Proposition 58: English Language Proficiency
A summary of CA’s Proposition 58 is that it repeals Proposition 227 from 1998. The contentious part of the seemingly unopposed proposition renews the same debate from back then, but with a new generation of legislators and voters. The “Yes” crowd would like you to believe that Proposition 227 limits bilingual education, and Proposition 58 gives school districts and parents more power over their children’s education. The “No” crowd is conspicuously absent, and has raised little to no money to run ads against the over 4 million budget of the “Yes”. However, this by no means indicates that the measure should be passed without deep thought.
In 1996, Los Angeles parents pulled their children out of Ninth Street School, a bilingual elementary school in downtown Los Angeles. Their complaint? Only 30 years after a similar boycott to have bilingual education in schools, these parents argued for their students to be placed into English only programs. Their complaint was simple; their children struggled in school because English was their secondary language, and all the tests for college and higher education were in English. That same year, Ron Unz wrote, and the California citizens passed, Proposition 227, which designated students to be taught solely in English, with an opt-out designed for those parents who desired their children to be taught in another language. Proposition 227 passed with 60% “Yes” votes, a count that is unlikely to be matched for Proposition 58.
The initial and long-term results were very supportive of the passage of the bill. Since 1998, prestigious schools like the University of California schools have improved their acceptance of both Latino and first-generation college students, indicating that overall, these changes have improved the opportunities for these students. From a personal viewpoint, my mother was a first generation college student who attended University of California, Berkeley. Her first language was Spanish. Through her kindergarten class, she quickly learned English, and was able to graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in nuclear engineering. The fact is that the English immersion programs were quite successful in teaching students the main language for American universities, and their respective SAT, ACT, and even high school education. For my mother, and other students like her, English immersion programs were the optimal form of education to provide the best opportunity to achieve the American dream.
However, just because my mother and other students like her had amazing English immersion experiences doesn’t mean that bilingual education is bad. The California Teachers’ Association discusses the benefits of bilingual education, and they are right. Multilingual education is standard all over the world, and optimal for business and job opportunities in an ever diversifying field of communication. In addition, bilingualism teaches students to think differently than their peers, showing them that there is more than one way, or language, to solve problems. I do not think that learning another language in my younger years inhibited my scientific learning in high school or now; in fact, I think if anything, it was very helpful. However, it can come as no surprise that students learn new languages more efficiently and effectively at a young age, and forcing students to learn English over the years while they get older instead of months may not be the best way to treat our students. Instead, parents should be given the choice to make that decision for their children. All children have different home lives, and as such the parents, not the school district, are the only qualified individuals to make that decision for their student. Some parents may prefer to have their child taught one language at home with the family and another at school, and others may decide to implement bilingualism in school and at home. However, no child should be segregated from his peersmerely because his last name is not “American,” and nor should students be mocked in class for being unable to speak in English. There should be a balance between these two extremes, in which students can learn English without ridicule.
What should I vote then?
Proposition 58 is designed to promote bilingual schools at the cost of parent’s choice. By repealing Proposition 227, the law would again allow for students to be placed in bilingual schools, without the explicit permission of their parents. The typical “the government knows better for your children than you, the parent” is a liberal policy that is obviously at work here. Although they claim that research has advanced enough to prevent English-illiterate students, there is no evidence that widely implemented bilingual programs with students forced to attend rather than choosing to attend would produce the same results as the current select bilingual programs. Historically, students with English as a second language were unfairly treated by our schools, and not given the same opportunity as their fellow English-speaking students. It is against all evidence to say that we are not repeating history by passing Proposition 58.
In summary, you should vote “No” on Proposition 58, to protect parental rights and optimize the opportunities of young students.
Follow this author on Twitter: @UCDavisEngineer