About a month ago, a prominent former political figure in Colorado who is openly sympathetic to our “English” initiative invited me to his home to meet with a group of his friends and discuss the details of the issue.
These friends, perhaps representing a reasonable cross-section of Denver’s mostly liberal political elite, astonished me by the vehemence with which they not only opposed the actual details of our ballot measure but also generally supported the wonders of bilingual programs. A considerable fraction of the attendees even had their own children or those of close friends or relatives enrolled in Colorado’s tiny number of dual immersion programs. The evening was far, far more contentious than I had expected.
Naturally, all these fierce defenders of bilingual education were affluent and well-educated white “Anglos,” with not a single brown face to be seen anywhere among them.
A couple of weeks later I had breakfast with that same political figure, a particularly well-educated and thoughtful individual, who spent half an hour unsuccessfully trying to persuade me that the primary force behind Spanish-almost-only programs in the schools consisted of radical Latino separatists seeking to transform our society and perhaps even split our nation.
Perhaps, I suggested, but if so they seem to be very well hidden. During five years of campaigning across five different states, I had scarcely discovered even a handful of such individuals. Nearly all the numerous Latino opponents of “English” I have encountered over these years had been bilingual teachers and bilingual administrators and bilingual academics, who are certainly often fanatic in defense of their life’s work but appear to me more like adherents of a lunatic curricular religion than radical ethnic nationalists per se.
Not only are these people often intermarried with Anglos, but in most cases, they are just as fanatically committed to defending “whole language” dogma against the evils of “phonics”—an educational issue with no obvious ethnic overtones—and their fanaticism in defense of bilingual programs is usually shared or even exceeded by those of their Anglo professional colleagues.
Furthermore, those other Latino political figures whom they often drag into supporting bilingual programs usually enter the fray seeming dazed, confused, and filled with misgivings, loudly proclaiming their support for having Latino children learn English in school while simultaneously defending programs that do exactly the opposite.
Over coffee and rolls, I tried to persuade our supporter that the primary political force working so hard to preserve and extend disastrous Spanish-almost-only programs in America was not a mysterious secret society of radical Hispanic separatists—a rich and powerful Spanish-language League of the Illuminati perhaps backed by Latin American billionaires. Instead, the enemy actually consisted of his own friends and other well-intentioned though severely misguided Anglos like them.
I afterward joked that if he were to organize a second, much larger discussion of our initiative at a major hotel, inviting all his affluent white personal friends with an interest in the topic, and they were to invite their affluent white personal friends and so forth, numbering perhaps a thousand in all, without a sole Latino or immigrant included among them, then a chance meteor could largely annihilate Colorado’s entire opposition to our “English” initiative at a single stroke.
Except for those employed in the bilingual education industry, support for bilingual programs appears a delusion overwhelmingly restricted to the affluent, the well-educated, and particularly the Anglo.
Unfortunately, no such meteor strike occurred and my analysis has now proven itself all too correct, all too quickly.
A few days ago, a billionaire heiress named Pat Stryker, living in Colorado, made what appears to be the largest political contribution in her state’s history to the No campaign. Her check for $3 million will fund a massive media campaign to defeat “English,” and although our measure currently enjoys a huge lead in the polls, it may well succeed.
Colorado is a relatively small, relatively inexpensive state, and the advertising budget for
the No campaign will be completely unprecedented in Colorado history, spending in just four or five weeks what statewide candidates for Governor or the U.S. Senate might normally spend during most of a full year of campaigning.
The equivalent dollar amounts for large, expensive states such as California or New York would be $40 million or $50 million of paid advertising, all squeezed into a five week period. If “English” can survive this massive advertising onslaught, it can survive absolutely anything. I attach the articles from the Denver Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post describing this sudden development.
Now Pat Stryker is indeed a billionaire heiress using her grandfather’s fortune to reshape our world, but her motives are hardly mysterious or malevolent in the normal sense, and she is certainly not eager to destroy our nation or the lives of Latino children. Instead, she personifies in her background America’s hardest core supporters of bilingual programs.
As mentioned, during five years of nationwide campaigning, I think I have yet to encounter a single Latino immigrant parent who strongly supports preserving the Spanish-oriented so-called bilingual program that currently enroll his or her child. This personal evidence is confirmed by national surveys that show 80% of Latino immigrant parents support an all-English educational for their children from the first day of school.
By contrast, the fanatic commitment of many wealthy or elite Anglo parents to protecting the Spanish-language so-called “dual immersion” programs that enroll their children is absolutely breathtaking. Hundreds of Anglo parents constituted many of the zealous shock troops that battled our initiative in California, our initiative in Arizona, and now our campaigns on the issue in Colorado and Massachusetts.
Just last week I highlighted this claim in our meeting with the Editorial Board of the Denver Post, and now a Colorado heiress and—what else—the mother of a child enrolled in a dual-language program has confirmed it millions of times over with her checkbook.
Interestingly enough, our “English” initiative specifically exempts from all new restrictions
children who already know English, such as those of Ms. Stryker and all her similarly affluent Anglo friends; their own children can stay in the program whether or not it passes.
Why, then, do they so strongly oppose “English?” Because they claim that “dual-language” programs require the presence of large numbers of native- Spanish-speaking children to effectively teach their own English-speaking children Spanish through the 90% Spanish-immersion instruction that usually constitutes the euphemistically misnamed so-called “dual-immersion” curriculum.
For five years, reporters in every state have naively touted to me the wonders of the tiny
handful of dual-immersion programs here and there that seemed threatened by our “English” initiatives. They and the affluent Anglo parents in those programs have said now wonderfully they worked and how well their Anglo children learned Spanish. Perhaps, I have always replied, but is there any real evidence that the Latino immigrant children in those 90%-Spanish programs were learning English? The almost universal reply: “No one had ever asked that question before.”
Consider an educational program whose children’s parents fall into two distinct groups. On one hand, an articulate, affluent, well-educated, and well-organized group of mostly Anglo parents—including perhaps the occasional billionaire heiress or two—who want their children to learn another language by being immersed in that language 90% of the day from a young age. On the other hand, a non-English-speaking, impoverished, poorly-educated, and frequently illegal group of frightened immigrant parents who desperately want their children to learn English but are told by school authority figures to “sign this form and enroll your child.” By whose children’s success or failure is the overall success or failure of that overwhelmingly Spanish-language program likely to be judged?
Most of these dual-language programs do gradually raise their 90% Spanish content year-by-year, eventually reaching a 50-50 mix by the sixth grade or so, and the Anglo parents who defend those programs always claim that both groups of children learn both languages perfectly well. If so, I have asked them, why not establish a “dual-language” program that starts out 90% in English and gradually adds Spanish year-by-year until that language reaches the 50% level toward the end of elementary school. Their universal reply: “But then our children would never learn any Spanish!” Consider the implications of this probably true statement.
On other occasions, in California and elsewhere, I have pointed out that our initiatives actually do allow Spanish-speaking students to stay enrolled in those programs as well, so long as the programs can provide clear evidence that they are beneficial and the Latino parents apply for special waivers. The reply: “But they won’t! They’ll all choose to send
their children to classes that teach in English, and then how will our children be able to learn Spanish?” Again, consider the implications of this blurted out truth.
Rita Montero, the leader of our Colorado initiative campaign, far from being a billionaire heiress, comes from very modest financial circumstances, and has devoted much of her life to a variety of progressive social causes, ranging from immigrant rights to the plight of impoverished farm workers to our government’s controversial military policies in Central America to the broader Social Justice movement.
She led the campaign in Colorado to defeat the “English-only” movement of the late 1980s, which she perceived as xenophobic and anti-immigrant, and she turned against bilingual education when she discovered through the experience of her own son that it was destroying the educational lives of countless Latino children.
She was elected to the Denver School Board on this issue, fought countless battles against the entrenched bilingual education establishment, then was defeated when the affluent and mostly Anglo parents of Denver’s Spanish-only “dual-language” school mobilized to outspend her reelection campaign by a ratio of 7-to-1.
Now, with her initiative facing what is probably one of the most concentrated advertising barrages in the history of American politics, all funded by a single check from a billionaire heiress, her feelings are clear. She has described that woman as a “human vampire,” who together with her rich friends sucks dry the lives and the futures of countless Latino children just to ensure that their own English-speaking children will have unpaid but personal Spanish-language tutors sitting beside them class to help them learn that language.
The term “human vampire” may seem extremely harsh, but who can deny that it reasonably captures the sordid but hidden reality of this situation?
As for me, I merely pointed out that our initiative would allow Pat Stryker’s own beloved bilingual school to continue largely unchanged under waivers if the participation of the Latino immigrant parents were voluntary rather than based on administrative pressure. The largest political contribution in Colorado history may show Pat Stryker’s own guess as to whether Latino participation in her child’s Spanish-only program would still continue on a truly voluntary basis.
Either that, or perhaps she represents the sort of billionaire heiress who would gladly sacrifice the educations and even the lives of some 70,000 Latino children throughout Colorado so as to ensure that her local school doesn’t have to fill out any additional paperwork.
We may all remain guessing for some time. Pat Stryker’s personal spokesperson has said that she is unwilling to speak with reporters to discuss the reasons behind her “magnanimous gift” of $3 million to defeat English for the Children of Colorado.