The Education of Joe Guzzardi

Before I began my teaching career at the Lodi Adult
School, I didn`t know anything about immigration.

I was a banker whose background was finance and
economics. If someone had asked, I would have wagered
that like most federal programs, immigration was a mess.
But I didn`t have any first hand knowledge because
immigration policy wasn`t part of my world.

I got my baptism of fire at the Adult School.

The first class I taught was English as a second
language (E.S.L.) to Southeast Asian refugees on
welfare. In my previous column, I
that students only turn out for E.S.L. classes
when a carrot is dangled in front of them. As an
example, I cited the period in the mid-1980s. That`s when
English language instruction was a

for a green card. People showed up in

And attendance was high in my class for the Southeast
Asians. But not because the desire to learn was keen. If
you didn`t show up for class, you didn`t get your
welfare check.

Students could get exemptions from attending class,
however. Among the things that got them off the hook
were doctor`s excuses, sick children, transportation
problems, compelling personal necessity, and holidays
like Vietnamese, Cambodian or Hmong New Year.

Imagine if you could be legitimately excused from
showing up for your job for any of the above reasons.

What a circus that class was. When a student wanted
out—and sooner or later most of them did—he would go to
his doctor to ask for a note. Typically, a Vietnamese
student would go to a Vietnamese doctor, Cambodian
students to Cambodian doctors and so on.

The next day, the student appeared with a note
saying, “Please excuse Mr. Tran for 90 days. He has

Okay, the guy has a headache on Monday but how can we
possibly know that he will have the same headache for
ninety consecutive days? Calls to the doctor`s office to
learn more about student`s condition were not fruitful.

The medical excuse was one of the most irritating
experiences I had. The taxpayer got hit with the double
whammy. First, the class, the books, the teacher and the
instructional assistants were all taxpayer supported.

Then, when the student went to the doctor, the
taxpayer got that bill, too. Trips to the doctor for the

slightest condition
were common. And when a student
had half a dozen children, as they all did, the

card got a good work out. Think free play on
the pinball machine to get an idea.

I could never quite figure out how people who had
never been touched by a doctor`s hand until they arrived
in the U.S. grew so dependent on medical care. I guess
the price was right.

Once I asked a student who was suffering from “a
headache” why he didn`t go to the drug store to buy
aspirin. He replied, “Aspirin cost $5.00. The doctor is

The more I learned about the
welfare system, the more I shook my head. One day, I
took out a pencil and did some calculations on the
bottom line deal that my students had.

Hold on to your hat for the next few paragraphs. Many
families who arrived in the U.S. in the early 1980s and
stayed on welfare until that gig ended in 1996 took in
between $500,000 and $1 million in cash and benefits.

The average Southeast Asian student had six children
living at home. The husband and wife collected a flat
rate for themselves and additional monies and food
stamps for each child.

That income ranged around $30,000 annually.

My students had the best medical insurance in the
universe. The parents were fully covered. And from the
moment the children were born–at a taxpayer expense of
$5,000–until they turned 21, every sniffle was paid for.

From my vantage point, that was the most abused
benefit. With no co-pay, anything and everything was a
trip to the doctor. A common method of getting to
medical attention was—believe it or not—taking an
ambulance to the

Emergency Room
. My students didn`t have cars.
Ambulances were, like everything else, completely

Students also received major medical. With large
families (and children covered until they turn 21),
medical expenses pile up.

To cash, food stamps, unlimited medical care, add
subsidized housing,

and other miscellaneous programs too numerous
to mention. You`re talking about a gold mine so rich
that students refused to consider gainful employment.

Coached by the
Roman Catholic Church and various

special interest groups
, the students were fountains
of knowledge regarding the welfare system. Pay dirt was
S.S.I. with its more generous benefits. With three tries
to qualify for

, students kept trying until they hit pay

I could never fault the students for the

advantages they took
. What did they know? They came
to America, got a check, food stamps and a MediCal card.
And heaven knows that they were in America because of

beyond their control

As for teaching English, I never made too much
progress. I had aides fluent in the Asian languages. But
I could never convey to my students that America was
their new home and learning English would be their path
out of poverty.

The class finally came to an end in the mid-1990s.

Welfare reform
shifted the emphasis from education
to employment. And my students went off into the real
world not knowing any more English than the day they

From time to time I bump into them in the
neighborhood. Their lives are unchanged from the first
days they came to America. Most of them are

on some type of

federal or state assistance

Through my adult school experiences, I`ve come to
harsh conclusions about immigration. Everyone is lined
up to come to America. But when the time comes to repay
American generosity with the most token gesture—learning
English—hardly a soul shows up.

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.