Horne misreading bilingual case
The Arizona Republic
May. 24, 2003 12:00 AM
When Ginny Kalish, one of Arizona's best teachers, expressed her disagreement
with state schools Superintendent Tom Horne's effort to impose immersion on all
English learners, Horne shamefully characterized her comments as an attack ("Not
all kids learn the same," Letter, May 2 and "English immersion study shows a
clear superiority," Letter, May 10).
Then Horne invited Rubén Beltrán, the Mexican consul general, to speak in favor
of language immersion at an Arizona Department of Education conference later
this month. I suppose he figured that a high-level Mexican bureaucrat would go
along with Horne's idea to restrict bilingual education, since local school
board elections do not exist in Mexico and parents have virtually no power to
influence such matters as textbook adoption or curriculum design.
If so, Horne miscalculated badly. Beltrán politely canceled his appearance.
Horne must have been unaware that Mexico is justly proud of the bilingual
education programs it provides for the thousands of its indigenous citizens
developing literacy in such languages as Nahuatl and Zapotec while they also
Whether through bilingual education or
immersion, all immigrants want their children to acquire English, the language
of opportunity. Now a growing number of parents are choosing an even higher
standard, realizing that bilingualism combined with biliteracy offers even
The idea that all children seeking to acquire a language must do so in exactly
the same way is as silly as limiting all mechanics to using only one tool or all
doctors to prescribing only one treatment.
Immersion classes may be sufficient for some children but less effective for
those who find it too difficult to learn literacy, math and other subjects in a
language they haven't mastered. Conversely, bilingual education accelerates
language acquisition for most children, though some may find it too challenging
to learn literacy, math and other subjects in two languages.
That's why in November 2000, when voters in the state of Arizona made immersion
the primary option for acquiring language, they reserved for themselves the
right to bilingual education through waivers. This year more than 13,000
families exercised their legal right to have their children learn English in
that manner. Horne finds himself in the awkward position of having promised to
"enforce the ban on bilingual education" when no such ban exists.
No matter how much Horne tries to twist the law, he cannot rewrite it. Arizona
parents, natives and immigrants alike, value our children's future too much to
let him get away with it.
The writer is a curriculum specialist for the Tucson Unified School District.