Latina/os and party politics in the California campaign against bilingual education: a case study in argument from transcendence.

Author:Cisneros, J. David

In the bourgeois body politic, even politicians damn an opponent's motive by calling it political; and professional partisans like to advocate their measures as transcending factional antithesis. Candidates for office say, in effect: "Vote for our faction, which is more able to mediate between the factions."

Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History

Argument from transcendence is an elusive but essential form of persuasion (Jasinski, 2001). In simple terms, the argument from transcendence is a perspectival shift that reframes, redraws, or restructures "dialectical oppositions" (Parson, 1993, p. 390) through a "higher synthesis" (Burke, 1959, p. 80). When controversy persists in the public sphere about conflicting values or courses of action, transcendence can induce assent by "redefining the public interest for a particular set of circumstances, problems, or audiences" (Brummett, 1982, p. 552). As the quotation by Burke in the epigraph illustrates, arguments from transcendence especially take shape in partisan political campaigns (Brummett, 1981; Burkholder, 1989). From campaign speeches (Daughton, 1993; Parson, 1993) to political debates (Benoit, Blaney, & Pier, 1998; Benoit & Brazeal, 2002) to legislative campaigns (Brummett, N; Goldzwig, 2003), transcendent appeal is of particular importance to argument scholars because it often forms an integral component of political argument. To this end, this essay examines argument from transcendence in political campaigns concerning the linguistic and cultural assimilation of Latina/os.

Because of the well-documented growth of Latina/o immigrants and citizens in the United States (Fry, 2008; U.S. Census Bureau, 2007), migration and multiculturalism persist as sites of dialectical public debate. On the one hand, we have seen renewed arguments for linguistic and cultural unity (e.g., Schlesinger, 1998). For example, a number of conservative, anti-immigrant, and assimilationist campaigns on the state and national level have succeeded to varying degrees in making English the "official" language of the country (Flores, 2000; Piatt, 1990; Schildkraut, 2005; Schmid, 2001; Schmidt, 1997). On the other hand, the growth of the Latina/o population has fueled an increased effort to woo the Latina/o "sleeping giant" (Ball, 2008, [paragraph] 8; de la Garza & DeSipio, 1992; 1996; 1999; 2005; Shapiro, 2005). Local, state, and national politicians--particularly Republicans (Connaughton & Jarvis, 2004b; Len-Rios, 2002; Marbut, 2005)--have intensified their attempts to mobilize Latina/o voters, often through the use of the Spanish language and through identification with Latina/o values (Connaughton &Jarvis, 2004a; Demo, 2006, Jarvis & Connanghton, 2005). These apparently "dialectical" types of campaigns-campaigns for nativist, anti-immigrant policies and attempts to court Latina/o and immigrant support-present the forging ground of argument from transcendence (Parson, 1993, p. 390).

One such assimilationist policy, targeted in part at Latina/os and immigrants, meriting further attention is California Proposition 227, which banned bilingual education in California. The 1998 Republican campaign for Proposition 227, entitled "English for the Children," was spearheaded by aspiring Republican politician Ron Unz. Heretofore, scholars have studied Proposition 227 through three main foci: its legislative implications (Cline, Necochea, & Rios, 2004; Flores & Murillo, 2001), its educational effects (Garcia & CurryRodriguez, 2000; Mora, 2002; Revilla & Asato, 2002), and the context of the campaign for 227 (Crawford, 1999, 2000; Stritikus, 2002). Building on this research, this essay focuses on the arguments of "Bilingualism vs. Bilingual Education" (Unz, 1997)--a widely-circulated editorial written by Ron Unz and first printed in the LosAngeles Times on October 19, 1997--to explain how the campaign for Proposition 227 used argument from transcendence to (attempt to) appeal to both Anglo and Latina/o voters. The campaign for Proposition 227 was faced with a difficult tension between nativist, anti-immigrant appeals that could alienate Latina/os and pro-Latino cultural identification that could alienate native English-speaking conservatives. Unz's transcendent argument portrayed Proposition 227 as a new, superior alternative, a policy that served the best interests of non-English speaking minorities and native English speakers by transcending the traditional framework of language policy and assimilation. In sum, through argument from transcendence Unz created a pro-Latino, pro-immigrant, and pro-Republican appeal for an anti-immigrant and nativist policy (i.e., banning bilingual education).

By focusing on the arguments from the Proposition 227 campaign, my aims in this paper are both practical and theoretical. For one, this study widens our understanding of how the political parties, particularly the Republican Party, target Latina/o voters. Beyond emphasizing common ideals, values, and traditions, which has been the focus of previous research (Connaughton & Jarvis, 2004a; Demo, 2006; Len-Rios, 2002), this essay demonstrates that political parties also appeal to Latina/os through argument from transcendence to rise above their differences. By studying argument from transcendence in the campaign for Proposition 227, I also aim to clarify and elaborate this "elusive" but "central" argumentative form (Jasinski, 2001, p. 588). More broadly, this case study speaks both to the increasing public controversy over multiculturalism and to the transcendent contours of American identity.

The first part of this essay briefly discusses the political, social, and cultural context in which Unz and the Proposition 227 campaign operated. In particular, I review the language policies leading up to Proposition 227 and the political tradition of pro-Latino Republican rhetoric to which Unz was contributing. This context is particularly important since it provided both the rhetorical problems to which Unz had to respond and the argumentative resources from which he drew. Next, I outline and clarify the features of argument from transcendence. Then the essay turns to a detailed analysis of Unz's campaign editorial "Bilingualism vs. Bilingual Education" (hereafter "Bilingualism"). Other texts from the campaign for Proposition 227 that echo the tone and argumentative content of this editorial (e.g., Callaghan, 1997; English for the Children, 1997; Martinez, 1998; Netkin, 1997) demonstrate that "Bilingualism" was a powerful and enduring piece of propaganda in the state-wide arguments over bilingual education. In the conclusion, I consider the theoretical and political implications of argument from transcendence as a Republican campaign appeal. However, I first briefly outline the dimensions of the campaign for Proposition 227 called "English for the Children."


Despite thirty years of governmental support for bilingual education, California outlawed bilingual schooling with the passage of Proposition 227 on June 2, 1998. The initiative was approved by a surprising 61% margin, and as a result of widespread support, "English for the Children" led to similar initiatives in Arizona, Colorado, and Massachusetts. Yet the surprisingly successful campaign for Proposition 227, promoted in part by its leader Ron Unz's editorial "Bilingualism," was situated in the decades-long struggle to assimilate immigrants and minority-language groups through language policy.

For much of its fitful history, U.S. language policy had been characterized by submersion, an approach in which minority-language students were placed in normal English-only classrooms with little or no language education or guidance (Spring, 2004). By the 1960s submersion came under increasing attack as a "melting pot" approach derogatorily known as "sink-or-swim" by its critics (Crawford, 1999, p. 35). In response, the Federal Government enacted the Bilingual Education Act (BEA) in 1968, legislation that outlawed the "sink-or-swim" approach and encouraged educational support for minority-language students (Molesky, 1988; Schmidt, 1997). This led to competing educational perspectives, however: some states enacted an "English only" approach similar to submersion but with more structured English language instruction while other states enacted an "English plus" or "bilingual education" approach that taught English and other subjects in the student's native language for several years with the intent of preserving and developing both tongues (Crawford, 1999).

As a result of this ambiguity (and in reaction to increasing immigration), the late 1980s and early 1990s saw rising concern "about how well immigrants were being integrated into the social and economic fabric of the nation" (Garcia, 2005, p. 20; Schmid, 2001). On the heels of popular anxiety and discontent, a string of anti-immigrant propositions passed in California. In 1986, Proposition 63 made English the sole and official language of the state (Crawford, 1999); Proposition 187 in 1994 prohibited access to federal services such as welfare to undocumented immigrants (Ono & Sloop, 2002); and Proposition 209 in 1996 outlawed all forms of affirmative action (Crawford, 2000). In part, these anti-immigrant and nativist policies of the late 1980s and 1990s were a result of what Schrag (1998) calls California's "Initiative Industrial Complex" (p. 189), the state's convoluted and obtuse ballot initiative system that, instead of ensuring direct democracy, just as often contributed to anti-government sentiment, the rule of special interest, and the expression of fickle majority will (Broder, 2000; Schrag, 2006).

Proposition 227, the death knell to bilingual education in California, which passed in 1998, was likewise another in this string of popular ballot initiatives fueled by the fear of big government and concern over immigration (Crawford, 2000). Yet...

To continue reading