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Over two decades ago, a group of Latino immigrant parents protested their local elementary school for refusing to teach their children English. Let me repeat that, for refusing to teach their children English. Those children, for the most part, spoke Spanish in their homes, watched Spanish language TV and communicated in Spanish in their neighborhoods — naturally.
But what those parents realized was that when they dropped their children at school, because of that customary use of their native language, they were being forced into Spanish-language classes during those formative elementary school years and not immersed in English until much later. Those parents knew that the larger American society is overwhelmingly English-speaking and that their children’s ultimate success – educationally, socially and economically – would depend on their mastery of the English language.
That small protest turned into a movement. In 1998, a year that saw Republicans lose all of California’s constitutional offices to Democrats, those same California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 227, a simple measure to require that children be taught English in elementary school unless their parents disagreed. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Latino children quickly and easily began showing proficiency in English.
In fact, the educational results were so exceptional, the New York Times, CBS News and other media outlets reported that within four years, the test scores of over 1 million immigrant schoolchildren had increased within a range from 30-100 percent. Even the founding president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators (who opposed Prop. 227 and now opposes the effort to repeal it with Prop. 58) publicly admitted what immigrant parents instinctively knew: Intensive English immersion was the best educational policy for their children.
As a result of the success of English immersion after the passage of Prop. 227, the number of Latinos admitted to California’s colleges and universities has, unsurprisingly, increased significantly. Perhaps that is why the proponents of the deceptive Prop. 58 have admitted what their problem is — virtually no parents, immigrant or otherwise, deny the success of English immersion.
If the statistics weren’t so overwhelming, I would support Prop. 58. But the proven success of English immersion demonstrates that Prop. 58 is not about modernizing the way we teach English, it’s about forcing a failed method of English instruction on children against the wishes of their parents. The only people that would benefit from Prop. 58 would be the unemployed bilingual educators whose jobs depend on it.
Under current law, parents can ask for bilingual education for their children. No one should be forced into bilingual education at the cost of their educational success so that we can ensure the existence of union jobs. Further, Prop. 58 denies children their future because high-paying jobs demand the ability to speak English. Nothing in Prop. 58 will make kids more competitive.
Prop. 58 will undermine the proven success of Prop. 227 by returning us to the days of fewer graduations and college admissions and leaving more children behind. I stand in support of the families that are working to give their children opportunities to succeed – I’m voting no on Prop. 58.
Joel Anderson is a California state senator representing District 38. Anderson’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.