When bilingual means doublespeak
The San Francisco Chronicle
June 10, 2005
Friday, Debra J. Saunders
ACADEMIC freedom -- and quality -- suffered a blow this week when writer Richard
Rodriguez announced that he will not speak at a California State University East
Bay commencement Saturday. He doesn't want to endure a ceremony boycotted by
some students. So reasonable minds won't get to hear what Rodriguez has to say
because unreasonable mouths won the day.
"He believes in assimilation and rejection of one's own cultural identity, "
student and bilingual teacher Leah Perez complained to The Chronicle. That's a
ridiculous assertion. Rodriguez does not reject his identity. The more accurate
charge would be that he is not a fanatic.
Sarah Gonzales, a professor -- all bow -- who supports the move to intimidate
Rodriguez, used doublespeak when she told The Chronicle, "We need to teach our
students to be able to listen to diverse opinions, but they also need to be able
to respond. As a commencement speaker, he gets free air time." Guess what. He
also gets free speech.
Except at CSU East Bay.
And so the censorious students and authoritarian faculty decided to have their
own little graduation ceremony, even with Rodriguez bowing out. That way, they
won't have to expose their minds to any view that might offend them. When they
throw their graduation caps into the air, they can pat themselves on the back
for guaranteeing a ceremony that won't make them think.
I take what happened to Rodriguez personally, because while he is getting flak
from the left, I experience the same nasty censoriousness from the far right. If
you stray from a certain set of opinions, the posse of extremism goes a-hunting.
You see, no pundit is allowed to think that, just maybe sometimes, folks from
another political persuasion have a point.
In the Internet age, partisans can log on to opinions tailor-made to conform to
their own beliefs or sites that report only news they like. So they've come to
see conservative-only news as something of a right: The right not to hear
contrary opinions and discomforting information.
They also believe the Internet and talk radio will -- and should -- spare them
from information they don't like. The far left and the far right share this
dangerous conviction that they shouldn't even be exposed to what other Americans
think. In this case, the students' rage was based on their views of Rodriguez's
1982 book, "Hunger of Memory." "The sad part is people doing this based on a
book they haven't read," campus spokesman Kim Huggett told The Chronicle.
No lie. Then again, you can see why bilingual-education advocates wouldn't want
to hear or read Rodriguez. Their cause relies on the ability of zealots to
ignore unwanted data -- and more important, student success.
When English-immersion activist Ron Unz put Proposition 227 on the ballot in
1998, most Democrats opposed the measure, and many educators did, too. They had
their reasons. They feared non-English speakers would not learn subject matter.
They believed English immersion would be especially harmful to older students.
But a funny thing happened. Proposition 227 worked. Within five years, the
number of limited-English students who could speak English proficiently tripled.
Educators who cared about immigrant children succeeding reassessed their
beliefs. They didn't have to turn their backs on bilingual education entirely,
let me add. To their credit, they simply came to realize that English immersion
often works better with young children.
Bilingual advocates have been faced with two ways to address the success of
Prop. 227. They could admit that bilingual education only works best for some
people, and concentrate on that niche. Or they could ignore the successes of
English immersion because they want Latinos to speak Spanish first and foremost.
Imagine, then, how bilingual zealots would be especially threatened by a Latino,
who, from personal experience, knows in his heart that English fluency is
attainable and essential for immigrant children to succeed in America. His crime
is that he makes it more difficult for the bilingual lobby to dismiss English
immersion supporters as racists.
Such a man must be vilified. He must be marginalized. He must be silenced.
E-mail Debra J. Saunders at