AdWatch: What you speak may determine where you stand
By Karen Abbott, Rocky Mountain News
October 3, 2002
Bonjour. Let us suppose that you parlez only French.
Also, you're 8. You and your whole French-speaking family recently
moved to Colorado, and you're going to attend a Colorado public
Sacre bleu! There is such an argument about what is supposed to
happen to you there!
The only thing everybody agrees about, in any language, is that
you're going to have a better life if you learn a whole lot about
math and science and social studies and literature and football.
The argument over Amendment 31 is all about the best way - and
in which language or combination of languages, and for how long
- you ought to do that learning.
Some people think you should immediately be put in English
"immersion" classes. That would be all English, all the time. The
teacher might show you pictures of livres and arbres and pommes
de terre, and tell you the story of Goldilocks et le Trois Ours, but
use only their English names, books and trees and potatoes and -
well, certainement you already know that last one. Let us call this
Other people think you should be learning math and science and
social studies and literature and football in French, so you don't
fall behind in them, while taking longer to learn enough English to
move to regular classes. Call this Plan Y.
But in Colorado, education officials say nearly all English learners
in public schools are in Plan Z - taking regular classes in English
with everybody else, but with an hour or so a day of English
California computer millionaire Ron Unz doesn't believe them. He
believes schools unfairly stick too many kids - more kids than they
admit - in classes taught in their native tongues, slowing their
learning of English and hurting their overall education. Unz's
proposed Amendment 31 would change Colorado's constitution to
require Plan X.
The first commercial backed by English+, the group working
against Amendment 31, is on TV now.
Unz said his group, English for the Children of Colorado, can't
afford TV commercials yet but will later.
The proposed amendment would put you in an English immersion
class for up to a year, then switch you to regular classes.
Your parents could ask the school for a waiver to let you learn
everything in combined French and English, but they probably
wouldn't get one. That's because Amendment 31 would let your
teachers be sued if your parents eventually decided the waiver
harmed your education.
That's a big legal risk for teachers who grant waivers.
Your folks might more easily get a waiver, however, if you took an
English proficiency test and did as well as the average fifth-grader
born to the English language. No doubt the test will include such
average fifth-grader born-to-English expressions as "LOL," "My
bad," "We're going to hit fungos," and "But Mo-om! It makes me
look like a dork!"
Then you could take math and science and social studies and
literature and football in French - unless your school didn't offer it,
which it wouldn't have to unless there were 20 of you
French-speakers asking for it.
Now, the truth is you probably don't speak French. In Colorado,
the vast majority of kids learning English as a second language
speak Spanish as their first.
AdWatch just thought it might be interesting to think about this
first as a French issue, and then see if anybody felt differently
about it being a Spanish one.