A few years ago, I visited the state of Israel as a part of a delegation from California. As a part of that visit, I participated in a meeting with the superintendent of schools for city of Tel Aviv. In that meeting the superintendent was describing the most serious problem facing the government-run schools in Israel.
Israel has very specific immigration rules. Simply stated, any Jew from any country in the world may emigrate to Israel without restriction. There are religious disputes over what is a Jew, but if any person can demonstrate that he or she is Jewish, that person may emigrate to Israel.
The problem with this type of immigration rule is the problem of assimilation, particularly language assimilation. There are 87 separate languages spoken in the Tel Aviv school system. Since Hebrew is the official language of Israel, making sure that all the students can master the Hebrew language is a key factor to each student’s success, according to the superintendent. So, to help each student learn Hebrew, the school system put each student in a Hebrew language school, and then puts them into the mainstream school system. This is a type of immersion instruction, and the superintendent was very satisfied with its success.
One of our group then described the system used in California. When we receive a foreign student, we teach them the core subjects in their native language, introducing English along the way. We call this native language instruction technique “bilingual education.” Since there are 92 languages spoken in the Los Angeles school system, finding the native language instructors is a challenge.
The superintendent of the Tel Aviv schools looked at us quizzically and said, “How do they ever learn English.” They don’t, our group replied.
In 1998, the voters of this state approved Proposition 227, which required immersion education for English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. The California Legislature, particularly the Latino caucus, has done everything in its power to undermine and thwart Proposition 227.
This week, the state discovered the latest effort. This year, the State Board of Education (SBE) adopted a curriculum for the ESL program that complied with 227. The Latino Caucus went nuts, and cut the entire budget of the SBE. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the budget without the funding, picking up the costs of the SBE in his administration. Senator Martha Escutia has a bill to restore the funding of the SBE, but only on condition that it adopt a native language instruction model for ESL learners, in violation of Proposition 227.
Old ideas die hard in the Legislature. Native language instruction, the so-called bilingual program (which is hardly bilingual at all), has been proven to be a monumental failure, marginalizing thousands of non-English speaking students, keeping them out of the mainstream of American life, by failing to teach them English. Undeterred, the leftists in the Legislature, who maintain control over these marginalized students and citizens by controlling their language, continue to try and force their failed system in spite of the clear voice of the citizens expressed through the initiative process.
It is a classic Clash of the Titans scenario. As of this moment, we don’t know how it will turn out, but the future success of thousands of ESL students depends on the outcome of that fight. They will either be condemned to a life in the ghettos of our cities, trying to make their way in a city where they can barely read the street signs and food labels, or they will be taught English, and have a fair chance at the American Dream. Governor Schwarzenegger understands the stakes. Let’s all hope the Latino caucus recognizes its folly, and starts representing its citizens, and not the power brokers who benefit from the current system.
This article first appeared at CaliforniaRepublic.org.