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multiculturalism & its discontents
Biased Ballot Language in the Golden State

On Tuesday, Californians will vote on, and almost certainly pass, a ballot measure re-introducing bilingual education programs for English language learners in public schools. Proposition 58 would repeal Proposition 227, known as the “English in Public Schools” initiative, which was passed in 1998 in response to concerns that Spanish-speaking students (mostly immigrants and children of immigrants) were being placed in Spanish-immersion programs that hindered their ability to learn English and succeed academically.

Californians going to the polls on Tuesday face a whopping 17 ballot initiatives, on subjects from the death penalty to condoms in pornography. Each of them is accompanied by an official summary developed by the state’s attorney general. Here’s the language accompanying Prop. 58:

Preserves requirement that public schools ensure students obtain English language proficiency. Requires school districts to solicit parent/community input in developing language acquisition programs. Requires instruction to ensure English acquisition as rapidly and effectively as possible. Authorizes school districts to establish dual-language immersion programs for both native and non-native English speakers. Fiscal Impact: No notable fiscal effect on school districts or state government.

The operative sentence—”authorizes school districts to establish dual-language immersion programs for both native and non-native English speakers”—is buried under three meaningless sentences clearly intended to cast the law in positive terms. First, there is no mention that Prop. 58 is repealing a bilingual education regime that has been in place in California for 18 years. Second, the statement that instruction will “ensure English acquisition as rapidly and effectively as possible” is more an argument for the bill than a description of its contents. The case against Prop. 58, after all, is that expanding bilingual education will slow English acquisition rates. Third, the positive-sounding phrase “requires school districts to solicit/parent community input” close to the top of the description seems superfluous and misleading—public school boards already solicit input for major curricular changes as a matter of course.

Kamala Harris, the current state attorney general and frontrunner for the U.S. Senate, has been accused of crafting ballot language to favor progressive goals in the past. In 2013, after Harris used language clearly designed to favor public unions and disfavor pension reformers, the Los Angeles Times editorial board cautioned that “it’s the attorney general’s duty to write clear and impartial titles and summaries rather than using them as an opportunity to influence voters.”

There are many critiques of California-style direct democracy—that it asks voters to study an unrealistically wide range of public policy areas, that it grants more power to wealthy interests who can afford signature-gathering required to get measures on the ballot, that it allows the legislature to abdicate its basic responsibilities. The case of Prop. 58 highlights another: It grants wide latitude to the party in power to reframe controversial questions in favorable terms. When voters are asked to decide on a dizzying number of referenda (California’s voter guide is 223 pages this year, excluding local initiatives) the summary language chosen can be decisive.

Instruction for non-English speakers is critically important issue, touching on educational quality, assimilation, and national identity. Prop. 58 is likely to have cultural ripple effects across California and other states. Given the Golden State’s drift toward multiculturalism over the past generation, it’s likely that voters would approve a fairly-worded measure, as well. It’s a shame they won’t get that opportunity.

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  • JR

    Yes, Left lies continuously. People like FG are proud of the fact.

  • Beauceron

    Why should latinos learn English?

    Latinos are the majority population in California now. It’s their state. They can do what they want. I don’t know why they aren’t choosing to make Spanish the official language or at least the dual official language– I would guess this initiative may be a springboard to do just that down the line. Good luck to them. Strong cultures should not have to bow down to weaker cultures.

    As Latinos continue to take over the US and become the majority population– particularly in Western states like California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico– why must they adopt the culture and society they are replacing? That culture and society obviously was not strong enough to stand on its own. It’s being swept aside (or murdered). Those left behind must embrace and assimilate to the dominant culture. That culture is not one based on English– or American laws or values (whatever’s left of them, anyway).

    It’s time to stop pretending the mass immigration and diversity movements so many have ardently supported has no consequences. Actions have consequences. One of those consequences is that the culture and society will change to reflect the new population, which seems to me to be only right and proper. Shouldn’t California’s minority populations instead be learning Spanish?

    • Jim__L

      You can’t get a good job unless you know English.

      Java helps, too.

      • Beauceron

        I live in a Spanish neighborhood where you can’t get served in many stores or restaurants unless you speak Spanish (Indeed in some places you won’t get served if you’re white– I have been told to leave places because I was white). People in my neighborhood do alright. And if the language becomes official, then all business changes to that language anyway. I would be willing to bet that in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, etc., a lot of business is already done solely in Spanish. Good to have English for international work, but, really, it’s completely unnecessary for business done in the US.

        • CaliforniaStark

          Interesting, I live in a building in San Diego will 25 units, of which about half the residents are “people of color” — primarily Latino. Everyone gets along very well; there has never been issues involving different cultures or race. Whenever I go into a Latino business, always get friendly service. Am not seeing the problem.

  • Andrew Allison

    Bilingual education is another of those “progressive” causes which harms the supposed beneficiaries. Beauceron’s comment notwithstanding, this is for now an English-speaking country and anybody who graduates from high school without fluency in the language is permanently disadvantaged.

  • gabrielsyme

    Liberals care nothing for procedural justice – they have fully bought into the Marxist mindset of the ends always justifying the means. If you can get away with it, and it helps the cause, do it.

  • Gary Hemminger

    I live in California and saw the trickery that was used in the language of this bill. I can just imagine how badly this dual-language education bill will get implemented by our “great” educators. I voted No for every proposition. Every proposition was some elites idea of how great things would be if their stupid idea became law. I wrote in Abraham Lincoln for President and Thomas Jefferson for VP. Will never vote for Democrat or Republican presidential candidate ever again in my life. Will always write in Abe and Thomas for the rest of my life. The entire process, from the President, to the house/senate members, to the propositions, is a total joke. I mean absolutely outrageous. How anyone with any brains in their heads can think the process for deciding who runs for these offices is not completely corrupt is beyond me.

    The advertisements for propositions and politicians here in San Jose is 100% negative. They basically don’t even mention who or what to support, just not to vote for the person or proposition that the advertisement is about. It is 100% false advertising for propositions and politicians. Kamala Harris is the biggest political hack the state has ever seen. And people love her and eventually will elect her as governor. It is a total joke. This whole political process is going to get worse and worse and some kind of political collapse may be the result.

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