Let's Keep Teaching English to Children in Our California Public Schools

English and Meritocracy: The Gullibility of Our Political and Media Elites

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Last week I noted in a column that the California Republicans in the Education Committee of the State Senate had joined an 8-to-0 vote to repeal Proposition 227 and restore Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education” in our schools.

The academic performance of over a million immigrant student had doubled in the four years following the implementation of intensive English immersion programs, so presumably the goal of the Republicans (and their Democratic co-conspirators) is now to un-double that performance and restore the system as it was in the past.

Just a few years ago, the educational successes of Prop. 227 were still so keenly recalled that even the erstwhile champions of bilingual programs heatedly denied any intent to restore the disastrous system. But politicians have exceptionally short memories, and with all the bilingual activists and bilingual researchers having spent some time lobbying them in Sacramento about the wondrous benefits of teaching young immigrant children everything in Spanish in order to help them learn English, their empty heads have been spun around and their votes have reversed.

Various other individuals share my amusement about this ridiculous situation. Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, one of America’s foremost psycho-linguists reminded his 126,000 twitter followers about the “Bizarre chapter in educ politics: So-called bilingual education (= keep Eng away fm kids when they can best learn it)” and Francis Fukuyama, another very prominent intellectual, tweeted out my column to his own 29,000 followers, as did Debra Saunders of the SF Chronicle and numerous others.

In general, the reaction all across the Internet to the Republican reversal on bilingual education was scathing, and others shared my view that it might constitute the last nail in the coffin for the dying California GOP that had once dominated the state during the eras of Reagan and Nixon.

Still, it would only be fair to note that the Republican position did receive strong support in certain ideological quarters. Richard Spencer, one of America’s leading White Nationalists, strongly endorsed the restoration of bilingual education and opposed requiring Hispanic children to learn English. Many of the commenters on Jared Taylor’s similarly-hued website took the same position, with one of them very clearly summarizing their perspective:

Good! Anything that disadvantages hispanics vs poor whites is in our racial interest.

Bilingual education often turns into defacto segregation, where whites get to be in normal classes with fewer hispanics. This could be the best thing for white kids trapped in California public schools. The hispanic kids won’t end up learning enough English to escape their educational barrio.

When the hispanics graduate with their worthless bilingual degrees, they won’t be able to speak English well enough to compete with the white kids for jobs. They’ll end up mopping floors and mowing lawns for the rest of their lives.

I’m done “doing the right thing” if it means helping non-whites at the expense of whites. If Jose and Guadalupe want their dumb kids to speak mexican dialect spanish as their only language, I hope the little bambinos enjoy their jobs scrubbing toilets for minimum wage.

Frankly, I regard the current effort to return a million California schoolchildren to Spanish language classrooms more as an amusing bit of idiocy than as any serious threat to the educational revolution of the late 1990s. We must remember that California schools have now been teaching immigrant children English for the better part of a full generation, and nearly all of them have become perfectly fluent and literate in that language, which they obviously want their children also to learn.

Most Latinos are working-class or working-poor and being busy with their own lives, don’t pay a great deal of regular attention to what the politicians in Sacramento are saying or doing. But if they discover that the local schools have suddenly stopped teaching their children English and shifted them into Spanish language classes instead, that bizarre educational change will produce a tidal wave of popular anger and outrage, threatening the gullible politicians responsible with annihilation.

As an approximate analogy, just a few months ago every Asian Democrat in the California Legislature voted to repeal Prop. 209 and reestablish racial preferences in state university admissions. But once ordinary Asians got wind of this development, which would almost certainly would have led to the reestablishment of Asian Quotas in California colleges, the popular outcry was so enormous that all the Asian Democrats immediately reversed their positions and their legislative leaders quickly killed the suddenly divisive measure, which had previously enjoyed near-unanimous Democratic backing.

As an even better parallel, consider the instructive political fate of Nativo Lopez of Santa Ana. His powerful political machine had rendered him a feared local figure to both Democrats and Republicans alike, whom he regularly insulted and attacked with total impunity, even running profanity-laced radio spots against California’s reigning Democratic governor without suffering any retaliation. But after he proclaimed himself a diehard supporter of bilingual education and refused to implement the English language programs required by Prop. 227, he provoked a grassroots uprising by angry Latino parents and was recalled from office, losing by a forty point margin in America’s most heavily Latino immigrant city.

Even over a dozen years ago, long before the educational facts were so fully established, “English in the Schools” enjoyed nearly 80% support among Democrats and Republicans, and those numbers and intensity were identical for Latinos. Meanwhile, American popular discontent with the endless failures of our political elites, both Democratic and Republican, is at an all-time high. California Republicans are already on the verge of slipping into minor party status and the reestablishment of bilingual education in our schools might place the Democrats on the same trajectory. Perhaps a non-partisan “English Party” would arise to replace both of them in power.

 

But if the ignorance and gullibility of most American political leaders are universally acknowledged and the subject of endless ridicule by our media elites, perhaps the latter should occasionally look into a mirror.

Anyone can find a ridiculous article by a lowly and unknown junior reporter and tear it to shreds, so let me instead point to a particularly egregious recent example at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The New York Times stands as America’s newspaper of record and among Timesmen few can match the credentials of David Leonhardt, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and numerous other journalistic awards, spending years as Washington Bureau Chief and recently promoted to Managing Editor of a new high-profile venture applying analytical methods to public policy issues.

For his maiden analytical effort, Leonhardt filled the front page of the Sunday Week in Review with a 1,500 word piece discussing the reason that admission to the Ivies and other elite universities has become so much more difficult for American teenagers over the last couple of decades.

His surprising explanation was the enormous increase in the presence of foreign students since 1994, whose growing numbers have left American applicants to compete over a far smaller remaining pie. Thus, the globalization of top American universities is the true culprit behind so many of those thin envelopes received by disappointed students over the last few months.

Given my own prior research and writings on university admissions issues, Leonhardt’s claims seemed extremely doubtful to me, and their credibility was not enhanced by his total lack of specific numbers on international college admissions. In fact, it took me just a couple of minutes to confirm that his argument was entirely incorrect.

The website of the National Center for Educational Statistics provides thirty years worth of data on the enrollment of international students for America’s 5,000 individual colleges, but unfortunately only the most recent figures are presented in convenient form. Therefore, last year I added a research utility to my own website that immediately provides the 1980-2011 enrollment statistics for any university. A few moments using this tool revealed that between 1994 and 2011 the percentage of domestic undergraduates had merely declined from 93.5% to 89.3% at Harvard and from 95.6% to 89.8% at Yale, with roughly similar changes at most other elite universities. Obviously, a decline of only about 5% in the number of available slots for American students would have had little impact on their chance of admission.

Given that Leonhardt’s only quoted source was Harvard’s longtime dean of admissions, who emphasized the tremendous benefits international students provide to their American classmates, I strongly suspect that particular administrator and his counterparts had provided the original impetus for the article, and their motives may have been largely self-serving. Each Spring, many wealthy and influential families are disappointed at the rejection letters received by their children and deflecting their unhappiness is a crucial goal for top colleges. The sorts of families who apply to the Ivies are exactly those that most tend to favor globalization and meritocracy and if they could be persuaded that the competition of brilliant foreigners was the cause of their children’s distress, they would be much less likely to protest.

My own analysis of today’s admissions policies at the Ivies and other elite universities is very different and was presented in my 30,000 word Meritocracy article and the 30,000 words of columns that followed. Perhaps Leonhardt should read my analysis and examine the extensive data I provided.

As it happens, America’s Educational Writers Association is holding its annual convention next week at Vanderbilt University and I have been invited to speak on a panel dealing with Asian admissions issues, a major theme of my own research. Over the last year or two, I have published quite a number of pieces highlighting the strong statistical evidence for an Asian Quota among Ivy League universities, with my research even sparking a 2012 New York Times forum on the topic.

I have also repeatedly pointed out that the easiest means of addressing these very serious charges of racial discrimination would be for Ivies to release the historical statistics on the ethnic distribution of their applicants, information which they have no legitimate reason for keeping secret. My strong suspicion is that the admission rates for Asian-American applicants have plummeted relative to all other groups over the last twenty years, a drop certainly unmatched by any decline in Asian academic performance, and that this glaring discrepancy explains the unwillingness of our elite universities to provide that data.

The trends may have been so dramatic that if made public they would reach the front pages of the leading newspapers in America—and many in Asia as well—and generate a political firestorm, with the enterprising reporter who somehow obtained the data perhaps winning himself a Pulitzer Prize along the way. In fact, I can think of a particular American journalist ideally situated to achieve this result, with exactly the right mixture of stature, credibility, and university connections to quietly secure the restricted information and then break the story to an admiring public. His name? David Leonhardt of The New York Times.

(Reprinted from The Unz Review by permission of author or representative)

• Tags: Full, Ron Unz