September 2, 2002

Latino Kids Need English, Not Bilingual Education

By: Raul Damas

For the first time in history, American isn’t keeping its promise.

Never before have the children of immigrants been poised as they are today to fare no better than their parents.

Latino children — immigrants and the sons of immigrants — now have fewer opportunities than the preceding generation.


Because they are not being allowed to realize the American dream. Because the road to public education, specifically bilingual education, is paved with good intentions — and little else.

Of course, bilingual education advocates don’t set out to create a permanent lower-class. But, unfortunately that’s exactly what their programs are doing.

Let’s be perfectly clear: Latino children are systematically being denied the opportunity to succeed in American society.

By withholding the most essential tool — language — bilingual education in our nation’s public schools is steadily laying the groundwork for a generation of Latino workers unable to work any but the most low-paying of jobs.

Bilingual education operates on the premise that teaching young students primarily in their “native language” is more effective than teaching them only in English. As such, in many of our nation’s public schools Hispanic children with limited English skills are being taught in Spanish, many of them waiting years before becoming fully English proficient.

Needless to say, this is an expensive and time-consuming process with dismal in-school results.

It is also anathema to anyone familiar with proper language instruction.

It is a proven fact that the younger the pupil, the more quickly they can absorb a new language. Bilingual education operates on the reverse of this principle.

Bilingual education in public schools also breaks with commercial language education, where results actually matter and “immersion” is the method of choice.

So who benefits from the bilingual education programs if not the students? Is it the parents? Are they the ones lobbying the public education system to “preserve their culture?”

Lest bilingual education advocates believe they are serving the Hispanic community, let’s take a look at what Hispanics actually say.

In a recent national survey of Hispanic adults sponsored by the Latino Coalition, a plurality of respondents stated that “language” was “the greatest barrier to Latinos succeeding in America today.”

Not discrimination. Not Republicans. Not even Tom Tancredo.

Latinos want to learn and speak English. So, what’s the hold-up?

A common defense of bilingual education in our public schools is that it does work…when it’s done very, very well. Unfortunately a large majority of Latinos give their local public schools a negative rating, so there is little being done “very, very well” in their areas.

But Latino parents are not entirely without blame.

As the recall campaign of a bilingual education-friendly school board member in Santa Ana, California, illustrates, Latino parents can be their own worst enemy. Falling prey to the emotionally charged and intellectually flat “us versus them” argument, many Latino parents are supporting bilingual education for no reason other than the fact that many non-Latinos oppose it.

Is your head spinning yet?

The classical liberal in me says that parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children. However, I also know that a part of our taxes pay for expertise and leadership in public education, so I want my money’s worth.

The goal of our public education system — and everyone drawing a check from it — should be to prepare our children for the future. That means knowing English. Without it, there isn’t much you can do in this country.

Is that fair? Is that right? Who cares? It’s a fact. It’s reality.

Teaching English-deficient Latino children in Spanish does them a grave disservice. If their parents are misled on this matter, it is the duty of our educators to light the way and lead.

But that’s like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

Bilingual education benefits the teachers unions, not Latino children and not the Latino community. Those unions function to do two things: 1) employ more teachers and 2) effect liberal dogma.

As with most education “solutions” championed by the education establishment, bilingual education requires — you guessed it — more teachers. Many of these programs have three or more teachers per classroom.

Who cares if thousands of Latino children suffer in a linguistic backwater? People who went to college and majored in Spanish will finally get good-paying jobs!

Most insidious, however, is the social engineering bilingual education attempts, and the actual results it achieves.

With Latinos especially, liberal “aid” programs and initiatives are usually an impediment at best. Remember when the liberal “Latino organizations” complained that asking U.S. citizens to show photo ID before voting would “disproportionately disenfranchise Hispanics?” Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence.

So, before you complain about Latinos “not assimilating” or “not speaking English,” think about whom you vote for. Is it that “insensitive” candidate, interested in Latinos joining American society and supportive of English language education? Or did you vote for the compassionate candidate, endorsed by the teachers unions, who’s inadvertently working to economically handcuff Latino children?

At best, bilingual education postpones Latino children’s chance to fully integrate into American society. At worst, it is a socio-economic Berlin Wall, with Latinos on one side and guilt-assuaged liberals on the other.