Bush Administration Denounces “English”

This last Friday, while the leadership of our English for the Children campaign was holding a press conference in Denver to tout the post-Prop. 227 test scores from California and scrambling to gather the tens of thousands of Colorado signatures required before the early August cut-off, we received a cruel blow from a not-unexpected direction.

It appears that Rod Paige, Secretary of Education in the Bush Administration, happened to be in Denver for various meetings, including one with the Editorial Board of the influential Denver Post. Asked what he thought of our “English” initiative, he strongly defended bilingual education, and denounced our efforts in terms almost identical to those of the bilingual activists opposing us.

Now on some level, this means nothing. Paige, a black former football coach, is believed to have obtained his job largely due to George W. Bush’s intense support for “Affirmative Access,” and is widely regarded as the dimmest member of the Bush Cabinet. Although nominally serving as the top- ranking member of the Bush Education Team, his apparent lack of ability to master or comprehend that portfolio meant that he played virtually no role last year either in shaping or articulating Bush’s signature education bill, the “No Child Left Behind Act,” with the responsibilities actually devolving to Sandy Kress, the longtime liberal Democratic activist actually running Bush’s educational policy.

Then, instead of being kept in Washington to run his department, Secretary Paige has been sent out to travel America’s highways and byways, proclaiming to one and all the wonders of academic education or at least of Texas varsity football. Hence his presence in Denver on the day in question.

But although Paige’s stout defense of bilingual education might not have been fully authorized by his Administration superiors—who obviously have bigger political concerns these days—it does probably reflect their actual views to a considerable extent.

Bush, for example, had long supported bilingual education in Texas, with his—and Rod Paige’s— home town of Houston teaching as little as 30 minutes of English each day to Latino students. Perhaps as a consequence, barely a third of Texas’s nearly 600,000 immigrant Latino students are able to pass tests given in English after four years in the Texas schools.

Forcing young Latino students into separate Spanish-almost-only classes might reasonably be regarded as a form of de facto racial segregation, and this was the fierce denunciation unleashed Friday by Rita Montero, the fiery Latino activist and former La Raza Unida candidate leading the “English” campaign in Colorado. One might suspect that a Latino rights activist might have a better grasp of this issue than a black football couch. I attach the relevant articles below.

But if there were few surprises in having yet another of America’s senior-most Republicans attack our latest “English” efforts in Colorado, a much more shocking—and favorable—political development has now begun unfolding in neighboring Arizona.

During November 2000, our “English” campaign in that state had been opposed by nearly every prominent Republican, including the Gov. Jane Hull and Sen. John McCain, as well as every newspaper and educational organization, while we were outspent by a ratio of 10-to-1 in advertising. Nonetheless, our Proposition 203 triumphed by twenty-seven point margin, while George W. Bush, on the same ballot, barely eked out a victory with 50% of the vote.

Nearly two years after that landslide victory, much has changed—bilingual programs have been substantially reduced in size—but much has not, with numerous school districts still keeping many thousands of Latino students in Spanish-almost-only classes, in clear violation of the law. These recalcitrant districts have utilized a most bizarre legal subterfuge, arguing that the students in question simultaneously both know and do not know English, with the former allowing them exemption from the initiative while the latter necessitates their enrollment in bilingual classes. This legal argument is as peculiar as it is obviously a violation of Proposition 203.

But laws only have impact to the extent that they are enforced, and here the picture is less bright. Soon after the votes had been counted, then-Arizona Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan produced front- page headlines in the local media when she proudly announced that her office would ignore Prop. 203 on the grounds that she disagreed with its provisions. Although the gigantic firestorm of criticism that resulted forced her to quickly back down—and may have even helped prompt her sudden resignation a few months later—this official policy of ignoring Prop. 203 seems to have been quietly continued by her appointed successor, Jaime Molera, who had previously served as an aide to Keegan and Gov. Hull and had repeatedly expressed his opposition to Prop. 203, perhaps even orchestrating the attacks of these office-holding superiors.

As Arizona’s unelected incumbent Superintendent, Molera is now on the ballot this November, seeking his first elective office. Although his resume seems rather scanty for statewide office—as a thirty-year-old college Communications major, his entire career has been as an educational staff assistant and Phoenix-based lobbyist—the visibility of incumbent office-holders normally assures their renomination, and Molera’s Hispanic background has already won him the united endorsements of nearly all of Arizona’s Republican establishment. And while Molera’s fervent attempts to win the endorsement of Arizona’s powerful teachers unions fell short, thesecertainly do not view him as an enemy.

But a sudden wildcard has emerged in this simple picture, the appearance of that fabled and mythical beast, the unicorn of American politics, namely a principled Republican candidate for office actually willing to run on “English” and challenge Molera in the Republican Primary, one Tom Horne.

Horne, a highly successful Harvard-educated attorney and longtime school board member, is making his support for “English in the Schools” a center-piece of his campaign for the Republican nomination, and plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to ensure that Arizona’s electorate knows this. Given that nearly 90% of Arizona Republicans support Horne rather than Molera on this important issue, Molera may be in considerable trouble.

Certainly, Molera’s campaign seems deeply worried, as they immediately let fly with harsh racial accusations against Horne for even daring to raise the issue of enforcing Proposition 203 in Arizona schools. To harshly condemn a candidate for promising to enforce an important state law seems a little much, even for a cynical politician.

As a consequence of all this, and as indicated in the attached materials, I have now fully endorsed Tom Horne for Arizona Superintendent. If he wins this race on this issue, upsetting an establishment-backed incumbent, perhaps many other politicians from throughout the nation will draw the appropriate conclusions, even including a certain current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The eyes of all supporters of “English” should be focused on Arizona.

This entry was posted in Bilingual Education, UnzColumn and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.