Literacy for cultural reproduction uses institutional mechanisms to undermine independent thought, a prerequisite for the Orwellian “manufacture of consent” or “engineering of consent. ” In this light, schools are seen as the ideological institutions designed to prevent the so-called crisis of democracy, another Orwellian concept, meaning the beginnings of democracy……. In fact, this very perspective on schools was proposed by the Trilateral Commission……. This commission was created in response to the general democratic participation of masses of people in the Western world in questioning their governments ethical behavior.
Its major purpose, as many understand it, was to seek ways to maintain the Western capitalists cultural hegemony. The Trilateral Commission referred to schools as “institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young. ” Noam Chomsky stated it simply: The Trilateral Commission argued that schools should be institutions for indoctrination, “for imposing obedience, for blocking the possibility of independent thought, and they play an institutional role in a system of control and coercion. ”
The vulnerability of democratic government in the United States (thus) comes not primarily from external threats, though such threats are real, nor from internal subversion from the left or the right, although both possibilities could exist, but rather from the internal dynamics of democracy itself in a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society. English Only. Official English. Americanism. Bilingual Education. These issues have emerged in the political and social arena to insight debate on the national, regional and local levels.
Given the vast spectrum of differing viewpoints and opinions, it is no wonder that bilingual education has turned into such a heated battle. The struggle rages not only in the education debate, but in the areas of social welfare, civil rights and racial discrimination, intellectual arenas, and the politics of immigration. Generally speaking, until the early 1980’s, America has taken English as the official language of the Union for granted. Noone ever questioned the use of English as the common denominator among our “melting pot” society.
Therefore no additional legislation was ever lrequired to protect the English language from being undermined in some way. However, recently there have been drastic demographic changes taking place in various regions of the country. Immigration of linguistic minorities in large numbers has moved in like a wind current onto the bilingual education fire. Although this is not unusual, considering that immigrants from all over the world have been pouring into the nation for centuries, what is now making their presence such a huge concern is that they are requiring social services on a large scale in their native language.
Government agencies are being pressured into providing these various services in languages other than the generally accepted English language. In 1974 the Supreme Court upheld an Office of Civil Rights regulation which interpreted the 1964 Civil rights Act to apply to persons with a “language deficiency” when protecting against prejudice based on national origin. This ruling was universally used as the basis for implementing bilingual education programs throughout the country. These are the roots of the current English Only movement in response to the spread of bilingual education.
The debate started officially in 1981, Senator S. I. Hayakawa lobbied Congress to make English the “Official language of the Union” by amending the Constitution. As we all well know, amending the Constitution is no small task. The bill proposed to make official what was already obviously taken for granted. Hayakawa did not stop there. He included in his bill provisions that would prohibit federal and state “laws, ordinances, regulations, orders, programs, and policies” from requiring the use of other languages.
The bill not only attempted to make English official, but it also attempted to ban any other language. This went counter to campaigns started during the 1960’s to accommodate the needs of linguistic minorities. Since the introduction of Hayakawa’s Official English bill in 1981, a political movement has grown around the issue which has polarized people from all over the nation. Supporters quickly point out that English has always been the most common language in this country of great diversity.
English is also an essential tool to climbing the social-economic ladder in America. Those opposing the Official English movement point out that English Only is fundamentally racist in nature because it cancels and prohibits vital social services from being provided in native languages and thus promotes Anglo-conformity. It runs counter to civil rights, free speech and educational opportunities. What English Only really does is validify racial prejudice in disguise as American patriotism.
Bilingual Education poses a serious threat to the current power structure in America, and Proposition 227 represents a deliberate attempt to make public schools the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of children into a mold which is in line with Western Capitolist’s model of society. We need to take a closer look into the underlying reasons why Bilingual Education is under attack in our schools and how Proposition 227 fits into the larger political picture of our crumbling democratic society.
The initiative on the June ‘98 ballot titled “The Unz Initiative” Proposition 227 is being introduced by Ron Unz-a software developer from the Silicon Valley who lost his 1994 challenge to Pete Wilson for republican gubernatorial candidate in California. This poorly written initiative, if implimented, will require within 60 days for the state to segregate 1. 4 million limited English speaking children into special classrooms for one year.
In these classrooms with students of all ages, academic capabilities, and cultural backgrounds, students will be taught by a teacher who will be required-under the threat of a lawsuit- to teach these students using nothing but the English language. Students will be taught only one subject in this classroom-English. After this one year period is over the children will be thrust back into their schools general population to begin to catch up on the other subjects such as math, history, and science that they missed during their one year of English immersion segregation.
This classroom will have students of all ages; a 13 year old boy who was previously studying algebra will be in the same class with a 6 year old girl who is still learning to count. Teachers under this initiative will be working in a very hostile environment since parents will be allowed to enforce the English only provisions by filing lawsuits against the teachers, principals, and school board members if they learn their children have been spoken to in a language other than English. Proponents of this initiative are using propaganda which twists the facts.
Their main attack is using the statistic that existing bilingual education programs have a failure rate of 95%. However this is not the case at all. This statistic simply says that 5% of children after only one year of bilingual education have mastered enough English to be academically successful. 95% of students haven’t failed. It means that it takes students more than one year to successfully master reading, writing, and speaking English. This can be said of children who have been raised speaking English.
This also proves that the Unz initiative will not be successful since it mandates only one year of English instruction. In addition, Proposition 227 only allows children over age 10 who have high test scores to receive additional instruction in English. So children under age 10 who need additional instruction in English the most will be denied. No exceptions. Virtually every major educational organization in the state (including the California Teachers Association, the Association of California School Administrators, the California PTA, and the California School Boards Association) opposes this initiative.
The Unz initiative takes away the ability of local school boards, teachers, and parents from choosing the most effective and appropriate means of educating their children. Local control of education is eliminated. Instead, this proposal mandates an untested, do-or-die, one-size-fits-all state imposed program that can only be changed by another initiative or by 2/3rds vote of the State Legislature and the governors signature. There is no provision in the Unz initiative which will permit any school district to waive its strict requirements.
For many years now, local school districts have been using and evaluating bilingual education programs in their schools. Some have flaws and many have been proven to be very successful over time. If Proposition 227 passes, all these programs, even the successful ones, will be tossed out the window in favor of forcefully segregating a portion of the student body into one classroom. This is a terrible and cruel situation to subject our children to.
The “Three Strikes” law for criminals gives them at least 3 chances to succeed. Proposition 227 only gives students 1 chance-and not a very good one. It becomes very clear how Ron Unz’s Proposition 227 fits very well into a system of indoctrination of the young. By proposing and implementing the drastic provisions in Prop. 227 the state will be sending a clear message as to what form of cultural identity they want for communities and the role public schools play in the indoctrination of children into that form.
If all schools in the state, as institutions responsible for indoctrinating children into American society, adopt a policy of segregation of English impaired students from the rest of the school along strict racial and cultural lines, they will effectively restrict a child from developing a positive sense of worth and position in society. Language learning in schools must be understood politically and educationally as well as linguistically.
Public school language development programs are the gateway to human development for children, the foundations of cultural identity formations for families and communities, and the prerequisite tools for educational attainment in all curricular areas….. Contemporary models of public school language development are composed of three basic elements, (a) a linguistic theory of language acquisition, (b) a political commitment to the form of cultural identity to be supported by schools, and (c) an educational decision regarding how to balance langauge and academic learning outcomes (The Politics of Bilingual Education, pp. 2). The state by implementing Prop. 227 will be saying that the best way to learn English is through the immersion method which is a source of much debate to educators and those who study language acquisition. Many scholars don’t agree that immersion is the best method arguing that using a child’s native language allows them to use higher cognitive skills which facilitates learning at higher levels in all areas of academics. However Prop. 227 forces schools to change their policy on how to balance language acquisition and academic learning in other areas.
The state is clearly stating that learning English is more important than learning in any other area of academics. No math, history, social studies, or science. English Only. The psychological effect of being taken out of a classroom of your peers and placed in a classroom of children labeled as being “English impaired” (and thus officially and publicly branded as being inferior) will prove to have lifelong damaging effects. My wife, who is now a grade school teacher, sees in her students the same peer social conditions she experienced when she entered American schools from Mexico at age six.
Students who do not speak English well simply do not express themselves. They live in a shell because their peer group sees Spanish as being the language of the “dumb kids”. The social heirarchy within their peer group is defined in large measure by language dynamics. My wife sees clearly that her students who are seen by their peers as being “English impaired” have a severe inferiority complex which manifests itself in students who go through school life in silence. The proponents of this initiative claim that learning the English language will allow children of limited English ability to fully participate in the American dream.
But what image of the American dream will these children develop when they are singled out and segregated because of their race and cultural language. The real issue behind The Unz Initiative: Proposition 227 is politics, elections, and scapegoating. Once again, a “wanna-be” politician is putting an initiative on the ballot which is designed to feed off public frustration with the present failure of education in general. This initiative is targeting racial minorities which is controversial. The creator of the initiative wants to ride this storm of controversy to the governors office.
This is not a new strategy at all. This is exactly the kind of stragedy Pete Wilson used to get him elected to the governors office when he put Proposition 187 on the ballot. This initiative used scapegoating tactics to blame undocumented immigrants for the states economic and financial troubles. This law would cut off public benefits, including schooling, to the undocumented. The campaign used slogan “Save Our State” which appealed to the public’s false frustration with the undocumented by falsely accusing and identifying them as the reason for the state’s troubles.
Now Proposition 227 is using the slogan “Save The Children” to appeal to the voter while at the same time scapegoating and blaming the sad state of public education on Spanish speaking students specifically. Politicians use such racist and oppressive tactics to create a platform to run on for election to political office. The media coverage given to Prop. 227 was pathetic and one sided as usual. Endless repetition of the official slogans as well as numerous opinion polls which only showed how heated and polarized the controversy was over the issue. Rarely was there any mention of the specifics in the initiative.
Facts in defense of bilingual education were scarce. The parents and children to be affected were virtually invisible. When the initiative went to vote it was passed with the same support as Prop. 187. Latinos voted overwhelmingly against 227 and the proposition passed on 2-1 support among whites (who are themselves vastly over-represented). These also represent some of the latest in series of attacks on the civil rights gains made during the sixties. Proposition 209 is another recent attack on Affirmative Action which was a major force in guaranteeing equal rights of minorities in the workplace.
Proposition 209 would do away with Affirmative Action and thus allow businesses to discriminate against racial minorities in their hiring practices. This effort to institutionalize a practice of discrimination in the business sector, represented by 209, is specifically designed to prevent racial minorities from moving up the economic ladder and gain political consciousness, which will lead to political power. Politics is the struggle for power. Power is gained and maintained in this country on the backs of the oppressed. The oppressed in this country are racial minorities who represent the foundation of the social and economic order.
Those at the top of the order climb and stand on the foundation that racial minorities represent. Laws are put in place by those at the top of the socio-economic order to relegate and keep racial minorities at the bottom of the order and at the same time preserve their position of privilege. Proposition 227, 209, and 187 are all examples of such laws which are designed specifically to maintain the status qou-to maintain the “western capitalist’s cultural hegemony”, to “engineer consent”, and prevent the “crisis of democracy. ”
The reality of most linguistic minority students is that of obvious injustice and inequality in their society and usually many of the social ills that characterize poverty stricken communities in the home environment. Students are not taught in a way that reflects or even addresses these realities that students are surrounded by daily. Students today, as were students of preceding generations, are taught the pre-packaged patriotic functionalist definition of the concepts that are in line with the dominant mainstream ideology that is usually not related to students lived experience or reality.
This dominant ideology is based on old false assumptions about our “common culture” and “melting pot” society. This ideology is what drives the movement for Americanization and assimilation of people who, by virtue of their race and national origin, are forced and kept out of the mainstream. This crusade for Americanization is best expressed by Theodore Roosevelt in his World War I statement titled “The Children of the Crucible” in September of 1917: We Americans are the children of the crucible.
It has been our boast that out of the crucible, the melting pot of life in this free land, all the men and women of all the nations who come hither emerge as Americans and as nothing else……. The crucible must melt all who are cast in it; it must turn them out in one American mold; and this must be the mold shaped 140 years ago by the men who under Washington founded this as a free nation, separate from all others………. All Americans of other race origin must act toward the countries from which their ancestors severally sprang as Washington and his associates in their day acted…..
We must have but one flag. We must also have but one language……… The greatness of this nation depends on the swift assimilation of the aliens she welcomes to her shores. Any force which attempts to retard that assimilative process is a force hostile to the highest interests of our country………. (Language Loyalties, p. 84-85). Roosevelt in 1917 was talking specifically about other European languages like German. In that time Germans constituted a large sector of the population which spoke a different language and who also had gained much political power.
However, as the Germans and their language posed a threat to the “Yankee” American, linguistic minorities today pose a threat to the white power structure if we become politically conscious. This is the force which drives the “English Only” movement. This movement is now moving into high gear because linguistic minority’s population growth is exploding and threatens to make them the majority of the population in California. If linguistic minorities become the majority, they can most definitely gain political power. This is what the Trilateral Commission was refering to in its report on the governability of democracies.
A governable democracy is a limited democracy. If minorities in this country (or any other group of citizens) in large numbers became active participants in their democracy, then this country would have a real “Crisis of Democracy”. The white power structure, to maintain their position of power and privilege, must implement institutional mechanisms to keep linguistic minorities in an oppressed state. This national policy is the continuance of the policies which were implemented from the very beginnings of the nation: The conquering Anglo-Americans perpetuated the consequences of war by establishing institutions of subordination.
A civilian occupation used the manifest destiny concept in laws, organizations and rules which assumed Anglo superiority and Latino inferiority as a basic principal governing everyday behavior (Taking Sides, p. 33). The state of public education today is purposely designed to prevent students from becoming capable of any independent thought or sense of self worth. The Unz Initiative is clearly another attempt to further this state. Language is the primary and most important means for a child to develop their own sense of identity and place within society.
Language is the medium through which a person becomes conscious. Language enables a child to become actively involved in the validation of their own lived experiences, critical reflection of their environment, and the recreation of their culture and history. A nation’s language is a system of thought and expression peculiar to that nation and is the outward expression and manifestation of that nation’s view of the universe. It is the key to the psychology and philosophy of a people and is the lens through which the national and individual psyche (soul) may be understood.
Through its structure, phenomenological data are strained and even altered in accord with a manner the people can comprehend and make part of their worldview (Language Loyalties, p. 377). The fact that education today is designed to deny rather than confirm the lived culture of linguistic-minority students is proof that the “English Only” movement is fundamentally racist and oppressive in nature. The “English Only” proponents fail to recognize or acknowledge the role that language plays in forcing linguistic minority students to the very margins of society.
However, again, this is all done by design. Take away a child’s native language and how can they possibly voice their own opinion or become active in the creation of a more just society? The methods used to teach children in school is specifically designed to prevent independent thought. Critical Thinking- the ability to question and attempt to get a deeper understanding of what is the ultimate meaning of the facts they are learning in school is not a talent being developed by students in the present state of education.
I know this for a fact because I had to learn what the very term “Critical Thinking” meant when I first came to college. This prevention of independent thought is brought about by the mindless routinization and specialization which is the primary method used to teach students in school. Workbooks which are filled with endless fill in the blank exercises are combined with multiple choice question and answer drills which only require a child to identify the correct response and all the student must do is input the correct word or item or else circle it or mark it some way.
Learning to spell simply involves copying the word countless times until the spelling is memorized. Learning the definitions of those words involves even more endless copying of the definition. Reading in school is done in one of two ways: Either reading aloud to show that you can read words rapidly and recite them articulately but with little comprehension. All that this type of reading does is to shows others in your class that you can “bark at print” well. The other type of reading is done silently to fill in those blanks in the workbook again.
These are the teaching methods that characterize the education of students in schools today. Rarely are children asked to analyze their own thoughts and feelings on the meaning and significance of the facts they are learning. Macedo describes this method this way: Literacy for the poor is, by and large, characterized by mindless, meaningless drills and excersizes given “in preparation for multiple choice exams and writing gobbledygook in imitation of the psycho-babble that surrounds them. ” This instrumentalist approach to literacy sets the stage for the anesthetization of the mind………
The educational “comb” for those teachers who have blindly accepted the status quo, is imbodied in the ditto sheets and workbooks that mark and control the pace of routinization in the drill-and-practice assembly line. The true purpose of this method of teaching is to produce people who will meet the requirements of our complex economic technological society-where altruism is obsolete in favor of maximizing productivity and profitability. Capitol accumulation is the one single most important drive in our society.
Schools, as institutions which produce workers who will enter this society’s workforce, purposely groom their products (children) to be compatible with economic activity. To maintain the status quo, schools must take away a students critical abilities. This is what Orwell describes as “manufacture of consent” or “engineering of consent. ” Macedo writes: A society that reduces the priorities of reading to the pragmatic requirements of capitol necessarily has to create educational structures that anesthetize students critical abilities, in order to “domesticate social order for its self-preservation.
Accordingly, it must create educational structures that involve “practices by which one strives to domesticate consciousness, transforming it into an empty receptacle……. ” This is the fundamental failure of education in general, whether it is in bilingual education or in a fully English environment. Students are taught at a level that only provides them with enough ability so as to go through the steps of any problem, like a robot, and complete the task. The same drill of finding the block shaped like a triangle and putting it in the correctly shaped hole.
Students today are kept at this low level of literacy (if you can call it that) throughout their years in public school. This is what Jonathan Kozol describes as “functional illiterates”. Students can function but do not become literate. A further problem has to do with the definition of success for most bilingual programs……….. Success in these programs is measures by the rapidity with which they mainstream students……….. Their knowledge of another language is considered not an asset but a crutch to use until they master the “real” language of schooling.
This is at best a patronizing position and at worst a racist one…….. Given this perspective, it is little wonder that many parents do not want their children in bilingual programs or that these programs are often isolated and ghettoized in the schools. This message is not lost on students either. In an ethnographic study of four bilingual students, Commins found that some children are reluctant to speak Spanish because it is perceived to be the language of the “dumb” kids.
Thus, children may unconsciously jeopardize their own language development by dropping their Spanish, a language that benefits their academic achievement by allowing them to use higher level cognitive skills than with their English, which they do not speak as well (Affirming Divirsity, p. 199-200). Any analysis of a bilingual education program should be done in the context of literacy. A bilingual education program should at the very least provide a positive educational experience which reflects, confirms, and instills and positive sense of worth and dignity in the lived culture of linguistic minority students.
A bilingual education program that uses a child’s native language is not successful if it still teaches students at the low level which produces “functional illiterates” or regurgitates the dominant ideology which denies minority student’s experience, culture and reality. This is the primary reason why “English Only” immersion techniques proposed by conservative educators are doomed to fail. They will teach linguistic minorities in a way that subconsciously and at the same time blatantly puts the students in a subjugated and inferior status by the very fact that they devalue the students language and culture and thus devalue the students.
In addition, they will rob the students of independent thought and their ability to analyze their environment critically, which would enable them to be active participants in their own educational process which would encompass all aspects of their lives. Bilingual Education programs should be formed around a liberatory academic achievement model based on the students culture and experience. The teachers should challenge their students to make direct links between the facts they are learning in school and the way they fit into their own position in the larger community and society.
This will develop the student’s critical thinking skills where independent thought is primary throughout their education. Students should be taught using materials that contain aspects of their own lives which the students can immediately recognize and connect with. This will make the students see themselves as “subjects” rather than “objects” in their education and will enable them to develop within them a sense of self worth and confidence in their culture and society and a love of learning.
Bilingual Education should not be ghettoized in schools but rather should be expanded to include children of all ethnicities which will produce an environment of understanding and harmony among students of different races. The English Only movement is an attempt to reinforce public school’s role as the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young. Proposition 227, if implemented, will shift the “form of cultural identity” this state wants to support away from Mexican-Chicano-Latino culture supported by bilingual education, towards a monocultural Anglo-American white middle-class protestant male image of society.
Once gain, this is all designed by the people at the top levels of government and business specifically to keep linguistic minorities in an oppressed state. A “highly educated, mobilized, and participant society” will bring about the “Crisis of Democracy” which will require those with the real power in this world to give some of it back to the people of the world. To those with the power, this would be a very real and serious “crisis”.