Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/0524satlet6-241.html

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 acquire Spanish.

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 greater opportunity.

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.

Sal Gabaldón

The writer is a curriculum specialist for the Tucson Unified School District.