I visited a second-grade classroom
in Fresno. Before I sat down to read a
book to the kiddies, I took the abbreviated tour of
A chart on the wall demonstrated
the proper use of contractions:
are = you`re
am = I`m
were = we`re
I looked quizzically at the teacher
and asked "You sure about this last one? Shouldn`t it
read we are?"
Speaking with an
exceptionally strong Mexican accent, the teacher
assured me that I was wrong: "Oh no, it`s we were."
I know I have an inane tendency to
fixate on minutiae. But come on.
"Not to be a pain, but I am
positive it`s we are" I said.
Then she said (and I really wish I
was making this up) "I`ve been teaching English for
four years now—I think I understand the use of compound
"English…you sure about that?"
I asked. Not sensing my sarcasm, she nodded.
Side note: I have since changed my
mind, but more on that in another column.
As it turned out, she was an
English as a Second Language
[ESL] teacher. This grammar school had such a large
number of non-English speaking students that ESL
teachers worked in regular classrooms as opposed to
those designated for "special education."
Look at the Bush Administration`s
No Child Left Behind Act, passed in January 2002.
By 2014, NCLB standards will
supposedly close the learning gap between minority
groups and their peers—and achieve comparable test
scores in math, science, reading and language.
unmentionable danger: schools will
dumb down the real education of native-born English
speaking students, who are more likely to pass the
standardized tests, and focus their efforts on minority
and non-English speaking students so they won`t seem so
"behind" in their testing.
Here are three, somewhat random
examples of the collision between egalitarian dogma and
demography, picked because they all occurred just within
the 48 hours before my deadline.
- In California, ten school districts are suing
the state for violations of the NCLB. ["PVUSD,
nine other districts to sue state today over English
language testing," By Donna Jones
Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 1, 2005]
The suit is led by Pajaro Valley
Unified School District, a district of 19,000 students,
more than half of whom do not speak English.
California standardized tests
require that students are tested in English only
starting in second grade. But, Jones reports,
"Plaintiffs maintain the federal No Child Left Behind
law permits testing in a student`s primary language for
at least three years…The state`s current testing system
demoralizes students and doesn`t provide reliable data
about achievement, plaintiffs argue."
We now have one government-funded
albatross suing another—at tax-payers` expense
y`all—because English language examinations
These students will be
"left behind"—which violates the alleged essence
- It isn`t just large states such as California.
Smaller states such as Idaho are also facing problems
Hazel Bauman, Coeur d`Alene school
district assistant superintendent, said it best:
is more about civil rights than education. It (NCLB)
forced the system to look at the sub-population"
Bauman said. "It`s ethical and it`s the right thing
to do, but average scores don`t work because there are
stories underneath. All students are not average." [The
struggle of leaving no child behind 5/30/05
by Christi Wilhelm Hagadone News Network]
Ms. Bauman is technically referring
to the inherently unfair nature of ranking schools by
test proficiency when some school districts have more
non-English speaking students than others.
However, the problem is not the
NCLB standard of English-only exams—it`s immigration
policy and the creation of a school system where primary
language has become an option and a civil right.
Simply put, the preservation of
make-believe civil rights (e.g. language preference)
has become more important than literacy. And as a
result, our kids think "we`re" means we were.
- The Spanish/English clash harms everybody—but,
above all, educators who don`t speak Spanish. They are
going to lose jobs.
proposal before the school board would
force principals to learn the
native language of the
majority of students — for 43 percent of pupils at
Dallas schools that language is Spanish." [Fox News,
Dallas Principals Face Spanish Principle
A Dallas School Board Trustee
introduced this proposal after hearing from a group of
"moms" who don`t speak English and cite that
discrepancy as the cause of their little uns` failing
Oh, there`s a surprise…little Juan
is failing Math because his school principal only speaks
My suggestion: Maybe little Juan
needs a different school…in a different country.
In the sequel,
Screwtape Proposes a Toast, Lewis addressed the
exact problem with programs such as the NCLB. He
attacked the flaw behind the folly. And, by an amazing
coincidence, he used the exact terminology (catch
phrases) utilized by the NCLB.
- The word "democracy,"
used “purely as an incantation,” promotes a
social influence forged from the spirit of "I`m as
good as you are."
- "It begins to work itself
into their educational system… The basic principle of
the new education is to be that
dunces and idlers must not be made to feel
intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be
Test scores will determine equality
according to the NCLB, right?
differences between pupils—for they are obviously
and nakedly individual differences—must be disguised…
universities, examinations must be framed so that
nearly all the students get good marks."
- "At schools, the children who
are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and
mathematics and elementary science can be
set to doing things that children used to do in
their spare time…"
- "Children who are fit to
proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept
back, because the others would get a
trauma—Beelzebub, what a
useful word—by being left behind."
Yes! Lewis used the phrase "left
Now, pay attention to this last
- "The bright pupil thus
remains democratically fettered to his own age group
throughout his school career, and a boy who would be
capable of tackling
Dante sits listening to his coeval`s attempts to
spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT."
Stay in the fight, America, or A
Cat Sat On A Mat will be the extent of your child`s
And to add insult to injury, it
will sound more like Un Gato Sentado…or
something like that.
Bryanna Bevens [email
her] is a political consultant and former chief of staff
for a member of the California State Assembly.