Crashes into the silences we carry: an essay review of Otto Santa Ana's (editor), Tongue-Tied: The Lives of Multilingual Children in Public Education.

Author:Chavez, Rudolfo Chavez
Position:Book review

Otto Santa Ana (Editor) Tongue-Tied: The Lives of Multilingual Children in Public Education Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004 Pp. xii + 311, Paperback $24.95 , ISBN 0-7425-2383-7

About a decade ago a cadre of students, along with Professor Otto Santa Ana, read the common, neo-fascistic graffiti that would bring to a close the 20th Century: nativism, racism, linguicism, immigrant bashing, and the neo-liberal-pabulum-chewing retorts to inequitable social and economic issues. Californians decisively rejected bilingual education and accepted the monotonous but most effective jingoistic myth of "Proposition 227: English for the Children," 61% for the proposition, 39% against (Crawford, 1997). Tongue-Tied: The Lives of Multilingual Children in Public Education, edited by Otto Santa Ana and very capable students, is the antipodal result. What was characterized then and has come to pass as "A new wave of anti-bilingual activism ... spreading to other states, school districts, and the U.S. Congress" (Crawford, 1997, retrieved February 21, 2006, 11:17 AM, archives/1v21/articles/Issue1Crawford.html [2 of 36]) would be the call for resistance by its editors. Tongue-Tied ... is indeed a play on words and much more. The word play captures a cacophony of cultural experiences and imaginings, annotated disparate storied voices that come together to narrate the everyday. Many of us may have been witness to this living cacophony. Many of us have been cultural warriors who have withstood the onslaughts of bigotry, ethnocentric prejudice, out-right racism, sexism, heterosexism, among some. Notwithstanding, at one time or other we have been or continue to be (knowingly or not) disenfranchised, marginalized, and compliant to oppression with its ever-present lackey and iconic stooge, White supremacy. Once supremacy is ontologically uncovered, as the authors within this most readable anthology achieve, and epistemically dismantle invisible subtext, "knowing" becomes a collectivity of struggle and opportunity for acts of transformation and democratic praxis in the everyday. The narrated everyday complexity of stories told and lives lived are orchestrated within the titled constellation of "lives of multilingual children in public schools." The "whole" of this book reveals its many interweaving, yet many times, heart wrenching totalities.

Ms. Erika Villegas, speaking for herself and on behalf of the student editors in the "Student Preface," writes: "[The passage of Prop 227] prompted a group of students from the University of California, Los Angeles, to respond to ... [Professor Santa Ana's] call to take action in the face of the discourage[ing] events" (p. xv). To the student editors' credit, their vision was not one of " ... slogans, and half-truths that had been noisily recited for front-page headlines and television sound bites" (p. xv). There was more however: the subtext of support was one of half-hearted lament that would, in the end, prove useless. I include the entirety of the neo-liberal rebuttal to Proposition 227 written (or at least approved) by the elected officials and supposed supporters of bilingual education in California at the time: John D'Amelio, President, California School Boards Association, Mary Bergan, President, California Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, and Jennifer J. Looney, President, Association of California School Administrators. Their analysis, because of its briefness and what is left unsaid, is worth documenting. To wit:

Several years ago, the 1970's law mandating bilingual education in California expired. Since then local school districts--principals, parents and teachers--have been developing and using different programs to teach children English. Many of the older bilingual education programs continue to have great success. In other communities some schools are succeeding with English immersion and others with dual language immersion programs. Teaching children English is the primary goal, no matter what teaching method they're using. Proposition 227 outlaws all of these programs--even the best ones--and mandates a program that has never been tested anywhere in California! And if it doesn't work, we're stuck with it anyway. Proposition 227 proposes

* A 180-day English only program with no second chance after that school year.

* Mixed-age classrooms with first through sixth graders all together, all day, for one year.

Proposition 227 funding comes from three wealthy men ... one from New York, one from Florida, and one from California. The New York man has given Newt Gingrich $310,000! The Florida man who put up $45,000 for Proposition 227 is part of a fringe group which believes "government has no role in financing, operating, or defining schooling, or even compelling attendance." These are not people who should dictate a single teaching method for California's schools.

If the law allows different methods, we can use what works. Vote NO on Proposition 227. (Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Proposition 227, retrieved February 21, 2006,

In stark contrast, the spokespeople in favor of Proposition 227, Alice Callaghan, Director, Las Familias del Pueblo, Ron Unz, Chairman, English for the Children, and Fernando Vega, Past Redwood City School Board Member, provided convincing (although ill conceived) reasons for why California's Bilingual Education must be dismantled based on seemingly "common sense reasons":

* Learning a new language is easier the younger the age of the child.

* Learning a language is much easier if the child is immersed in that language.

* Immigrant children already know their native language; they need the public schools to teach them English.

* Children who leave school without knowing how to speak, read, and write English are injured for life economically and socially. (Argument in Favor of Proposition 227, retrieved February 21, 2006, 227yesarg.htm)

Moreover, the supporters of 227 meandered into the fears of the voting citizens of California by how they proposed to carry out "English for the Children":

* Require children to be taught English as soon as they start school.

* Provide "sheltered English immersion" classes to help non-English speaking students learn English; research shows this is the most effective method.

* Allow parents to request a special waiver for children with individual educational needs who would benefit from another method. (Argument in Favor of Proposition 227, retrieved February 21, 2006, 227yesarg.htm)

Ms. Villegas points out that they (Tongue-Tied's ... student editors) simply "hoped to support the children and the teachers most affected by this ill-conceived referendum" (p. xvi). They would do this by

Compil[ing] an attractive anthology that speaks personally and authoritatively about the experiences of language minority students. We acted because most public school educators, and the general public, know next to nothing about these children--even if they see their red, yellow, brown, and black faces in classrooms each day. (p. xvi) A bit more context to the beginnings of Tongue-Tied ... is needed. This can be found in when documenting Proposition 227 and its impact on English language learners (ELLs) (Crawford, 1997). When Tongue-Tied ... was conceived, ELLs represented one-quarter of California's population, actually doubling to 1.4 million by the mid-nineties. Between 1990 and 1996, nine out of ten new Californian's were Latinos or Asians expanding to 29% and 11%, respectively, of the state residents whilst African Americans held steady at 7% and non-Hispanic Whites slipped to 53%. Crawford's (1997) analysis [based on Schrag (1998) and a Los Angeles Times-CNN Poll (1998)] revealed the nativists' underbelly:

Approaching minority status for the first time since the Gold Rush, many White Californians feel threatened by the impending shift in political power and resentful about paying taxes to benefit "other" people's children. Still, in the June 1998 election, they accounted for 69% of the voters statewide, African Americans 14%, Latinos 1%, and Asians 3%. (Crawford, 1997, retrieved Issue1Crawford.html (3 of 36) 2/21/2006 11:17:26 AM) Never consciously wanting their nativist and bigoted underbelly to show, the 227 supporters provided an altruistic shaman-like nationalistic 'call to action' against the so-called failures of bilingual education:

* Teachers worried by the undeniable failure of bilingual education and who have long wanted to implement a successful alternative--sheltered English immersion.

* Most Latino parents, according to public polls [sic]. They know that Spanish-only bilingual education is preventing their children from learning English by segregating them into an educational dead-end.

* Most Californians. They know that bilingual education has created an educational ghetto by isolating non-English speaking students and preventing them from becoming successful members of society. (Argument in Favor of Proposition 227, retrieved February 21, 2006, 227yesarg.htm)

Popularly sloganed as the "Unz Initiative--English for the Children," the...

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