Prop 227 Goes Into Effect

English Only Classes Start in California

Revolutionary Worker #969, August 16, 1998

On August 3, students at about 50 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District began the new semester. Among them were thousands of students whose primary language is not English. They returned to school to find that their classrooms are now "English only" and that Spanish, Korean and other languages are outlawed.

California's Proposition 227--essentially banning bilingual education--passed in the elections last June. In July, two federal judges refused to issue injunctions to stop the implementation of Prop 227. The law is taking effect first in Los Angeles, which has a year-round school system. It will be implemented in the coming weeks in other schools throughout the state.

Proposition 227 is a cruel attack on immigrant kids. Students who don't understand or who have limited proficiency in English will be thrown together in the same "English immersion" classrooms, regardless of the language they speak and their grade level. They might get limited help in their own languages, but the classroom must be taught "overwhelmingly" in English. After a year, these students will be thrown into classes taught only in English--and left to "sink or swim."

Under 227, parents supposedly have the right to ask for a waiver so their children can be in bilingual classes. But a waiver can only be submitted after the first 30 days of the "English immersion" classes. And the backers of Prop 227 are vowing to fight "excessive" use of waivers.

Prop 227 includes provisions encouraging lawsuits against teachers and administrators if they use any language other than English in the classroom. Ron Unz, the millionaire computer executive who sponsored 227, has set up a toll-free number where snitches can call in to report teachers or schools for "non-compliance" with the law.

Isabel Rodriguez, an L.A. teacher, talked about the first day of school for the 18 first-graders in her class: "They're anxious anyway because it's their first day of school, and I was unable to console them in their language. So I had to use simple, basic words in English to tell them that everything will be all right." Another teacher, Eleanor Ciriza, talked about her second-graders: "For the kids, especially, it's frightening. I had two this morning who cried."

An L.A. Times article described the scene at a school where the students are overwhelmingly Spanish-speaking: "One of the most startling contrasts with traditional bilingual classes Monday was the near total absence of Spanish words in the teaching materials and other signs posted around the classrooms. In classes of the past, every message was written in Spanish and English."

Bilingual education programs are aimed at enabling students with limited English proficiency to get to a point where they can function in English-language classrooms. These programs help immigrant kids to learn math, history and other subjects in their own language as they learn English. Bilingual education only scratches the surface of the systematic inequality and national oppression faced by non-English speaking people in the United States. And bilingual education doesn't solve the deep problems with schools in this country, where education serves the capitalist system that has no place for millions of our youth except jail or low-wage jobs.

But eliminating bilingual education will be a disaster for children who don't understand English. San Francisco School Superintendent Bill Rojas said, "What this is is a sinking immersion ship. Everyone's going to learn English and that's it. But there is no program. What they're doing is denying access to science and social studies and other content areas that students can now learn in their native languages while they're learning English...You're saying to these kids that you're going to shut them out for one year, that you can shut them out for two years, however long it takes to learn English."

Prop 227 is part of a whole war that the ruling class is carrying out against immigrants, especially focused on Spanish-speaking immigrants. The assaults on bilingual education is linked to the chauvinist attempt by the power structure to impose English as the "official language" and to treat people who speak Spanish or other languages as outcasts.

Millions of people in this country know firsthand what it's like to go through the humiliation of sitting in a classroom where they don't understand the language the teacher is using, or to be made to feel like an outcast just because of the language they speak. Now Prop 227 is bringing this nightmare and outrage back with a vengeance.

On Campus, a L.A. teachers group, has collected 1,500 signatures from teachers pledging non-compliance with 227. Some school districts, including San Francisco and Oakland, say they will continue with bilingual education programs.

Everyone who stands for justice and equality needs to fight against Prop 227 and other attacks on bilingual education. And teachers and others who defy 227 must be supported and defended.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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