December 10, 2009

Heather Mac Donald on "The Bilingual Ban that Worked"

Heather Mac Donald's article in City Journal details the success of Ron Unz's 1998 Proposition 227 in California that largely replaced bilingual education with English immersion:

And the transformation in the classroom has to be seen to be believed. It is extraordinary, for example, to observe elementary school teachers in Santa Ana, once a bastion of bilingual education, talking to their young Hispanic students exclusively in English about the Great Wall of China. It is just as extraordinary to see those students eagerly raising their hands to read English workbooks aloud in class. The main sign that the students are not native English speakers is an occasional reminder about past-tense formation or the pronunciation of word endings, but plenty of English-only speakers in the state need such assistance, too. Schools are not universally following the time frame set out in Prop. 227: a year of separate instruction in English followed by integration with English-only students. In some schools, English learners remain cloistered for a longer period. But regardless of classroom composition, English learners are being taught “overwhelmingly in English,” which is the most important goal of 227.

Self-esteem seems fine. “I didn’t know how to speak English in first grade,” says a husky fourth-grade boy at Adams Elementary School in Santa Ana. “I just figured out at the end of the year and talked all English.” The boy’s classmates, who are sitting next to him at a picnic table under a pepper tree for lunch, jostle to get in on the interview. They are fluent in schoolyard insults. “He’s a special ed!” one boy says of another. “I am not a special ed, you liar!” retorts the target. The fifth-grade girls at a table nearby complain that the boys are lazy. A slender girl has recently arrived from Mexico. Her translator for that day, a tiny blue-eyed girl named Lily, drapes her arm lovingly around the new immigrant and will sit next to her in all their classes, explaining what the teacher is saying. The pair and their fellow pupils amble back into the school after lunch, any signs of psychological distress well concealed. No one reports unhappiness at speaking English in class; on the contrary, they brag that it’s easy.

Hispanic kids want to learn how to speak English. English is currently a much cooler language than Spanish in terms of pop culture. And their parents know their kids can make more money as adults if they speak English. Little kids are language sponges, so once public institutions swung behind promoting English, the kids hopped right on board.

Unz's initiative is a rare example in modern American life of a public policy problem being solved. Not surprisingly, it has therefore disappeared down the memory hole. There are no Ken Burns documentaries on PBS to celebrate his accomplishment.

Heather considers at some length the murky methodological issues of measuring the impact of this profound change on scores on written tests. One problem is that there are now a lot of kids in California schools who speak English fluently, but who can't get reclassified that they have learned English because they can't pass the written test of English fluency. Why not? Because these kids who speak English but can't pass a test of written English can't pass any written tests, including math tests. They're not very bright.

But, at least the schools taught them how to speak English, which they were actively avoiding doing, at considerable incremental expense, before Prop. 227.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

22 comments:

pzed said...

BFD. So we have a few more Latino kids that now speak English well enough to still fail a written test. This has improved our lives how? Pyrrhic victory much?

Middletown Girl said...

This is all good, but let's remember... Jews are better at English than any other people... yet they are the most leftist and anti-(white)American of all groups.

Anonymous said...

Good luck to Ron Unz in his quixotic quest to equalize Hispanic and non-Hispanic white IQs.

Anonymous said...

One problem is that there are now a lot of kids in California schools who speak English fluently, but who can't get reclassified that they have learned English because they can't pass the written test of English fluency. Why not? Because these kids who speak English but can't pass a test of written English can't pass any written tests, including math tests. They're not very bright.

IWNAHMIC [I was not an humanities major in college], but I'm pretty sure that's what they call a Pyrrhic Victory.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, as Spanish-speakers or English-speakers, most of them still have significantly below average IQs.

Truth(er) said...

I don't know how much of benefit that was. Had they not bothered to learn English, then they would be much easier to remove.

Anonymous said...

As all race realists, HBDers, white nationalist -types know, immersion and assimilation into English is just a red herring. So 20 million illegal Mexicans know English... so what? They're still just as dim-witted and foreign.

Anonymous said...

wow they WANT to learn English.

Anonymous said...

My friend Tom went to Austria when his parents were hired for the Occupation, in '46-7. They sent him to the local nursery school, ach, dreadful, no one to talk with, he was an English speaker and all these kids spoke German. Parents busy working, couldn't do anything for Tom for a month. Mom asked Tom how things were going a month later, fine. No language problems, she said? You were having trouble because they all spoke German.
No Problem! he said. They have all learned English! dave.s.

Tanstaafl said...

Yeah, it worked so well that every store and all product packaging is going bilingual.

In less than two decades immigration has gone from immersing them to submersing us.

AmericanGoy said...

It's simple.

If you want the kids to integrate, to be successful, to not be stuck on the fringes of society doing menial, soulless jobs.

If you are a racist and wish for the latinos to be just a class of dalits, of untouchables, of menial servants, then by all means insist on "helping" them with bi-lingual education.

rob said...

What's the success? If Mexican children hadn't learned English, they'd be passable maids, gardeners and dishwashers, just like mom and dad.

But as the Mexicans and lower hispanics assimilate to black norms more are imported to fill the jobs they become too lazy and hostile to do.

The problem with Spanish-speaking Amerindian peasants is not the Spanish.

Anonymous said...

The story raises my suspicion radar. Beware of narratives that are so glowing and rely heavily on heart tugging anecdotes. The kids are most likely better off with the English immersion approach, that part is true.What's disturbing are the ideological battles waged by various interested parties over the heads of average citizens, their children being the spoils. Which faction gets to brainwash the upcoming generation, thus bending the nation in the future, that seems to be the prize. There's more to it than just which language has greater utility for the students.

Anonymous said...

I am from Canada. "Bilingualism" and language wars have practically torn this country apart. "Bilingualism" is a Trojan horse for ethnic entrenchment and disposession of the majority. It was falsely sold to English-speaking Canadians in the 1960's as some kind of "civil right". This had the effect of reducing those who opposed it to "bigots" and intimidating them into silence. Sound familiar? (Its all in how the spinmasters frame the discussion). The last thing Americans need is to see the rise of Spanish as a competing language supplanting English or to have a Hispanic, Spanish-speaking Quebec in the southwest. America should do everything it can to strengthen and support English. You Americans MAY have gotten lucky here. I would argue much luckier then you deserve. You have (hopefully) ducked a big bullet.

Matra said...

I am from Canada. "Bilingualism" and language wars have practically torn this country apart. "Bilingualism" is a Trojan horse for ethnic entrenchment and disposession of the majority.

As they have a separate ethnic identity from the rest of America - different race, history, culture, - they will still be that Trojan horse even if they do speak English.

Simon said...

I guess the lesson here is that young humans are good at learning new languages, no matter how low their general IQ. We do have large chunks of our brains especially devoted to language, after all.

In Canada bilungualism has clearly been used as a weapon to entrench French domination of the nation - all Canada is bilingual but Quebec, where English is banned. The system heavily favours a Francophone elite, just as the Apartheid South African system favoured Afrikaners, though that had a lot more moral justification IMO.

In America there seems no chance of domination by a Spanish-speaking elite. Bilingualism could be used as a weapon against the Anglo masses, but requiring eg government workers to speak Spanish would hit the black lower middle class hardest of all, and since they're a 'protected group' that seems unlikely.

From what I can tell, the US elites just want lots of Hispanic warm bodies in the US because by numbers alone they degrade the white middle class. The elites don't seem to have much interest in the Hispanics after that.

There are some exceptions like George Bush jnr, with his genuine affection for Hispanics and misguided belief that they can be made equal with Anglos through 'No Child Left Behind' et al, but that's rare and probably almost unknown outside Texas. And of course with enough Hispanics you eventually get Hispanic political control, as in Los Angeles, but in most of the US that's a long way off due to (a) Hispanic voter apathy, and (b) lack of white interest in Hispanics; we know that white liberals would much rather vote for mulattos.

ERM said...

"Bilingualism" is a Trojan horse for ethnic entrenchment and disposession of the majority.

Of course, the Quebeckers were happily speaking their language in Canada long, long before your ancestors rolled in from wherever. If anglo Canadians are so aggrieved by the situation, and I have never seen much evidence that they are at any level beyond griping in bars, even among Montreal anglos who ought to be the most pissed, why all the hue and cry whenever some Quebeckers suggest they'd rather take their ball and go home? Let them!

The situation in the U.S. on the contrary is considerably otherwise. We're the ones being invaded here. Ask the Quebeckers how that worked out for them and their language back in 1763.

In Canada bilungualism has clearly been used as a weapon to entrench French domination of the nation - all Canada is bilingual but Quebec, where English is banned.

Oh bull. Anglos from outside of Quebec and New Brunswick can live their entire lives unimpeded in perfect ignorance of the language, apart from some mandatory classes in grade school. Rather like the U.S.: they pretend to teach a foreign language and the students pretend to learn it. The only broad exception is for people who aim for certain civil service jobs, and, frankly, if that's your big dream in life, you've got problems.

As for English being "banned", what can be said about such hysterical misinformation?

Anonymous said...

Wow - Komment Kontrol really has it out for me lately.

What was so objectionable about the phrase "Pyhrric Victory"?!?

Is irony now banned at iSteve?

RandyB said...

Heather MacDonald is one of my favorite columnists, because she writes about conservatism from an urban perspective. Conservatism has always been more associated with less densely populated areas (look at a congressional map of the US and you'd think 80% of the House was Republican), probably because the farther away your neighbor lives, the less government intrusiveness you need.

But as the population keeps growing and the agricultural share of the economy keeps shrinking, we need to find more ways to help people live close together. A common culture based on language is a good start.

Sgt. Joe Friday said...

The problem I see with this is that both the "evil party" and the "stupid party" are going to decide that no candidate is electable unless he/she speaks Spanish, even if only 15% of the population is linguistically Spanish-dominant.

That means we will have a mostly white, English speaking majority being ruled over by a bilingual, mostly Hispanic minority in the short term. Anyone who lives in California or observes California politics knows that this state, under the control of politicians like Antonio Villaraigosa, Fabian Nunez, Gil Cedillo, et al has become a corrupt banana republic that is for all practical purposes ungovernable.

That's what we can look forward to nationally.

Evil Sandmich said...

Because these kids who speak English but can't pass a test of written English can't pass any written tests

Don't know about that. Our Chinese exchange student took the PSAT and did better than 93% of juniors on the math section, despite doing worse than 98% of the juniors on English.

corvinus said...

Big deal. Blacks speak English.