Academic journal article Education

English Only for California Children and the Aftermath of Proposition 227

Academic journal article Education

English Only for California Children and the Aftermath of Proposition 227

Article excerpt

The provisions and consequences of "English for the Children," California's Proposition 227, are examined. The measure passed with a clear majority in June, 1998, and was implemented during the 1998-99 school year. Controversies concerning the rationale and campaign surrounding the measure are discussed. Both appeals and implementation directives indicate that services for English learners will continue, however, many specifics remain under appeal. Bilingual and monolingual educational policies are treated in historical context. Wider issues, such as the desires of parents, research justifying English-only and bilingual education, and the future of education for language minority children, are discussed with the goals of ensuring long-term results and community participation.

Two political events in 1998 mark a new era of English-only language policy in California. Proposition 227, referred to as "English for the Children," passed by a 61 percent majority in the June 2 primary election. A week before that vote, Governor Pete Wilson vetoed SB6, a late attempt by the legislature to reauthorize bilingual education. That bill, after years of negotiation, would have allowed local school districts to determine services for language minority students and would have saved the day for language pluralism. These two events may ultimately signal an abrupt detour from a generation of bilingual education for English language learners.

Proposition 227 promotes "English-only" and threatens bilingual government services, including education, for both immigrant and resident language minority groups. It is viewed by many as evidence of anti-immigrant attitudes, language-based discrimination and racial/ethnic conflict. English-only policies have polarized communities in the past. In Monterey Park, Chinese Americans were the target in the 1980s, when language was a pretext to harass new residents by restricting business signs in Asian language scripts and attempting to exclude Chinese-language books from public libraries (Crawford, 1992). A generation ago, the 1968 East Los Angeles high school walk-outs focused on educational equity, including the right to speak and learn in languages other than English (Rosales, 1996).

Since the passage of the federal Bilingual Education Act in 1974, bilingual education has been identified with civil rights, self-determination, access and local school control (Schneider, 1976). In a pendulum swing, the English Only movement in the late 1990s has been strengthened by an initiative to exclude community languages from the schools. This article will review the key portions of Proposition 227 and events surrounding its passage and implementation in Summer 1998. It concludes with a discussion of alternatives for the uncertain future of dual language education in the United States.

The Proposition: English Only for Educating Children

Although the benign title of the movement behind 227 is "English for the Children," and the organization's website documenting important developments is "One Nation,"(1) the initiative language actually reads: Chapter 3 [added to part 1 of the Educational Code] "English Language Education for Immigrant Children." Its sponsors, Ron Unz and Gloria Matta Tuchman, have repeatedly stated that they do not intend the measure as an anti-immigrant issue. The title and its nine articles, however, clearly target language minority immigrant children and families, as can be seen from its contents.

The first Article declares several truisms. "English ... is the national public language of the US.... the language of economic opportunity." "Immigrant parents are eager to have their children acquire ... English." These incontrovertible statements are followed by two clauses with questionable conclusions. The first equates school underachievement with bilingual education. "Whereas the public 1.

1. The internet address for English for the Children is

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