How Do You Say “The Cat Sat On The Mat” In Spanish?

Several years ago I participated,
along with other California State Assembly staffers and
members, in a

literacy promotion program
for elementary students
in the

California public school system.

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
the facilities.

A chart on the wall demonstrated
the proper use of contractions:

You
are = you`re

I
am = I`m

We
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
words."

Whoa…pump the brakes, turbo!

Compound words?

Teaching

English
?

"English…you sure about that?"
I asked. Not sensing my sarcasm, she nodded.

I took a moment to make a note to
self:  My future children will not

attend public school
even if I have to sell my

blood
or a

kidney
to afford private education.

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."

Here`s my question: Are we lowering
the

quality of education
for English-speaking students
by hiring teachers primarily for their ability to

teach Spanish
…as opposed to their ability to teach
period?

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.

The

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" i
n 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.

  1. 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
demoralize students
?

These students will be
"left behind"
—which violates the alleged essence
of NCLB.

  1. It isn`t just large states such as California.
    Smaller states such as Idaho are also facing problems
    with NCLB.

Hazel Bauman, Coeur d`Alene school
district assistant superintendent, said it best:

"NCLB
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.

  1. The Spanish/English clash harms everybody—but,
    above all, educators who don`t speak Spanish. They are
    going to lose jobs.

"A new
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

6/01/05]

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
grades.

Oh, there`s a surprise…little Juan
is failing Math because his school principal only speaks
English.

My suggestion: Maybe little Juan
needs a different school…in a different country.

One of my

favorite 20th century writings
is C.S.
Lewis`

The Screwtape Letters
, in which a senior demon,
Screwtape, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, on how to
corrupt humans.

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
    inferior to

    intelligent and industrious
    pupils. That would be
    `undemocratic.`

Test scores will determine equality
according to the NCLB, right?

  • "These

    differences between pupils
    —for they are obviously
    and nakedly individual differences—must be disguised…
    At

    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
behind."

Now, pay attention to this last
part:

  • "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

    Aeschylus
    or

    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
reading comprehension.

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.