Coming Soon: The Son of Unz

By Barbara Miner

The “Son of Unz” is coming to Arizona. And perhaps to a state near you. Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire and conservative politician who spear-headed California’s anti-bilingual education initiative, is helping to launch a similar measure in Arizona. A petition drive began this January to get the necessary signatures to place an anti-bilingual education initiative on the Arizona ballot in November 2000.

Unz has said he also hopes to place an initiative on the Massachusetts ballot in November 2000. In a recent speech at Harvard University, Unz boasted that within two years, bilingual education would be dead in the United States, according to bilingual advocates who attended the speech.

“Bilingual education is under attack, and that’s not just left-center paranoia,” said Roger Rice, co-executive director of Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, a nationwide group that advocates for immigrant and non-English speaking parents and students.

Rice said the “command central” for much of the attack is at the conservative Center for Educational Opportunity (CEO) in Washington, DC. The center is headed by Linda Chavez, a neoconservative long opposed to not only bilingual education but programs such as affirmative action and welfare. Unz is a board member of CEO. Chavez’s group “has stated in court papers that it is their business, through referendums, through litigation, and through legislation, to get rid of native language instruction,” Rice said.

Interestingly, support for bilingual education has come from some sectors of the business community, which realize that in this era of globalization it needs personnel who can speak more than one language. Take Miami, an increasingly important economic and cultural bridge to Latin America and the Caribbean. Less than a week after California voters approved Proposition 227, the Miami-Dade County School Board unanimously approved a resolution “reaffirming its commitment to continuing and enhancing bilingual education programs, which are of crucial importance to this school district and to our community.”

In Texas, meanwhile, a poll shortly after Proposition 227 passed found that 72% of respondents believed bilingual education was important. George W. Bush, presidential hopeful and Texas governor, has thus far noticeably refrained from attacking bilingual education.

Sophisticated Attacks

The current attacks on bilingual education are noteworthy for their political sophistication. Unz and company have managed to portray themselves as defenders of kids who want to learn English but are being stymied by education bureaucrats; they brilliantly call their campaign “English for the Children.” Thus Unz and his allies have been able to rely on racist and xenophobic sentiment, while nominally distancing themselves from it. In the process, they have come across as well-meaning reformers concerned with equality and opportunity. (It is a tactic neoconservatives have honed to perfection, whether in their push for vouchers for private schools or their attack on affirmative action, as part of their strategic goal of reducing public oversight of, and government responsibility for, programs serving the common good.)

Yet the attack on bilingual education has little to do with equal opportunity. “The attack is one part racism; one part dumping on public education — if you dump on every aspect of public education you smooth the skids for something else; one part xenophobia — the view that if these immigrants are coming to our country, damn it, they need to learn English; and one part cheap politics,” Rice argued.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is evident in more than just the attacks on bilingual education. Two years ago, for example, Congress passed get-tough legislation to stem the flow of illegal immigration into the United States. In the two years afterwards, federal authorities deported almost 300,000 immigrants — more than twice the number sent back in the two years before, according to an analysis in The New York Times. In 98% of the deportations, the immigrants were sent back to Spanish-speaking countries.

In the last two years, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has received record budgets and consistently surpassed goals for deportations, The New York Times noted. The INS has tripled the number of beds in detention centers and local jails, and increased its personnel by 80%. The INS now has more than 15,000 officers authorized to carry weapons and make arrests — more than any other federal agency.

For a concise, popularly written rebuttal to the conservative distortions of bilingual education, see Condemned Without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education, by Stephen Krashen (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999). This new book and others by Krashen on bilingual education are available from Language Education Associates, PO Box 3141, Culver City, CA 90231. 800-200-8008.