View From Lodi, CA: Immigrants Won`t Learn English. Washington Doesn`t Care.
I have to give the devil his due. I
stand in awe of
Vicente Fox`s relentless, full-court pressure for
Mexican illegal immigrants. And I remain slack-jawed at
Bush`s willingness to risk
political suicide by
resurrecting amnesty time and again, despite the
disapproval of the American people.
On a personal note, however, at
least amnesty might bolster the attendance in my English
as a second Language [ESL] courses – for a while.
1980s amnesty, green card applicants were required
complete 40 hours of English instruction. Suddenly, my
ESL classes went from less than half full to a point
where people were bringing their own folding chairs.
Classes were jammed. As a newcomer
to teaching, I was enthusiastic about the turnout. How
wonderful, I thought, that all these prospective U.S.
citizens were so eager to learn English.
My bubble burst within a week. When
students completed 40 hours to the minute, they
presented their INS forms for my confirming signature
attesting to their attendance.
At first, I balked. In the fine
print, the form also said that the student had to
demonstrate a mastery of conversational English and a
basic understanding of U.S. history and government.
My students couldn`t answer the
questions: "When did you arrive in the U.S.?" and "Where
is the capital of the U.S.?"
I refused to sign a federal
document that made a false statement. I suggested
instead that some students remain in class. After all, I
reasoned, they were going to live the rest of their
lives in the U.S. Why not spend a few hours a week at
Adult Ed to learn your new language?
Within another week, I had my
second awakening. I received a telephone call from an
INS official asking me why I wasn`t signing the forms.
When I explained my reasoning, he responded curtly:
My immigrant students, instead of
returning for the extra instruction they so badly
needed, had complained.
After a few months, the last of the
amnesty crowd completed their minimum requirement. Our
classes dwindled back down to their earlier levels.
In an ironic twist, dedicated
students who had been attending every day stopped coming
when they received the "Certificate of Completion." To
them too, the class ended with that document.
Looking back, I wonder why the
government chose 40 hours. About one-third of my ESL
students have never been inside a classroom. And among
those who have had some education, most cannot speak
Why wouldn`t the government impose
a meaningful time period? Forty weeks of
instruction would have made more sense. If U.S.
citizenship isn`t worth 10 months in the classroom, then
citizenship isn`t very important.
My experiences were nearly 15 years
ago. Many ESL students have come and gone during that
decade and a half.
I`m still at my desk every night
eager and willing to teach those who want to learn. And,
thankfully, I have some faithful students.
Those who work hard
The best of them have gone beyond ESL to complete their
GED – which says they have the equivalent of a high
But I no longer have any illusions.
The Lodi Adult School offers 15 sections of Adult ESL in
all corners of town at all hours of the day and evening.
Every resident lives within walking distance of an ESL
class. But too many are unwilling, literally, to walk
across the street to learn English.
I`m not saying that it`s easy.
Sometimes life gets in the way. And mastering a new
language is a challenge. But in most areas of the
diverse San Joaquin Valley, ESL classes should have a
waiting list instead of empty seats.
I`ve noticed an inverse
relationship between the number of immigrants who come
to California and the number of students who enroll in
class. Learning English is only important to a handful
Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English at the Lodi
Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column
since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.