View from Lodi, CA: Abolishing America – In The Classroom

According to an April 10th Lodi News-Sentinel story ("New Class in Lodi aimed at teaching English, Spanish literacy to Latinos," by Ripley M. Howe), there is now yet another new program designed for non-English speaking parents and their non-English speaking children.

The key word in the preceding sentence is "another." Over the fifteen years that I have taught at the Lodi Adult School, I have seen programs come and go. They all look good on paper. And they are all widely touted at the outset. But few have been successful.

The Latino Family Literacy class is offered at Lawrence Elementary, George Washington Elementary and the Joe Serna, Jr. Charter School.

But there isn't the slightest need for "new" programs since the Adult School gives—as it has for decades-- ESL instruction to any interested student at all times of the day and in all corners of Lodi and North Stockton.

And for parents who want to learn with their children, the Adult School offers the Community-Based English Tutoring Program (C.B.E.T.). Adults can bring their school age children to study English under the supervision of a certificated teacher.

But the Latino Family Literacy Program, with its thinly disguised sub-rosa agenda of promoting Hispanic culture while minimizing America, is not only unnecessary, it is grating.

Based on Howe's observations at the Lawrence School, the teacher begins the class by calling out, "Ninos, ninas, attencion!" This is an odd way to begin an English language class.

The parents are assigned books written in English and Spanish. They read to their children and talk about the stories and topics presented in the text. Most books discuss family life.

While one of the goals is "to improve the English skills of Latino parents," Latino Family Literacy also "encourages parents to teach proper Spanish verbal and reading skills to their children and to talk to them about life in Mexico."

Here comes the kicker. Writes Howe, "The action all takes place in Mexico and this is a key element of the class."

On the day Howe attended, the assigned book was "Family Pictures." Topics with a Mexican theme included the day we found a dead hammerhead on the beach, bursting the birthday piñata and eating watermelon chilled straight from the refrigerator.

Conspicuously missing is a good old-fashioned American value like how I look forward to the 4th of July parade.

So I'm wondering: the class teaches Spanish verbal skills? Everything happens in Mexico? And the Mexican element is considered "key"?

All this nonsense falls under the all-inclusive umbrella of "self-esteem" wherein some theorist has sold the concept that no child is complete without an in-depth understanding of his heritage.

But throughout Howe's story, you can see that the first concern is keeping the roots to Mexico strong and healthy.

Read parent Nicolasa Robles' take on the class. Through an interpreter, she said, "I want to help my son in school, especially to speak Spanish as well as English."

Shouldn't the goal for him to speak English as well as he speaks Spanish?

Other troubling aspects nag at me.

  • Latino Family Literacy meets only once a week for two hours. According to the curriculum, children and parents study at home. Take it from someone who knows—not much home study will occur and next to no English will be learned in two hours per week.

  • According to the Latino Family Literacy website, "Each program requires a 5-hour training for parent trainers and includes a cultural competency overview for working with Latino families, a training manual with a weekly curriculum, parent handouts, outreach flyers, sign-in sheets, and simple instructions for preparing a literacy or language program."

Only five hours? Teaching this subject is the stuff of Master's Degrees. And simple instructions for preparing literacy programs? Teaching literacy is tough work. To pretend otherwise guarantees failure.

  • Christina Esperson, the Lawrence Kid-Link coordinator, says that Latino Family Literacy shows parents how to introduce their children to what a book is. Some do not even know how to look at a book. Said Esperson, "Some of these children have never even opened a book."

Kids who don't know one end of a book from another are a sad fact of the California public school system.

I wonder how many more children with no academic background we will try to educate before we finally admit the obvious—that we cannot do everything for everybody.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.