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Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns are satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
The test results are in: Non-English speakers learn English better if you teach them English.
This astounding conclusion is drawn from results of the California English Language Development Test, administered in the Golden State last fall. It showed that implementation of California’s Proposition 227 – which drew “yes” votes from 61 of the vote in 1998 – about tripled the number of students proficient in English.
Prop.-227 author Ron Unz commented, with perhaps the slightest admixture of sarcasm, “It is sort of astonishing that if they teach you English, you learn it faster than if they don’t.”
More cautious was an educator who told a local newspaper, “I would hesitate to draw any big conclusions.”
Other bilingual-education advocates agreed students’ native-language literacy “provides the foundation for their transition to English” and argued that learning in their native tongues kept students from falling behind in other subjects.
These were exactly the arguments against Prop. 227 in ’98, which Unz and his minions brutally countered by noting standardized tests showed kids in bilingual classes weren’t learning much of anything.
Feeling a test of English proficiency – especially one conducted in English – must be culturally biased, we approached a bilingual educator to see if she could provide a depth of perspective not reflected in a mere statistic.
Our interview with Devorah Mandelbaum-Ortiz follows:
Your Reporter: These raw test results indicate bilingual ed may not be the way to go.
Ms. M-O: “Raw” is the word. They fail to show some of the most important accomplishments of bilingual education.
Your Reporter: Perhaps you’re referring to the maintenance of cultures – including languages. In California, that would be mainly Spanish.
Ms. M-O: Well, sure, countering America’s cultural imperialism is important. As we Hispanics say, Ere con ere cigarro, ere con ere barril; rapido corren los carros en el ferrocarril.*
But you’re overlooking a couple of matters that are even more vital.
Your Reporter: Please, go on.
Ms. M-O: Do you realize how many jobs the bilingual movement was creating? Bilingual teachers, bilingual teacher’s aides, bilingual counselors. The California Teachers Association – which only cares about kids – certainly noticed the great job these specialized, dues-paying members were doing for children.
The state Legislature has noticed, too. That’s why it wouldn’t cave in to the English-first crowd, no matter how much money the CTA gave our Assembly members and state senators.
Your Reporter: Isn’t that a non sequitur?
Ms. M-O: Oh! You’re a Latino! Well, as we like to say, Cada cabeza un mundo.**
Your Reporter: Ah … yeah … right. But about those test scores …
Ms. M-O: Tests only measure how students do on the day they take the test. You know, as I always tell my pupils, Si empieza a llover, volveremos en seguida.***
Your Reporter: OK, OK. You said there were a couple of matters of vital importance. Job creation is one. What’s the other?
Ms. M-O: It’s also about job creation and, shall we say, social stability. Let me give you an example.
Some school districts have Spanish immersion courses, through which English speakers may learn Spanish. As a matter of fairness, districts may open Spanish immersion courses to native Spanish speakers.
Nobody talks about the fact Hispanic students do very well in these classes.
Your Reporter: Well, sure. But doesn’t this mean they don’t learn English.
Ms. M-O: They don’t have to learn English to succeed in school. As we like to say, Es coser y cantar.****
Your Reporter: My head’s spinning. How does not learning English help the job market.
Ms. M-O: Don’t you see? This way, we never have a shortage of maids and gardeners and day laborers!
At this point, Mandelbaum-Ortiz hesitated, looking a little distressed.
“I’d better stop,” she said. “Perhaps I’ve said a bit too much. You know, I always tell my pupils, En boca cerrada no entran moscas.”*****
* R with R cigar; R with R barrel; rapidly run the cars on the railroad.
** Every head (its own) world. (Idiomatic)
*** If it begins to rain, we will return immediately.
**** It’s to sew and sing. (Idiomatic: It’s easy.)
***** Flies don’t enter a closed mouth.