One of the rarest characteristics of any prominent individual, especially in the fields of politics, education, or the media, is the willingness to admit a mistake.
To read the speeches or media commentary of our national leaders is to be presented with an unbroken chain of far-seeing, even brilliant decisions, unerringly correct and endlessly
successful. Presumably this helps explain the fortunate fact that our nation has never encountered a single major crisis or difficulty in its more than two hundred year history.
This stubborn unwillingness to ever utter those magic words “I was wrong” sometimes has serious consequences.
Back in 1998, the editorial pages of nearly every major newspaper in California—with a couple of notable exceptions—urged a No vote on our Proposition 227, intended to dismantle bilingual education, with the cited reasons ranging from troubling concerns to devastating fears.
But when absolutely none of those negative consequences occurred, and instead the news pages of those very same papers reported great, even astonishing academic successes for California’s million-plus immigrant students, those same editorial pages—again with just a couple of exceptions—flushed this entire huge educational issue down George Orwell’s notorious “memory hole,” and wrote no more about it.
It is certainly at least a curious coincidence that over the last five years, nearly the only
editorials written in California newspapers hailing the obvious success of English immersion have appeared on those editorial pages able to say “I told you so” rather than “we were wrong.”
There have been notable and very honorable exceptions to this pattern of attempting to foolishly maintain that “we never make mistakes.”
For example, Ken Noonan, founder of the California Association of Bilingual Educators, has become one of America’s most prominent converts to the cause of English immersion, citing the success of the students in his own Oceanside district as leading him to conclude that his thirty years of support for bilingual education was mistaken. And as the State of California’s Superintendent of the Year—selected by his thousand-odd peers for that enormous honor—his word has carried great weight. Enough Ken Noonans could change America.
Similarly, Reed Hastings, the software executive currently serving as President of the California State Board of Education, not only regretted his previous opposition to Proposition 227, but actually made a sizable financial donation to help ensure that a very similar measure reached this year’s ballot in Massachusetts, his own home state.
We now have received a tremendous addition to this honor roll of prominent and public converts to the cause of English immersion, and one that comes at a particularly crucial time.
Dick Lamm, the three-term Colorado governor who played a huge role in originally establishing bilingual education in his state, has now joined the Amendment 31 campaign as Honorary Chairman, willing to publicly lead the effort to dismantle those very same programs. In a repeated and heartfelt plea, he asks the voters of Colorado “to undo his mistake.”
I attach below a copy of the press release being distributed to the Colorado media, as well as links to the texts and streaming audio copies of the new Amendment 31 radio spots in which Gov. Lamm stars
Whether one agrees or disagrees with him about a particular political issue, Gov. Lamm’s reputation for principled integrity and credibility is unblemished, as is his detailed knowledge of policy matters. In these regards, he is cut from an entirely different cloth that the endless ranks of poll-tested and focus-grouped political candidates whose packaged politics today dominate our national landscape. In fact, he shares many characteristics with former Massachusetts governor and Presidential Candidate Michael Dukakis, a good friend of his for decades.
It appears that when Gov. Lamm speaks, Colorado voters still listen, and with respect.
For the last few weeks, support for our Amendment 31 in Colorado has withered under a devastating advertising barrage, the heaviest in Colorado history, with 99% of the $3.2 million funding coming from one eccentric billionaire heiress, Pat Stryker.
Editorial writers at the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News have characterized that advertising as “setting records for deceit and deception” and filled with “false and inflammatory charges.” But such “lies” and “distortions” frequently succeed in political campaigns if repeated often enough, and far more voters watch television—including deceptive ads—than read the angry newspaper editorials that debunk them.
By the beginning of last week, our initiative, once enjoying a very wide lead, had slipped
substantially behind due to this multi-million-dollar advertising blitz, and leading local political analysts had already drafted its obituary, describing our situation as hopeless.
But no sooner did the radio ads starring Gov. Lamm hit the airwaves at the end of last week than the nightly slippage in the Rocky Mountain News tracking poll halted entirely, and suddenly over the last two or three days actually reversed itself. Support for our measure in that poll has risen a net nine points during the last five days, and for the first time in weeks, we have regained a (very narrow) lead of 46% to 44%.
All this has occurred despite the fact that our campaign is still being outspent in advertising by a ratio of 15-to-1 or 20-to-1, after having faced weeks of being outspent millions of dollars to nothing.
At this stage, the numbers could easily reverse, and we cannot say whether we will win or lose in Colorado.
But if we do manage to pull out an almost miraculous upset victory in the face of such overwhelming odds, the personal credibility and reputation of former Gov. Dick Lamm will have been the absolutely crucial factor behind that victory. And everyone should recognize that.
I am also attaching several recent columns and editorials from the major local papers in liberal Massachusetts, where our very similar Question 2 measure appears headed for a resounding, even landslide victory, without our spending a single advertising dollar on its behalf.
- Former Governor Dick Lamm Joins Amendment 31 Campaign as Honorary Chair
English for the Children, Wednesday, October 30, 2002
- “To Undo That Mistake”
English for the Children, Friday, November 1, 2002
- “Deceit and Deception”
English for the Children, Saturday, November 2, 2002
- Let’s drain the swamp, Editorial
Boston Herald, Sunday, October 27, 2002
- ‘Yes’ on Question 2, Editorial
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Friday, October 25, 2002
- Failed bilingual system requires drastic change by Robert Z. Nemeth
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Sunday, October 27, 2002