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Court-ordered mayhem: bilingual education.
By David R. Legge |

THE CONCEPT of bilingual education, as it is being articulated by an activist and arrogant federal judge in Tyler, is an idea so absurd that only an educated mind would consider it. If the judge’s order is allowed to go unchecked on appeal, bilingual education could well be to the Eighties what court-ordered busing was to the Seventies.

Judge William Wayne Justice, to those unfamiliar with him, is fast becoming to Texas what Chief Justice Earl Warren was to the nation.

Judge Justice, with a lifetime appointment to the bench, appears intent on remaking the State of Texas in his own image – and he is well on his way to doing it. Consider some recent rulings:

It was Judge Justice who ascribedlegal rights to illegal aliens when he ordered that the children of undocumentedworkers be admitted to public schoolsin Texas.

It was Judge Justice who ruled in Aprilthat the Texas prison system constituted aclear violation of “prisoners’ rights” andordered the state to make sweepingchanges estimated to cost hundreds ofmillions of dollars.

It was Judge Justice who recently discovered a new “right” under the 14thAmendment, the right of every non-English speaking Hispanic student inTexas to be taught every subject at everygrade level in Spanish.

In the case of prison reform, Judge Justice ordered that, by 1983, the state could house no more than one prisoner in one cell (“We used to call that ’solitary confinement,’ ” remarked State Attorney General Mark White), that no new prison could be located more than 50 miles from a metropolitan area of at least 200,000 people, that no prison could house more than 500 inmates, and that the furlough program which allows some prisoners to serve some of their sentences at home be dramatically expanded.

Judge Justice also ordered the Texas Department of Corrections to allocate $150,000 to pay the salary ($95 an hour) and expenses of a “special master,” described as a “prisoners’ rights activist” from Ohio, to oversee the implementation of his order.

It is worth noting that the only right a prisoner enjoys under the U.S. Constitution is freedom from “cruel and unusual punishment.” How being housed in a prison more than 50 miles from a large city constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” is never explained.

But if the prison reform ruling is constitutionally creative, it pales before the bilingual order.

Ruling on a case that entered the federal court system nearly 10 years ago and was spearheaded by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Judge Justice found “pervasive, invidious discrimination against Mexican-Americans throughout the State of Texas,” adding that “the native language and culture of these Mexican-American children were assailed and excluded in an effort to ’Americanize’ them.

“Viewed in the context of this concerted program of discrimination against students of Mexican ancestry,” Judge Justice wrote, “the policy of using English in the Texas public schools must be seen, not as neutral or benign, but rather as one more vehicle to maintain these children in an inferior position.”

In so finding, Judge Justice went on to order massive relief, rooting his decision through the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and requiring the state to provide bilingual education to all non-English speaking Hispanic students in kindergarten through the 12th grades. (Currently, Texas law requires bilingual education in grades K-3; the DISD offers bilingual education in grades K-6 and intensive “English as a second language” instruction in grades 7-12.)

(Ironically, as Judge Justice was ordering the state to expand its bilingual program, President Reagan was condemning bilingual education as “absolutely wrong and against American concept….”)

Aside from the impractical aspects of Judge Justice’s order (the cost of implementation is estimated at $162 million over the next two years, $240 million for full implementation over the next six years, a severe shortage of bilingual instructors, etc.), the implications of his order are enormous. While he limited his ruling to the Mexican-American case before him, it follows by inference that if Mexican-Americans have a constitutional right to instruction in their native language, do not Vietnamese students or Russian students or any non-English speaking students have the same right?

Indeed, Angel Gonzalez, who heads up the DISD’s bilingual program, believes they do. He points out that the DISD is currently having $2.7 million in federal funds held up by the Office of Civil Rights because, among other things, it is not providing adequate instruction in the following languages: Spanish, German, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Greek, Arabic, Japanese, Tagalog, Italian, Hebrew, Hindi, French, Urdu, Turkish, Gujarati, Malayan, Farsi, Dutch, Persian, Iranian, Navajo, Sioux, Choc-taw, Sinhalese, Amharic, Swedish, Portuguese, and Thai.

Gonzalez argues that it is the duty of the DISD to provide not only instruction in each of the above languages but also textbooks, standardized achievement tests, report cards, and so forth.

While one could argue whether translating Latin into Urdu is the best expenditure of DISD funds, we would agree that this school district, given the expected influx of Hispanic students over the next 10 years, has a social – not a legal– obligation to help these students bridge the gap from their language to ours.

But the program should be just that-a short bridge, not a comfortable crutch. Even the DISD’s bilingual program, considered the best in the state, places an inordinate amount of class time on instruction in Spanish. Only 90 minutes out of a six-hour school day are reserved for instruction in English, with the remaining four and one half hours being taught entirely in Spanish. Given the natural propensity of a child to cling to a language that is familiar to him, it is clear that the “mainstreaming process” is a long one indeed.

And Judge Justice’s order will lengthenthat process, since it makes perpetual instruction in Spanish available through the12th grade. One school board member,Jerry Bartos, believes Judge Justice hasjust relegated a generation of Hispanicstudents “to the kitchens and car washes ofthis country.”

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