English Learners & Immigrants

November 21, 2001 1 min read

Debate Heats Up

Opponents of bilingual education say they’ve collected enough signatures from voters to put an anti-bilingual-education measure on the Massachusetts ballot in November 2002.

Lincoln Tamayo, the chairman of English for the Children of Massachusetts, which drafted the measure, said that reaching the 100,000- signature goal several weeks before the Dec. 1 deadline indicates “widespread support” for the proposal.

But Charles Glick, a government-affairs consultant and a member of Educational Choices for Massachusetts, a coalition formed to fight the proposed measure, disagreed. “I’m questioning how many people who signed that petition fully understood what they were signing,” he said.

The coalition wants Massachusetts legislators—rather than voters—to decide what to do with bilingual education by passing a law to make changes in the educational method.

Like measures that voters in California and Arizona approved to curtail bilingual education, the Massachusetts proposal aims to replace bilingual education with English-immersion programs.

The campaign to put an anti-bilingual-education measure on the ballot in Massachusetts is being underwritten by Ron K. Unz, the California businessman who also financially backed the efforts to get the California and Arizona measures passed.

Mr. Unz is sharply criticized by some bilingual education supporters, who argue that he is not knowledgeable about education. Mr. Unz wrote in an Oct. 26 opinion piece for National Review Online that bilingual education supporters who attended a recent debate at Harvard University showed up in part to “curse their personal bin Laden, yours truly.”

In the same column, Mr. Unz called supporters of bilingual education “tiny groups of educational terrorists in our midst, whose disastrous policies are enforced upon us not by bombs or even by knives, but simply by their high-pitched voices.”

Asked what he thought of such characterizations, Mr. Tamayo said, “I would not use those terms.” He said that debates about bilingual education have been acrimonious in his state, and that he’d like to see the language “toned down on both sides.”

“I do bristle when I hear the media continue to describe this [proposal] as the Unz initiative,” Mr. Tamayo said. “It is a Massachusetts initiative. It’s people like me on the ground who want change.”

—Mary Ann Zehr

A version of this article appeared in the November 21, 2001 edition of Education Week