Bill Cosby of the Hispanic Community?

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 23, 2007 2 min read
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I write in this week’s edition of Education Week about how some people are still talking about Herman Badillo’s book, One Nation, One Standard: An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups, though it was published at the end of last year.

In the book Mr. Badillo, who was the nation’s first Puerto Rico-born U.S. Representative, admonishes Hispanics for not placing enough importance on education and urges them to look to the example of people of Asian heritage for guidance. Mr. Badillo delivered the same message to a room full of people with cloth napkins sitting on their laps at a luncheon put on by the Manhattan Institutein New York City on January 9. I listened to the speech a couple of weeks later via a C-Span broadcast. In the speech, he said Hispanics need to pay more attention to education “to make sure this community is able to become assimilated and to move ahead.”

Some Hispanics have been offended by his message, saying he’s overlooked the Hispanics who have become educated and successful. “Who is he to tell us that we are failures?” said Antonio Stevens Arroyo, a professor of Puerto Rican studies at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, writing as a guest columnist in the Feb. 5 edition of Hispanic Link Weekly Report, a newsletter. On Jan. 18, National Public Radio broadcast a segment about Mr. Badilloand drew parallels to how his message has evoked reactions from Hispanics similar to some of the reactions that Bill Cosby drew from African-Americans when he said African-Americans need to take more responsibility for some of the problems of black youths.

Mr. Badillo has a particular message in his book that is relevant for educators of English-language learners. He believes that bilingual education is a failure. As a U.S. Representative in the 1970s, he fought successfully to get the first substantive provision for bilingual education into federal law. But he contends the programs didn’t carry out their original purpose. The purpose, he says in his book, was for children to receive instruction in their native languages in some subjects so they wouldn’t fall behind while learning English. Instead, he believes schools haven’t put enough emphasis on instruction in English, and many students got stuck in such programs for years.

It’s an argument that others have made, but it’s interesting that it comes from someone who helped to bring bilingual education to the nation’s schools.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.