On November 5th, 2002, the English-only / anti-bilingual education
movement hiccoughed. Voters in Colorado rejected Proposition 31,
which had been carefully crafted by followers of Ron Unz with the
hopes of leaving not an inch of wiggle room for any teacher to use
any language other than English in the state's public schools. In
Massachusetts, voters approved Question 2, a similar law which
even gives parents the right to sue individual teachers who teach
in a language other than English. Massachusetts lawmakers and
education officials are now wrestling with the reality of Question 2
provisions which will cost the state $31 million to implement over
the next two years, according to Boston Superintendent of Schools
Thomas W. Payzant, as quoted in the November 7th Boston Globe.
In Colorado, educators successfully communicated their misgivings
about the wording of Proposition 31 to the voting public, amidst a
frenzy of spending on both sides--the Ron Unz versus Pat Stryker
money war. Another key element in the Colorado victory for defenders
of bilingual education was the consistent way in which language learning
experts like Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University
of Southern California, monitored discussions of Proposition 31 in
the media and counter-attacked misrepresentations of bilingual
education at every turn, with letters to the editor and editorials.
Professor Krashen (a member of the ESL MiniConference editorial
advisory board) batted .500 on November 5th. His message and
fund-raising events could not penetrate the public consciousness
in Massachusetts, but Colorado and its teachers were buoyed by
the moral support of Krashen and others.
Perhaps because of its proximity to California, the home of Ron Unz
and the first state to pass an English-only proposition, Colorado was
more aware of certain facts about that state's experiences since
Proposition 227 was enacted in 1998. In writing the California
ballot measure, Unz committed a tactical error he will never forget.
Proposition 227 changed the state's educational code, which is separate
from state law itself. Because so many schools and districts in California
had very effective bilingual and dual language programs in place, education
officials would have faced challenges very similar to those now looming
in Massachusetts, but for a provision in California's education code which
allows a school or district to waive the entire code when necessary to better
serve their students. Since 1998, new sheltered English immersion programs,
as well as many strong bilingual education programs, have performed equally
well in California. The state has become perhaps the best demonstration
of why there is no need for English-only legislation.
Colorado held the line against what just a few years ago seemed like
an English-only steamroller moving across America. Now, with Massachusetts
facing the morning-after reality shock of a truly Draconian anti-bilingual education
law, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the English-only movement.
Perhaps more Americans will realize the importance of not taking teaching
tools away from our public-school teachers. We all should try to show more
respect for the intelligence, judgment and dedication of those who educate
our children, instead of "dumbing down" our schools with one-size-fits-all proposals.
Story by Robb Scott
2002 ESL MiniConference Online