Bilingual Ed's Next Big Thing

[Peter Brimelow writes: The Center for American Unity, VDARE's sponsoring organization, is filing an Amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the Sandoval case - an attempt by an Hispanic immigrant to compel state governments to supply services in her language, which (appallingly) has succeeded in the lower courts. Creeping institutional bilingualism - actually foreign-language-ism - is the most visible symptom of the American nation-state's decay. It's persistent and pervasive, as Steve Sailer shows. If you think this Next Big Idea can't happen here, look at Canada. French Immersion public schools for a significant number of English-speaking children now exist from coast to coast. Funny thing: there's no English Immersion for the French-speaking minority. "Bilingualism" is not about education. It's about political power.]

Arizona voters have voted to abolish bilingual education. Congratulations are due again to the imaginative but flawed Ron Unz and his English For The Children. Significantly, Unz's initiative ran some 13 points ahead of George W. Bush, who got just 50% in Arizona.

But the bilingual ed complex is already preparing a trendy counterstrike. "English immersion" is popular? They'll top that by offering "dual-language immersion." It's the Next Big Thing—never mind that it implicitly admits that the first 25 years of bilingual education were a dud. Last spring, Education Secretary Richard Riley called for adding 750 dual-language schools over the next five years. [Washington Post, Thursday, March 16, 2000 ]

In these schools, half the students speak English, the other half speak Spanish. All the kids take half their classes in Spanish, half in English.

(Not under George W? He favors bilingual education. He made the Republicans drop their platform commitment to Official English [Republicans Drop "Official" English From Platform; Continue to Use It in Fundraising Appeals]. Remember, affirmative action was invented under another centrist Republican, Richard Nixon.)

I spoke recently with a federally-funded bilingual researcher who assured me that the white kids flourish in dual-immersion programs She even claimed they do better than American-born kids learning only in English. I suggested that this might be due to self-selection: i.e., the natives who don't do well in them drop out. I discovered that this very nice lady, who has a Ph.D. in education research, was not familiar with the concept of self-selection.

She then told me that the immigrant kids in the program score at the 50th percentile or better in tests given in English. I thought that seemed exaggerated. Many immigrant children come from homes where nobody went past the 8th grade. Mexican-Americans born to English-speaking parents score well under the 50th percentile. None of this fazed her confidence.

I then noted that on any test, half the kids must score under the 50th percentile. She took strong exception to this.

All right, all right, so the kind of people who get handed taxpayer dollars to "research" how to educate children are fools and ideologues. But dual-language schools are clearly the coming thing. White parents will be recruited on the explicit appeal that speaking Spanish will help their children make millions in the Latin American market (which is sure to start booming ... Real Soon Now).

A few caveats are in order, however.

  • Dual-immersion schools currently have a classy reputation due to the expensive French private academies in America. In a public dual language school, however, your children will not be mixed in with the kids of snooty French multinational executives, but with the children of Latin American peasants.

  • Your children are not going to learn from them the kind of accent that will make them tons of money in Latin American business circles. Few white Americans understand how much rich white Latin Americans despise the mestizo Mexican-American accent.

  • Some children will no doubt thrive speaking two languages. But others will find it hurts their English.

Why Spanish anyway? For international business, Japanese or Mandarin are better. But, they won't offer dual language programs in Japanese because the Japanese can't immigrate under the perverse workings of the 1965 Immigration Act. Mandarin programs will be restricted to a few areas. There's no proposal to offer French, German, or Italian.

Here's what's going to happen: Dual-language education will quickly run out of Anglo whites willing to have their own kids' education undermined. Probably this will lead to a renewal of forced school busing in some areas. Generally, however, white parents will manage to escape this latest scourge, just as they escaped racial integration. So the public schools will draft American-born Latino kids. This will weaken these native-born Latinos' already tenuous grasp on English. They will understand English well enough to watch American television. But their accents will be so thick that they will have little hope of assimilating into the American mainstream.

Needless to say, Unz's "English-immersion" approach has flaws, too. It works best when there are only a few immigrant kids and lots of native English-speaking students to immerse them in. But, due to the enormous volume of immigration, two-thirds of immigrant children attend schools where native English speakers are in the minority. In fact, one-third of immigrant students attend schools where 90% of the other students grew up speaking their own language.

Sure, Ron's initiatives can force teachers to use only English in the classroom. But what are these kids going to speak where it really matters—out in the playground? As Judith Rich Harris, author of the fine 1998 book The Nurture Assumption points out, kids don't pick up the accents of their teachers, or their parents, but of their playmates. If they don't need English to talk to the other kids, then learning English is just another boring classroom assignment like memorizing the state capitals.

Some problems just don't have neat solutions. Except, of course, not importing the problem in the first place.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]

November 12, 2000