily cowed by a handful of vocal bilingual education activists. We’ll soon see what those seven high justices decide.
- Language panel accused of politics
Denver Rocky Mountain News,Thursday, January 17, 2002
- State’s high court may hear ballot issue
Denver Rocky Mountain News,Thursday, December 20, 2001
- Single subject: Bilingual ed initiative clears a big hurdle, Editorial
Denver Rocky Mountain News,Saturday, December 22, 2001
- Bilingual woes, Editorial
Denver Rocky Mountain News,Sunday, January 6, 2002