It was generally believed before the election on Nov. 5 that the Massachusetts ballot initiative abolishing bilingual education in favor of English immersion would win. What no one could predict was how big a win it would be. Over 70 percent of the electorate voted for English Immersion, which means that 35,000 immigrant children in Massachusetts will no longer be forced to live as aliens in America by being educated in the language of their country of origin.
For an immigrant, the fastest and most effective way to become a citizen of your new country is to learn its language. Older immigrants often live in neighborhoods where most of the people speak the language of the old country. But immigrant children, because of their youth, quickly adapt themselves to their new country. When it comes to language and education, they leave the older folk behind. But when they are prevented from doing so by their government school, a great injustice has been done to them.
My parents came to this country in the 1920s as immigrants from Poland. My sister and I were born here, and we never had any problem learning to speak English. The three older children, born in Poland, immediately acclimated themselves to their new country and learned English quickly at school. Although our parents spoke Yiddish at home, it was the most natural thing for us to speak English. We attended public schools filled with children from immigrant families like our own, and it never occurred to anyone that we should be taught in any language but English.
In those days, the government schools were anxious to turn us into good Americans. And that’s exactly what we and our parents wanted. So, the idea that you would take immigrant children, and even children born here of immigrants, and educate them in a language other than English would have been considered insane. Children who come to America want to become Americans, and when the government schools prevent that transformation from taking place, they are guilty of a terrible crime against those children.
My sisters and brothers wanted to become Americans. It was inconceivable that in American schools we would be taught in Yiddish. Of course, being able to understand and speak a bit of Yiddish was helpful in getting to know something of the culture our parents came from. We were told how harsh life was in the old country and how they dreamed of coming to America, the golden land of freedom and opportunity. Our parents wanted us to be Americans, and we wanted to be Americans, immersed in our nation’s culture and great traditions.
How bilingual education took hold in America defies understanding, unless we understand that the aim of the progressives was to downplay American patriotism in favor of a new anti-American doctrine of multiculturalism. The takeover of the government schools by progressive change agents led to a complete transformation of the curriculum to one that rejected American values in favor of one promoting world government and socialism. And how better to do that than by preventing immigrant children from becoming integrated Americans.
But all of this was done without consulting parents. Because progressive educators had organized themselves into a powerful union with a good deal of political clout, they were able to convince Congress and state legislatures to enact bilingual education programs. Massachusetts was one of the first states to adopt bilingual education. As a result it has had a dismally high level of functional illiteracy among its Latino students.
With the overwhelming vote for English immersion, this horrible crime against immigrant children will finally be ended. But we can expect the opponents of immersion to seek ways around the new law.
Meanwhile, tremendous credit must be given to Ron Unz, the intrepid Silicon Valley millionaire who funded this initiative and similar initiatives in other states. Unz launched his one-man crusade to get rid of bilingual education because he recognized the basic injustice it was perpetrating. He was able to get English immersion implemented in California, but opponents have appealed to liberal judges to stop it.
Our new governor, Mitt Romney, campaigned vigorously in favor of English immersion, while his Democrat opponent opposed it. Which means that liberal Massachusetts will be entering a new era in its history, in which the politico-education establishment will be forced to give up some of its insanity. The voters, by a massive end-run around the establishment, were finally able to do what the politicians couldn’t or wouldn’t do: abolish an unjust education program.