In California each election we are presented with a plethora of ballot measures. The voters get to take the place of the legislature and decide on laws. The problem is most of us do not have the time nor interest nor expertise nor patience to read all the fine print. In fact, we are often misled by the titles and abbreviated descriptions or synopses.
Therefore I follow the advice of my parents — I skip them (mostly). Now I along with folks (no longer with us) have occasionally voted for something that seems simple and good (who ever really knows?).
I think we elect or legislators to discuss and make laws and then to take the blame or credit.
And to cite a case of likely being misled on a wide scale, it appears that many, many voters in California who would normally support English-only education in schools nonetheless voted in favor of bilingual education. I think in most cases that means presenting lessons in Spanish.
And let me just say here for anyone who has not read my blog before I am a 100 percent-supporter of learning foreign languages. Whether I support bilingual education in our public schools (aside from the normal foreign language courses), well probably, but I have no conviction on that one way or the other really. I did once witness the process when I was a reporter covering schools in Porterville, Ca., which has a large Hispanic population, including many recent immigrants (some legal, some not). The idea was that it would allow new arrivals not yet fluent in English to stay up with their course work while they of course learned English. This was in the elementary classes. It had an extra benefit in that it allowed non-Spanish speakers to enroll too. In that way, they could benefit from getting a jump start on a foreign language via the immersion method — and as a Spanish student (both in college and now on my own as a senior adult) I can tell you that to get to fluency immersion in one way or the other is the only way. You can’t learn hands-on how to repair your car from a book (although it is a reference) and you can’t learn how to communicate with other human beings in a different language without being forced to speak it on the fly.
And now back to the whole point of this post. Voters are often misled by ballot measures. I imported the following out of something called EdSource, a website covering the education agenda:
“Passage of Prop. 58 was almost certainly aided by the technically accurate but arguably misleading official ballot description drawn up by the state’s Attorney General’s office. The short paragraph on the ballot gave the title of the initiative as “English Proficiency, Multilingual Education” and emphasized that its goal was to increase English proficiency, rather than open the door to more bilingual classes.
“Unless they read the voter guide, or had researched the issue themselves, some voters may have thought they were voting for an “English only” initiative.”
Need I say more?
Well I will (say more). I am not against bilingual education. But we have to keep in mind, the language of the United States is English (even though unofficial). It is our history, our whole being. We welcome, or should, people of all cultures and lands to our shores who want to become part of our great experiment. But we don’t want to become Mexico, or China, or Germany, or Syria, or India or something else.
(And please don’t misunderstand me here. I enjoy a cosmopolitan atmosphere as much as anyone but I also love my United States of America — we can have both.)
However, bilingual education was not the main subject of this post. The idea of ballot measures was.
The short history is that in the early part of the 20th Century big corporations, most notably the Southern Pacific Railroad, controlled our state government in California. The introduction of ballot measures was thought to be a way of giving more control back to the people. It does not necessarily work that way.With the population increase since then it takes millions of dollars to go out and get the required number of signatures to get a measure on the ballot and to get your campaign message out. It has turned into a tool of special interests.
I say let our elected legislators do the job and then hold them accountable.
While I have no problem with helping children in our schools by presenting lessons in their native tongue, such as Spanish, I think it is still true that if you move your family to Mexico they require your child to speak Spanish in their public schools. Es la lengua nacional allí (It is the national language there.) I got that from a professional and non-Hispanic bilingual educator here in the U.S. who as a child went with his parents to Mexico where they worked.