When Proposition 227 Passed in 1998, Only Homosexuality Was Less Tolerated Than Bilingualism by Middle-Class Americans
By Doug Porter
California’s Proposition 58, being marketed as the LEARN Initiative, represents yet another step towards righting the wrongs growing out of a wave of anti-multicultural sentiment during the 1990s.
The nativist wing on the Republican Party eventually led that organization into irrelevance in California, and a generation of Latino political activists is now an ascendant force in state politics.
By allowing local public schools to decide on how best to teach English learners, this measure effectively undoes the statewide immersion-is-best mandate of the English Language in Public Schools Statute, also known as Proposition 227.
The California Legislature put Prop. 58 on the ballot; State Sen. Ricardo Lara spearheaded the initiative.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, whose political activism was inspired by opposition to the legal onslaught on Latinos duting the Pete Wilson era, was among the sponsors. State Senator Marty Block, long considered an education advocate, was also a sponsor.
The Sacremento Bee interviewed Sen. Lara, the son of Mexican immigrant parents, who took pride in his bilingual abilities as he helped his parents cope with the demands of life in Los Angeles.
But he felt something else entirely in 1998, by then a 23-year-old student at San Diego State University, when California voters passed Proposition 227. This tectonic shift for English learners in the state mandated they be taught in English only, rather than in the bilingual programs long favored by many educators, which instructed students primarily in their native language while they gradually picked up enough English to enter mainstream classes.
“There was a shame being cast on those of us who spoke multiple languages,” Lara said. “It was a racist undertone when it came to Spanish speakers. That’s how I felt.”
Eighteen years later, Lara is leading a push to reverse a law that he said put a “handcuff” on multilingual education in California when a globalizing economy has made knowing two or more languages a valuable asset.
It’s impossible to separate the issue of bilingualism from people’s attitude towards multiculturalism. And opposition to multiculturalism has deep roots in racism.
Shortly after Proposition 227 was adopted by voters by a margin of 61% to 39%, Vista Magazine took a deep dive into the underlying sentiments propelling the English-only approach:
Boston University sociologist Alan Wolfe’s just-published study, “One Nation, After All,” suggests a simple explanation: bilingualism is anathema to the overwhelming majority of middle-class Americans. In his sample of suburbanites in four states, the percentage of those opposing bilingualism was four times greater than that of those in support. In fact, among middle-class Americans interviewed by Wolfe, only homosexuality was less tolerated than bilingualism: “Middle-class Americans, it would seem, think about other languages the same way they think about homosexuality-and not the way they think about minority religions. Our respondents were strongly against bilingualism.”
The Times, They Are a Changin’
Voice of San Diego education writer Mario Koran points out that bilingual education is in high demand these days:
The numbers bear it out. The most popular language programs in San Diego Unified turn away hundreds of parents each year. Language Academy, which started in 1994, last year received 362 applications from parents who wanted to enroll their children, and accepted 134 of them. Longfellow K-8, a popular dual-immersion program in Linda Vista, received 276 applications and accepted 117 of them.
Parents who speak only English appreciate dual-language programs because they see the value in knowing more than one language. Being multilingual makes you more competitive in the workplace, and in fact just might make you smarter.
And many parents whose kids speak little English find that a bilingual approach actually helps their kids to read and write more effectively in both languages. That’s important, even from a day-to-perspective for the family. Children whose parents don’t speak English are often employed as de facto interpreters when parents go to the bank or doctor’s office.
Although cultural conservatives are fighting a rear guard action, public attitudes have changed for much of the country.
State Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine), along with Prop 227 advocate Ron Unz, and Kenneth A. Noonan, former superintendent of the Oceanside Unified School District are leading the opposition to Prop 58, being marketed as Keep English for the Children.
The marketing campaign against Prop 58 appears to have collapsed along with the primary campaign of Unz for US Senate. The website and Facebook page appear to have been abandoned. The Twitter account has two followers and has never been used to send out any news or information.
While more than $1.1 million has been raised in support of Prop 58 as of October 1, the Keep English for the Children Group has reported no income.
For More Information
Ballot Language – ENGLISH PROFICIENCY. MULTILINGUAL EDUCATION. INITIATIVE STATUTE.
Preserves requirement that public schools ensure students obtain English language proficiency. Requires school districts to solicit parent/community input in developing language acquisition programs. Requires instruction to ensure English acquisition as rapidly and effectively as possible. Authorizes school districts to establish dual–language immersion programs for both native and non–native English speakers. Fiscal Impact: No notable fiscal effect on school districts or state government.
A YES vote would mean: Public schools could more easily choose how to teach English learners, whether in English–only, bilingual, or other types of programs. It would also mean that future changes could be made by the legislature.
A NO vote would mean: Public schools would still be required to teach most English learners in English–only programs.
Polling: There is no public polling on Prop 58.
For information on the November 2016 General Election, see our San Diego 2016 Progressive Voter Guide
Other San Diego Free Press coverage of the 2016 general election.
Tomorrow: Two measures I don’t think needed to be on the ballot. Prop 59 (Advisory Vote on Citizens United) AND Prop 60 (Condoms in Porn) We’ll be writing about various state and local contests Monday-Friday for the next two weeks.
Key Dates for the November 8, 2016 General Election –> pic.twitter.com/uEQEgPKHRk
— CA SOS Vote (@CASOSvote) September 12, 2016
On This Day: 1648 – The first volunteer fire department was established in New York by Peter Stuyvesant. 1927 – Work began on the carving of Mt. Rushmore, a task 400 craftsmen would eventually complete in 1941. Despite the dangerous nature of the project, not one worker died. 1959 – The first World Series to be played west of St. Louis began in Los Angeles.
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