Bilingual debate is back because students benefit
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
March 26, 2006

Sindi D. Wasserman, Guest Columnist

The Daily Bulletin recently published a column by Peter Schrag, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee. I am not sure how many people were able to digest it, as Mr. Schrag deliberately wrote it in very sophisticated language. However, it was full of misrepresentations of the truth, and at best it was extremely misleading. He presented an extremely negative view of the merits of bilingual education and implied that if the State Department of Education is to authorize additional (extremely needed) funding for our state’s EL (English Learner) students, then we would be, in effect, segregating these students and be going back to a time when these students were educationally penalized by a system of bilingual education.

Scores of research articles have been written and published that confirm the merits of bilingual education; meanwhile, since the passage of Proposition 227, a previously bilingual/literate student population has pitifully become barely monolingual.

Employers advertise more than ever before for ‘‘bilingual preferred” potential employees – yet we are lucky if we can produce high school graduates who have been able to master even the beginnings of a second language (thanks to the shortsighted thinking of our legislators and the public at large.) Of course, when being bilingual is associated with being un-American ... what can we expect?

Thankfully, at least one California legislator, Ms. Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, is willing to step up to the plate and fight for California’s immigrant student population and their parents. If anyone out there in the reading public would like a more accurate view of what is happening not only in California, but in the rest of the country as well, with regard to EL students, please look up the January publication of ‘‘NEA Today” at There is an excellent article about the 425 first languages that the five million students enrolled in our country's schools bring to our U.S. classrooms.

We can argue until doomsday whether or not ‘‘these children should be here.” But the fact is: they are. It is time for California, at least, to wake up and smell the roses. These children are here to stay and are a part of our mainstream society – educational and otherwise.

We must do all we can to educate them properly. This requires major funding and serious dedication to obliterating the educational gap that exists between our students who do not struggle with language deficits and those who do.

Mr. Schrag seems to know all of the acronyms to throw around in his column. But I bet he hasn’t visited a flowering ELD class lately. He might be hard pressed to find a true bilingual classroom left in California, thanks to Proposition 227, but the teachers are still around – and we haven’t given up. In the near future, many educators will travel to Sacramento to let the State Board of Education know that we demand increased funding for our EL students.

You are wrong, Mr. Schrag, when you say that ‘‘for most EL students a generation ago, bilingual education in California was a dead end that sucked in thousands of students and kept them there even when they knew English better than their native language.”

The bilingual programs that were properly funded, adequately staffed and properly monitored were greatly successful and have produced some wonderful, fantastic bilingual and biliterate high school and college graduates. I know; my students are among them.

Please, public, call to task those who criticize that which they know little to nothing about. Ask students who are now able to ‘‘write their ticket” in the job market because they do speak two languages and have learned how to navigate in life through two cultures. They might not be writing editorials to try to sway your opinions, but they are working in our country’s hospitals, emergency rooms, law firms, schools, fire departments, police stations, and are flying our commercial planes. Look around you. They are everywhere: These bilinguals, these biliterates, these ‘‘failures.” You bet the debate is back again! And there are more letters to follow.

- Sindi D. Wasserman is founder and president of Chino Valley Chapter CABE-California Association for Bilingual Education.