An immigrant who learned English during his teen years in the New York borough of Queens, and who would later serve in President George W. Bush’s administration, slammed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to bilingual education in an op-ed last week.
Writing in the New York Post, Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation who worked for nearly two decades as a journalist, was a speechwriter for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and was in the State Department during the Bush administration, criticized New York City Education officials.
Specifically, Gonzalez was directing his angst at Mayor de Blasio, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Milady Baez, who heads up a program for “English-language learners” which is looking to strengthen dual-language programs.
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The program would have students learn in English and in another language, despite a 2011 study conducted by the city’s Department of Education which revealed that of all English learners who were in first grade in 2003, 36 percent failed the English proficiency test seven straight years, and only 30 percent were able to graduate within three years. Gonzalez writes:
“This is not a record of success. This is a record of children being consigned to a bilingual-educational gulag from which many never emerge.
“That Mayor de Blasio’s administration wants to expand this failed approach says more about its mindset than about the needs of the city, and of millions of new immigrants like me.”
Gonzalez acknowledged that multilingualism is a good thing, but warned separation “will drive a wedge between immigrants of different nationalities.”
“Start with the big picture: Multilingualism in a person is a great asset – but a society with no common language is cursed. This holds double for New York, the ultimate city of immigrants.
“Without English holding it together, New York would soon cease to work.
“As for the kids: Secluding children into separate dual-language enclosures will drive a wedge between immigrants of different nationalities, and make it more difficult for them to become proficient in English.”
He backed up his claim by recalling his own personal story of when he arrived in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights in 1974. The year he arrived, he explains, Congress passed a law mandating school districts develop “innovative” programs to teach children who speak little or no English.
When he got to the classroom, however, he discovered that all of his class instruction was in Spanish, not English.
“How was I supposed to learn English in that setting? I asked the other kids in the ‘bilingual program’ how long they’d been there; a few years, many said. Their English-language skills appeared to be about as good as mine – almost non-existent. But I had just arrived; they’d been in Queens for years.
“My family’s opinion was not sought on the matter. On the contrary, when we tried to convince the school authorities they’d made a mistake, we met nothing but opposition. It took courage for us to take it upon ourselves to decide that we knew better – but once we made up our minds, fight we did.”
Gonzalez explained that he was the one who had to convince the school’s assistant principal he had to learn English properly because his mother had started a new job and was unable to take off of work. The school official was less than inviting, as Gonzalez recalled.
“I still remember him saying, ‘You’re quite ambitious.’ It wasn’t praise, but a clear warning that my hubris was inviting retribution. Here’s why I remember it so well: It was the first time I… heard the world ‘quite,’ and Spanish has no word… quite like it.
“But still I understood what the bureaucrat was telling me, and knew that this was the way to learn a new language, by hearing words in context. I stuck to my guns, and was out of the bilingual class in a couple of weeks. And I didn’t sink.”
H/T The Daily Signal
Photo Credit: Kevin Case (Flickr)
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