Parents Demand English in Korea…and Santa Ana, CA

Yesterday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times carried a long and interesting story about the enormous efforts that ambitious parents in Korea are taking to provide their children with fluency in English, the international language of opportunity and academic success.

Among the perhaps excessive steps regularly taken are English-only educational programs from the age of eighteen months onward and even minor mouth surgery, supposedly to better allow Korean tongues to shape English words.


But similar parental sentiments on the importance of children properly learning English may be found closer to home as well, in our own state of California.

Just a few days earlier, the Orange County Register had carried a story about the announced plans of a group of Santa Ana parents to launch a recall campaign against one Nativo Lopez, president of their local school board, on the grounds that he and his clique of supporters were consistently refusing to obey the provisions of Proposition 227 and require their local schools to teach English. The story behind this story is an interesting one.

Several months ago, this same group of local parents, led by a Mrs. Vivian Martinez, had contacted me with those same complaints, and requested my assistance. After concluding from several conversations and meetings that they were sincere and committed and that their complaints were justified, I promised to assist them, probably through legal support.

Unfortunately, just at that point, I became aware of the outrageous new Proposition 227 regulations proposed by our State Board of Education. If these were allowed to stand, they would have fully legitimized the illegal local actions of Lopez and his Santa Ana cohorts, and therefore blocking the action of the State Board became my first priority.

Although they understood my reasoning, Vivian Martinez and the other parents became more and more concerned as months went by with no progress at their local district. They had already spent nearly two years fruitlessly lobbying their Board and administrators, and every additional month seemed an eternity. Finally, growing desperate to do something concrete, they mentioned to me that they were considering launching a recall campaign, and although I was quite discouraging—recall efforts are notoriously difficult—they went ahead anyway.

Now from all reports, the support and enthusiasm they have attracted is far greater than I had possibly expected, and their effort may well succeed.

Six years ago, a small group of impoverished Latino garment workers in downtown Los Angeles, most of whom spoke no English and had no legal documentation, decided to challenge America’s vast educational empire of bilingual education, and began the public boycott at Ninth Street Elementary that ultimately sparked the English for the Children initiative. Now an equally small group of parents, living in the modest but well-kept Latino suburban neighborhoods of Santa Ana, may have begun the popular rebellion that leads to full enforcement of that measure.

Certainly the odds remain heavily with Board President Lopez. He is a shrewd and experienced local operator with a powerful political machine and influential patronage network. He has repeatedly crushed numerous Republican Party attempts to drive him from power, and has also survived an ongoing Clinton Administration investigation into the hundreds of thousands of dollars of government funding for which his organization cannot account.

But what Vivian Martinez and her friends lack in political experience, they make up for in sincerity and commitment, knowing that the dreadful academic test scores of her district and her school endanger their children’s future. Nativo Lopez and his allies may finally have met their match.

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