By Remigia (Remy) Bermúdez/Special to the SDFP
“But the real lesson that I have taken away from our professors and this credential program is that being a bilingual teacher is to be entrusted with a great responsibility, a responsibility to provide equal access to education for all children. Being a bilingual teacher is to promote social justice and to not only welcome but embrace diversity. It is to honor the student’s voice and let it be heard in the classroom…education is the great equalizer in our world…” Danielle Chambers – BCLAD Multiple Subject Graduate 2009
Last semester at San Diego State University there was a big brouhaha within the College of Education (CoE) about consolidating the Special Education Department (SPED) and the Department of Policy Studies in Language and Cross-Cultural Education (PLC). A united front resulted in both departments remaining autonomous from each other and in full force on their own within the CoE.
Six months later, however, the future of the PLC department is again at risk and appears to be on the chopping block. This reversal is indicative of SDSU’s lack of commitment to the largest populations it serves and a total disconnect from the community and societal needs in this binational border region.
The issue has not been resolved. Two public forums have been held on the topic this month. The public can still provide additional comments here to support the re-emergence of PLC with authority in training educators for the ethnically and linguistically diverse California and San Diego County.
Dr. Alberto Ochoa, Emeritus Professor and head of the PLC department states that “This department is recognized as one of the leading departments in the training of biliteracy teachers in California and the Southwest.”
Dr. Ric Hovda, Dean of the College of Education said “Programs in the PLC department have in the past [prepared] and continue to prepare highly qualified bilingual teachers, ” when asked for his opinion of the role and effectiveness of the department. He continued that “The programs in the PLC Department serve a critical need and the college will continue its commitment to preparing teachers to work with all English learners and in particular those in multilingual settings.”
The PLC department is currently severely understaffed and is at risk of being pared down to 3 faculty staff members. There is a concern within both the PLC and the Special Education Department that these staffing levels contradict Hovda’s assertion of commitment to preparing teachers and would jeopardize the dual Bilingual SPED credential program.
Over the past thirty years PLC has prepared over 2000 biliteracy credential teachers, Bilingual Multiple Subject Credential and Single Subject Credential, and over 300 MA students, and over 100 doctoral students in the SDSU and Claremont Graduate University Joint Program. Through these programs teachers have been trained to address the academic and linguistic development of students. 85% of those graduates are Latinas.
For those 30+ years, children of non-English speaking backgrounds have received quality education from teaching professionals who graduated from SDSU’s PLC and who joined the ranks of teachers in Pre-K through 16 grades, covering pre-kinder through university. Thirty+ years later, one will find many of those children as adults in diverse professions, as positive elements of society as well as educators.
The need for this education has not abated. When asked, “How is the San Diego State University’s College of Education responding to the educational needs of Latino youth or how should it respond?” Dr. Ochoa replied,
“Educationally, the academic achievement of Latinos is at or near the bottom in every indicator. The low educational attainment is not simply a result of recent immigration. U.S.-born Latinos consistently have lower high school and college completion rates than any other group. Given the above trends, the urgency of the SDSU community to take leadership and social consciousness in developing and supporting existing programs to provide equal educational benefits to our students from pre-school through higher education is extremely crucial.”
Stressing the importance of the public’s involvement to saving PLC, Dr. Ochoa stated, “The academic performance of San Diego County’s 228,753 Latino students is at risk. It is often overlooked that nearly half of all Latino students are English learners. Presently, 45.9% of San Diego County and 52% of California K-12 students are Latinos.” Ochoa continued, “It is socially and economically incumbent for the entire community to take responsibility in addressing our educational needs.”
Despite the importance of the PLC department in addressing the academic performance of Latino students, over the past ten years no replacements have been made or are scheduled to fill the post of eleven past and pending faculty departures.
One would think that PLC’s foresight to secure grant funds to further create a dual teaching credential program to produce BCLAD/SPED Specialists, would warrant that PLC would be staffed with a full core of professionals to educate those up and coming teachers with BCLAD and SPED combined expertise. But there appears to be disengagement between SDSU top-level bureaucracy and the community it serves.
I attended the public forum about the PLC department held on November 5th. Participant comments clearly indicated the need to formulate a plan to take back to the SDSU administrators (Dr. Hovda being one of them) in support of not only keeping the PLC, but to fully staff it given that the recent perceived intentions of the SDSU administrators are questionable at best.
A glaring contradiction is apparent: on one hand, SDSU has been designated as a “Hispanic”-serving institution; SDSU, on the other hand, appears to be preparing the hatchet to bring an end to the multicultural biliteracy graduate program whose philosophy is based on the principles of the pedagogy of empowerment.
I’ve always been proud to say that I am a three-time graduate of SDSU: BA in Social Science; Master’s in City Planning with pioneering research on transnational border planning which led me to create the City of San Diego’s Department of Binational Affairs (1986/87), the first and only city department in the nation; and a bilingual teaching credential, BCLAD. My Bilingual SPED credential will be my fourth SDSU graduation.
Being a current educator with a Multiple Subject Bilingual Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development (BCLAD) teaching credential and about to graduate with a dual Bilingual SPED credential, I am greatly concerned with the direction that SDSU’s College of Education appears to be taking.
It would be a shame and a disservice to our society if the PLC Department is abolished by myopic minds due to political inclinations or budget preferences.
Isn’t the message clear? “Despite what our monolingual society would like us all to believe, we are all living proof that bilingualism, multilingualism, multiculturalism is, in the words of Professor Sanz [PLC faculty member], an asset and not deniability,” Ana Merlos – BCLAD Multiple Subject Graduate 2009
Remigia (Remy) Bermúdez, currently a teacher and community activist/organizer, has over 20 years of professional experience with federal, state and regional governments and community advocacy, 8 of which are in California Redevelopment in San Diego. She’s earned a Social Science B.A., a Master’s in City Planning and a BCLAD (Bilingual Ed.) teaching credential from SDSU. She owns and operates RemyLinks whose motto is “Responsible Government for Better Communities.”