Sunday, June 19, 2005


Krauthammer's piece appeared today in our newspaper today, as well. This reeks of jingoism. Those of us who know better—that is, of the direct relationship between bilingual education and the assimilation he seeks—should formulate a response to the Post. Go to this link for instructions on how to submit a letter or opinion-editorial piece. -Angela

Charles Krauthammer, THE WASHINGTON POST
Friday, June 17, 2005

One of the reasons for the success we've enjoyed in Afghanistan is that our viceroy — pardon me, ambassador — there, who saw the country through the founding of a democratic government, was not just a serious thinker and a skilled diplomat, but also spoke the language and understood the culture. Why? Because Zalmay Khalilzad is an Afghan-born Afghan-American.

It is not every country that can send to obscure faraway places envoys who are themselves children of that culture. Indeed, Americans are the only people that can do that for practically every country.

Being mankind's first-ever universal nation, to use Ben Wattenberg's felicitous phrase for our highly integrated polyglot country, carries enormous advantage. In the shrunken global world of the information age, we have significant populations of every ethnicity capable of making instant and deep connections — economic as well as diplomatic — with just about every foreign trouble spot, hothouse and economic dynamo on the planet.

It is true that other countries, particularly in Europe, have in the last several decades opened themselves up to immigration. But the real problem is not immigration but assimilation. Anyone can do immigration. But if you don't assimilate the immigrants — France, for example, has vast isolated exurban immigrant slums with populations totally alienated from the polity and the general culture — then immigration becomes not an asset but a liability.

America's genius has always been assimilation, taking immigrants and turning them into Americans. Yet our current debates on immigration focus on only one side of the issue — the massive waves of illegal immigrants that we seem unable to stop.

The various plans, all well-intentioned, have an air of hopelessness about them. Amnesty of some sort seems reasonable because there is no way we're going to expel 10 million-plus illegal immigrants, and we might as well make their lives more normal.

But that will not stop further illegal immigration. In fact, it will encourage it because every amnesty — and we have them periodically — tells potential illegals still in Mexico and elsewhere that if they persist long enough, they will get in, and if they stay here long enough, they can cut to the head of the line.

In the end, increased law enforcement, guest-worker programs and other incentives that encourage some of the illegals to go back home can only go so far. Which is why we should be devoting far more attention to the other half of the problem — not just how many come in but what happens to them once they're here.

The anti-immigrant types argue that there is something unique about our mostly Latin immigration that makes it unassimilable. First, that there's simply too much of it to be digested. But in fact, the percentage of foreign-born people living in America today is significantly below what it was in 1890 and 1910 — and those were spectacularly successful immigrations. And second, there is nothing about the Catholic-Hispanic culture that makes it any more difficult to assimilate than the Czechs and Hungarians, Chinese and Koreans, who came decades ago.

The key to assimilation of course, is language. The real threat to the United States is not immigration per se, but bilingualism and, ultimately, biculturalism. Having grown up in Canada, where a language divide is a source of friction and fracture, I can only wonder at those who want to duplicate that plague in the United States.

The good news, and the reason I am less panicked about illegal immigration than most, is that the vogue for bilingual education is now waning. It has been abolished by referendum in California, Arizona and even Massachusetts.

As the results in California have shown, it was a disaster for Hispanic children. It delays assimilation by perhaps a full generation. Those in "English immersion" have more than twice the rate of English proficiency of those in the old "bilingual" system.

By all means we should try to control immigration. Nonetheless, given our geography, our tolerant culture and the magnetic attraction of our economy, illegals will always be with us. Our first task, therefore, should be abolishing bilingual education everywhere, and requiring that our citizenship tests have strict standards for English language and American civics.

The cure for excessive immigration is successful assimilation. The way to prevent European-like immigration catastrophes is to turn every immigrant — and most surely his children — into an American. Who might one day grow up to be our next Zalmay Khalilzad.


  1. Sent to the Washington Post

    If Charles Krauthammer (“Assimilation nation,” June 17) thinks that acquisition of English is “the key to assimilation” he should enthusiastically support bilingual education, not oppose it.

    There is consensus among researchers that dismantling bilingual education did not improve the level of English language proficiency of California’s English learners. The improvement in English in California that Mr. Krauthammar has read about in the newspapers is the result of the same children taking the same or a very similar test year after year, not a scientific comparison of children in bilingual education and other options.

    Nearly every scholar who has reviewed the scientific research has concluded that students in bilingual programs acquire at least as much English as those in all-English immersion programs, and usually acquire more.

    Bilingual programs use the child’s first language in a way that accelerates English language development, and the scientific research confirms that it works.

    Stephen Krashen

  2. Sent to the Austin American Statesman:

    I'm disappointed to read that Mr. Krauthammer contents himself with publishing such a definitive argument against bilingual education based on a few unsubstantiated generalizations and half-truths. Many of the "spectacularly successful immigrations" of 1890 and 1910 owe their 'success' to a form of additive assimilation that utilized immigrants' first languages to assist in learning English. The subtractive assimilation Mr. Krauthammer seems to credit for this 'success', one of replacing minority language and culture with those of the majority, wasn't firmly established and enforced until WWI was well underway, the low point in America's immigration history. Mr. Krauthammer professes, "The real threat to the United States is not immigration per se, but bilingualism and, ultimately, biculturalism." Ironically, it is lost on Mr. Krauthammer that if America had been assimilating immigrant children his way all this time instead of educating them bilingually and biculturally, we wouldn't have any Zalmay Khalilzads who "[speak] the language and understand the culture" of their former homelands.

    Matthew Frank
    Austin, Texas

  3. Sent to the Austin American Statesman
    Mr. Krauthammer’s call for the elimination of bilingual education and for an emphasis of assimilation of Americanization leads us to a sad misunderstanding. First, the bilingual model depends on how the model is applied to whom. Texas has many successful truly bilingual children who have benefited from a well-implemented model emphasizing teacher use of the native language in order to assist the child to learn English.

    Second, substitution of a child’s native language for English “subtracts” from his knowledge, as the loss of his culture does in his assimilation of the American culture only. If bilingual elementary children learn and speak proficiently two languages today, adding a foreign language in high school, as it is required now in the curriculum, then they really could be at an “enormous advantage” as envoys to other countries.

    Third, language is only one aspect of culture. English should not be taken as the only element of successful assimilation or Americanization of immigrants. One can be a successful American and speak more than one language. Bilingual programs in the US definitely should profit from the experience of our Canadian neighbors such that ‘new’ Americans will not fall into the morass of “friction and fracture.”

    M. Luisa Illescas-Glascock
    Austin, TX.
    The writer is a 23 year experienced teacher and
    2002 Austin I.S.D. Bilingual Teacher of the Year

  4. Note: I post this comment issued to the WASHINGTON POST on behalf of my colleague, Dr. Lourdes Diaz Soto, Penn State (and soon-to-be colleague at the University of Texas). Thanks to the rest of you who have also provided great commentary! -Angela

    Toward Post-Monolingual American Schools
    Professor Lourdes Diaz Soto

    How many readers can speak the home language that their grandparents spoke? How many of our readers can remember the special cultural elements of their

    In this age of complexities at home and abroad it is of utmost importance that
    we consider, 'what is an optimal education for our children and for the future of our nation?'

    We have seen our political leaders scramble to find experts who can speak
    particular languages and who can understand particular cultures. In this brief piece I am asking the reader to allow me to make the case that what is needed are post-monolingual American schools. Our schools will better serve our children when they implement a critical bilingual bicultural education embedded within a 'caring' curriculum.

    First we need to understand the irony of how bilingual education abolitionists
    have used their monetary resources to dismantle the very gifts that are needed
    by our nation to garner dialogue with multiple national and international
    players. The anti-bilingual propaganda machine has ultimately denied access to
    knowledge that will be increasingly valuable at home and abroad.

    Linguist experts in our nation continue to document that the English language
    is not at risk. What is at risk, my dear reader, is the multiple home languages
    spoken by ethnic families including our Native American sisters. Latina families have struggled to maintain the home language but ultimately by the third generation there has been tremendous loss of linguistic and cultural knowledge. These issues are of particular importance if we are interested in our grandchildren and their grandparents communicating. The wisdom that elders (Abuelito/Abuelita) impart is priceless for the benefit of our youth.

    The antibilingual education proponents have continued on their quest to eliminate ethnic language gifts and have also continued to eliminate the possibility for mono-lingual children to obtain linguistic and cultural gifts. We have decades of research documenting the benefits of a bilingual/bicultural
    education for all of our children.

    So what are the dismantlers of bilingual education afraid of? Why are they unable or unwilling to see the educational benefits of bilingual education programs for our children? Do you honestly think they have our children's best interest at heart or are they blinded by their zenophobic political

    These antibilingual proponents are concerned with issues of power. Their own
    power to be sure and insisting that our children remain powerless at a time when their own knowledge can provide them the tools needed to become active citizens in the democratic sphere.

    This form of language and cultural domination establishes subordinate relations resulting in class oppression and cultural invasion. This is the work of a colonizing mentality that strips children of the ability to participate in
    school and community life that can focus on issues of equity and social justice. These are the very values that a democratic system can encourage and
    enhace as we enter into a dialogue as members of a community interested in
    freedom, integrity, independence and political voice.

    An education that is critical bilingual biliterate and bicultural can help our
    children to understand the workings of democratic participation and human dignity. There is tremendous wisdom that we can gain from each other as diverse
    human beings. We know for example that children in the Iroquois society were
    taught in solidarity to be independent without harsh punishment. We can move
    beyond binaries of power in solidarity toward critically multiliterate
    communities of compassion.

    Our goal should be to provide optimal levels of educational opportunities for
    all of our children. A critical bilingual bicultural education can strengthen
    the very fabric of a school's 'caring' curriculum. A critical education teaches
    our children to 'read the word and the world' while a 'caring' curriculum
    encourages compassionate ways of being. In this way it may be that our sisters
    of color, minorities on the hyphen, monolingual learners, the poor and
    disenfranchised, may be begin to experience elements of liberation. In this way we can explore spaces of healing for our common wisdom, our common good, and our love for each other.

  5. Mr. Krauthammer’s notion of assimilation by “English immersion” and his applause to the successful ambassador to Afghanistan seems contradictory to me. Let me share my personal experience. I am an international student from Taiwan. My native language should have been Taiwanese. However, due to some political issues, the students of my generation are educated under a compulsory “Mandarin immersion” policy from elementary school to high school. Now, I almost lose my real native language and treat Mandarin as my mother tongue. Unfortunately, in my family, my grandmother spoke only Taiwanese. My mother speaks both Taiwanese and Mandarin. I speak Mandarin only. When I talked with my grandmother, I needed my mother’s interpretation. Under the “Mandarin immersion” policy in my home country, I even cannot communicate with my grandmother well, to say nothing of understanding my indigenous culture. Thus, based on Mr. Krauthammer’s “English immersion” assimilation, is it possible to have a diplomat with adequate understanding of the culture and language of the assigned country. How about cultivating heartfelt cultural tolerance rather than assimilating through preventing bilingualism?

    Yueh-hui Chiang

  6. Charles Kraufhammer’s article on “Bilingualism and immigration” (June 17) is misguiding. He seems to put a single-minded emphasis on the English-only instruction of immigrant students as the key to a successful assimilation of foreign nationals in the nation. So, how are we to become a “polyglot country”?

    Abolishing bilingual education will only turn this country into a mess of half-literate students in two languages that eventually won’t be able to communicate with their own parents. There is evidence of this according to a study by Lilly Wong Fillmore.

    Scientific research proves that instructing students in their vernacular language until they acquire an academic level of English yields high levels of cognitive knowledge in both languages.

    Assimilation robs ethnic families of their language, their culture and their identities. English is only a symbol of Americanization. It is a statement about power that clarifies hierarchy. We do not have to be “Americans” to be well-abiding members of the community.

    Dolores Godinez
    Austin, TX
    Bilingual Educational Consultant


    By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

    Emeritus Professor of English, Texas State University System–Sul Ross; Visiting Scholar and Lecturer in English and Bilingual
    Studies, Texas A&M University–Kingsville.

    In a recent Washington Post piece (June 17, 2005), Charles Krauthammer hit the nail on the head when he observed that American diplomacy works best when those who represent the United States in foreign embassies are “knowledgeable” in the ways of the language and culture of the country they are posted to. Indeed Zalmay Khalilzad, American ambassador to Afghanistan, can do a better job for us in that post as an Afghan-born American than someone who knows little or next to nothing about the language and culture of Afghanistan. But that’s not an assurance. Charles Krauthammer is right again when he asserts that “It is not every country that can send to obscure faraway places envoys who are themselves children of that culture,” adding “Americans are the only people that can do that for practically every country.” That’s true. The United States is the world–the “universal nation” as Krauthammer put it. That’s the secret of our success.

    The question is, of course, why the United Sates does not do this across the board? For years ambassadors to Mexico, for example, were assigned there with little or no knowledge of the Mexican language or culture in spite of the vast numbers of Mexican Americans who spoke the language of the country, who knew the culture intimately, and who could have carried out ambassadorial responsibilities of good will with dispatch. The rich diversity of the American people makes all Americans potential ambassadors to countries of their forebears.

    However, in a deft transition, Charles Krauthammer shifts his narrative to a discussion of assimilation, positing that “America’s genius has always been assimilation, taking immigrants and turning them into Americans.” In laying the foundation for this assertion, Krauthammer explains that vast isolated exurban immigrant populations “totally alienated from the polity and the general culture” become a liability rather than an asset. Cast thus, his premise is essentially true. But that’s not the case with immigrants to the United States. They are not “totally alienated from the polity ad the general culture.” Krauthammer compounds his already convoluted and contradictory logic about immigrants to the United States by throwing “illegal immigrants” into the mix and then roiling on about amnesty and its perils, all the while proceeding with his assumption that the Hispanic population in the United States is essentially a recently-arrived immigrant population. He points out that “there’s nothing about the Catholic Hispanic culture that makes it any more difficult to assimilate than the Czechs and Hungarians, Chinese and Koreans, who came decades ago.”

    What he omits is that American Hispanics have a longer duration in the United States than the groups Krauthammer mentions. Mexican Americans, for example, have been part of the United States since 1848 and Puerto Ricans since 1898, as a consequence of the U.S. war against Mexico and the Spanish American War, respectively. And illegal immigrants (actually undocumented workers) in the United States are not predominantly from Mexico as Krauthammer implies. Illegal immigrants in the United States are from everywhere and come into the country via a number of routes, including the Canadian border as well as air ports of entry. What about all the illegal immigrants from Cuba who by special legislation are granted “legal status” just by touching American soil. Immigration is indeed a major foreign and domestic policy issue but that issue is not exacerbated by a humane immigration policy such as the one vis-a-vis Cuba. What is needed is an immigration policy equitable across the board, not based on knee-jerk reactions engendered by the “Black Legend” and historical vitriol against Mexico.

    Krauthammer believes that “assimilation” is the key to Americanism and its rewards. It appears he fails to understand that “assimilation” inscribes fealty to the traditions (including language and culture) of the dominant group with a concomitant credenda of apodictic values. In other words, a code of forced values. Therein lies the rub! If the United States stands at the extreme pole on the continuum of global diversity, then Krauthammer’s expressed goal of “assimilation” is anathema to diversity, for by definition “assimilation” inheres all elements of a national entity into its mix so that all elements of the national mass are alike. That sounds an awful lot like social cloning.

    The key to assimilation is not language, as Krauthammer contends. The key to assimilation is control–the power to regulate. All of us speaking the same language does not create national unity. If that were so, then why so much internecine conflict around the world where combatants speak the same language? African Americans speak English but are still essentially unempowered in American society. Here, Krauthammer confuses assimilation with acculturation. In the main, immigrants to the United States have historically become acculturated Americans–that is, they acquire the trappings common to all Americans while maintaining and preserving their distinct patrimonial heritages. Practically speaking, we have all become part of the American culture–despite its homogenizing consumerism and materialism. That’s not bad! And for the most part we all manifest the distinctions of our forebears. And that’s not bad either! We don’t all have to be copies of each other to be Americans. That’s what Krauthammer started out saying. We don’t have to give up being who we are to become Americans because there is no one model American.

    Anent the issue of bilingual education, Krauthammer is way out of his element. He’s pedagogically challenged and doesn’t know it. There’s been a growing wave of American disenchantment of bilingual education based on the flimsiest knowledge of the pedagogical process in the acquisition of a second language. Krauthammer offers as a credential to speak on this matter the fact that he grew up in Canada and was appalled by the linguistic strife there. That lexical divide in Canada is not the presence of English and French “competing” there but the intolerance of Anglophones toward their fellow Canadian Francophones. That intolerance and lack of pedagogical enlightenment is at the heart of the English-only Movement in the United States.

    Krauthammer repeats non-substantiated conclusions about bilingual education in California as if the conclusions were true. He writes: “As the results in California have shown, [bilingual education] was a disaster for Hispanic children. It delays assimilation by perhaps a full generation. Those in ‘English immersion’ have more than twice the rate of English proficiency of those in the old ‘bilingual’ system.” Krauthammer doesn’t know the toll those immersion programs took on generations of Mexican American youngsters. To endorse English language immersion for children in the first grades of their American education is like throwing a child who doesn’t know how to swim into a swiftly flowing river and expecting the child to swim to save itself. Where is Krauthammer’s supporting data?

    Perhaps the most risible comment Krauthammer makes is in describing “our tolerant [American] culture,” adding that “Our first task . . . should be abolishing bilingual education everywhere, and requiring that our citizenship tests have strict standards for English language and American civics.” Perplexingly, however, Krauthammer pens a consummation devoutly to be wished: to turn every immigrant–and most surely his children–into an American. Who might one day grow up to be our next Zalmay Khalilzad.” The sentiment strikes a sympathetic note. For many of us, albeit neglected, are products of generations who have been qualified and ready for roles like Zalmay Khalilzad’s role in Afghanistan. Given that neglect and the record of historical abuse, it’s hard to endorse the mantra: ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. Yet, despite the contumely American Hispanics are “doing” for their country in Iraq.
    Copyright © 2005 by the author. All rights reserved.

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