Leon Worden

English and animals for the children

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, May 13, 1998

t's tough to get all fired up about the next election when we're still coming down from the last one, but there is at least one item on the June 2 ballot that deserves our careful consideration. It's Proposition 227, the "English for the Children" initiative. Polls show it's headed for passage, and it will shake the public education system in California to its very core.

Prop. 227 will require the state's public schools to teach all children in English unless their parents specifically request bilingual education.

The reverse has been the case since 1974, when the federal court ruled that "something special" must be done for children who come to this country speaking languages other than English. Over the protests of educators, federal bureaucrats interpreted "something special" to mean bilingual education, which they falsely interpreted to mean instruction in the child's native, non-English language.

Two and a half decades and untold tens of billions of dollars later, bilingual education has failed to fix even part of the problem. Language minority children are generally no better off with bilingual education than they are with no special help at all, studies show.

Children held back from the mainstream English classroom for years often become so discouraged that they drop out of school altogether. Dropout rates among Latino children, even those in our own high school district, are not appreciably better than they have ever been.

It's not for any lack on the part of teachers. As in any other field, educational tools are developed and improved all the time. Sheltered English and English as a Second Language techniques are used right here today, but their use is limited by a state bureaucracy that is mired in the muck of education politics. Teaching should be left to the teachers, not the politicians.

Prop. 227 will untie the hands of our teachers, enabling them to use the techniques they have developed to reach children whose primary language is not English — giving these children the "something special" that the court intended for them to have so many years ago.

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One of the two principal co-authors of Prop. 227, Gloria Matta Tuchman, is running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in the June election. Her opponent, incumbent Delaine Eastin, might have quite a run for her money in a state where, according to Eastin's own polling data, 70 percent of the electorate believes our public eduction system is broken, and 40 percent say it's their top concern.

Gloria Matta Tuchman, a Latina, ran for the seat four years ago. Today she has a much broader base of support and several key endorsements that she didn't have last time, including that of the California Republican Party.

I've known Gloria on and off for more than ten years, and I must tell you that in all that time she never gave up hope or abandoned the fight for a brighter future for California's language minority children — not even during the bleakest hours of the superintendency of staunch bilingual proponent and convicted embezzler Bill Honig.

Whether or not she wins — and I hope she does — we will have a better education system in California thanks to Gloria's tenacity and her English for the Children initiative.

* * *

Speaking of children, do something fun for yours and take them to the seventh annual Animal Fair at Wm. S. Hart Park this Sunday, May 17, from 10 to 4.

If you saw the movie, "Mousehunt," you'll remember little "Jenny the Mouse," who lives on a ranch in Castaic. Jenny will make a special appearance along with her TV and movie animal actor friends and lots of wild and exotic animal guests. There will be a petting zoo, pony rides, air bounce, face painting, games, rides and food.

Admission is free, with nominal charges for certain activities and rides to benefit the upkeep of the park's barnyard animals. Parking is available in Heritage Junction.

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Later Sunday afternoon, visit the famous Piru Mansion for the Santa Clarita Ballet Company's inaugural fund raiser. Enjoy a beautiful ballet performance and high tea from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Make it a belated Mother's Day present. Call 251-6844.

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Does your nonprofit group need money? Come back to Hart Park at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, May 19, when the Historical Society and the city host a workshop with the California Council for the Humanities inside the historic Saugus Train Station. Professionals will teach you how to apply for grant funding. Call Sean Morgan at the city, 286-4034.

    Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident.

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