Guy W. Farmer: Bilingual education? No thanks

So-called "bilingual education" has failed everywhere it's been tried. So why are the politically correct educational bureaucrats who run the Washoe County School District attempting to impose a failed system on some Reno schoolchildren?

I wrote a column a few years ago in which I recalled that California voters had rejected bilingual education programs in 1998 on grounds that they tended to trap young children between languages; that's why so many children were speaking "Spanglish."

"I'm convinced that immigrants and their children should learn as much English as possible as fast as possible if they are to have any chance at living the American Dream," I wrote in 2005.

And today, six years later, I feel even more strongly about the need for foreign language-speakers to learn English if they intend to live and work successfully in this English-speaking country. After all, when I went to Mexico as an American diplomat, I was expected to speak Spanish.

As an occasional English/Spanish court interpreter and the father of two bilingual children, I understand the value of speaking more than one language. But when it comes to U.S. public education, English should always be the first language. In fact, I think Congress should make English the official language of the United States.

I don't understand why California prints election ballots in 50 languages if our citizenship requirements state that those who wish to become American citizens should have "a working knowledge of English." My late wife Consuelo, a native of Mexico, had to meet that requirement when she became a citizen, a rule that should apply to all citizenship applicants without exception.

Washoe County educational bureaucrats recently floated a proposal that would "create flexibility for English learners."

Translation: They want to water-down English language requirements for Reno schoolchildren. According to their proposal, "Students learn in Spanish half the day, and native Spanish speakers learn in English half the day," a truly bad idea.

Can you imagine sending your English-speaking child to a public school only to learn that he/she will be taught in Spanish for half the day? I can't, and neither should you. That doesn't mean children shouldn't have the option of studying Spanish as a foreign language, as mine did.

Washoe County's ill-considered proposal would inevitably drive down student achievement scores, which are already scandalously low. National Center for Education Statistics recently revealed that 74 percent of Nevada eighth-graders score below National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) standards in reading, and 71 percent of them are substandard in math. No wonder so many University of Nevada freshmen are required to take "bonehead" English and/or math.

Fortunately, Carson City's student achievement scores consistently lead the state. That's partly because our local school district insists on English immersion courses for foreign language-speakers. I urge School Superintendent Richard Stokes and his colleagues to continue to hold the line against misguided bilingual education proposals. Because, as I wrote in 2005, "Bilingual education is a proven failure that prevents immigrant children from attaining their full potential."

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is almost bilingual in English and Spanish.


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