'Supporting' Comments Reveal Animosity Toward Ethnic Groups

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Undersecretary of Education Gary L. Bauer has cited comments on the Education Department's regulatory proposals as evidence of "widespread public support for the cornerstones of our initiative" on bilingual education: greater flexibility for school districts and an earlier emphasis on teaching English skills to language-minority students.

But a review of the comments, as well as letters to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, indicates that most of those expressing support for the department's policy oppose bilingual education in any form. Also, many express ethnic animosity toward language minorities, especially Hispanics.

'Out of Touch'

The responses also fail to support another claim made by Mr. Bauer in a statement responding to criticisms by Hispanic groups and bilingual-education advocates. Mr. Bauer cited comments on the regulatory proposal as evidence that "these lobbyists are out of touch with the families and communities they claim to represent."

But only a small minority of the comments are signed with Hispanic or other language-minority surnames- and of those that are, more oppose the department than support it. Few who commented on either side identified themselves as parents.

Asked for other evidence to support Mr. Bauer's charge, Anna Maria Farias, deputy director of the office of bilingual education and minority language affairs, cited letters responding to the Secretary's Sept. 26 speech unveiling the department's bilingual initiative.

Enthusiasm Expressed

A breakdown by OBEMLA, however, analyzing more than 300 responses to Mr. Bennett's speech, lists only three parents as supporters of the initiative and eight as opponents. Ms. Farias later said that, during visits to school districts around the country, she had spoken with parents as well as educators who expressed enthusiasm for the new policies.

Through Jan. 31, the office recorded a total of 265 letters supporting Mr. Bennett's speech and 52 in opposition. OBEMLA has yet to complete its analysis of the several hundred comments on the regulatory proposal, which would revise criteria for funding bilingual programs.

In his Jan. 24 statement, Mr. Bauer complained that several advocacy groups--the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Association for Bilingual Education, and the National Council of La Raza--had "misrepresented the department' Policy."

"This administration has no intent to dismantle the bilingual-education program," Mr. Bauer said. "We support that program, and our legislative, budgetary, and regulatory proposals are designed to improve it."

Many of the comments and letters cited by Mr. Bauer as supporting the department, however, suggest that the respondents view the bilingual initiative as a plan to replace bilingual education with a program of English-only instruction.

"Dear Secretary Bennett: I would like to express my support for your position opposing bilingual education," reads a typical letter, signed by a private citizen from Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Racial Undertones

A New York City writer, listed as a "supporter" by OBEMLA, urged the Secretary: "Please do not relent on your stand against bilingual education. Today's Hispanics, on the whole, lack the motivation of earlier immigrants. They seem to be complacent by nature and their learning is further delayed by the knowledge that they can fall back on their native language."

Similar racial undertones are common in other letters and comments that favor the department's rulemaking proposals.

"At the rate the Latinos (and nonwhites) reproduce, they, like the Israelis, face a demographic imbalance in a matter of a few years if we do not change several of our archaic and dangerously outdated laws," says a letter from Jersey City, N.J. ''Make English the official language everywhere in the U.S.A. by constitutional amendment."

This supporter was sent the following reply signed by Carol Pendás Whitten, director of OBEMLA:

"Thank you very much for your letter supporting our stand on bilingual education. I am glad that you appreciate how important it is for a child to receive intensive exposure to English throughout the day."

Anti-immigrant bias is also conspicuous among comments in favor of the regulatory proposals. Several English-speaking citizens, writing from Florida, Texas, and California, voice fears of becoming language minorities themselves.

"Why do we have to change our culture and life style for people who claim they want to be Americans?" asks a Houston woman. "They want all our privileges, but still try to run our lives like they were back home. No way!"

"I do not like the idea of being forced to learn a foreign language," she adds. "Is our country going to be divided from here on? First Spanish dictates--maybe some day Chinese or Russian."

Resentment about "coddling" language minorities is another frequent theme.

”It is an insult to the memory of my non-English-speaking ancestors, and millions of others like them," says a Warwick, R.I., man, "that the present status of bilingualism allows such deviant practices as bi-cultural education or multilingual voting materials. Not only is this practice fundamentally unfair to those who learned English the best way--by experience--it is profoundly un-American and a menace to our national culture."

"In my view," he continues, "complete mastery of English, as well as Anglo-Saxon social norms, is a necessary prerequisite for living and thriving in America. I salute the efforts of people like Secretary of Education Bennett, who has the courage to stand up for the American way despite howls from the special-interest minority lobbies."

Vol. 05, Issue 22, Page 23

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