Friday, February 16, 2007

Why Arizona struggles with education

Every person deserves an opportunity to excel. In 1968, the Bilingual Education Act was passed. If you are an intelligent person, but don't speak English, opportunities were provided in that language. Opportunities also existed for that person to acquire English. This ends up producing a strong workforce since you are taking someone who is very intelligent and adding them to the workforce in the United States simply by giving them an opportunity to learn more in their native language and then acquire English as well. I would consider that a win for the local economic development, and a win for that individual.

On the flip side, when those opportunities are not given, and people are given jobs with little or no training and have no opportunity to learn the language you have higher accidents rates as seen here,Hispanic workers suffer during boom (The Arizona Republic Feb. 13, 2007). Even ignoring the fact that the person in this article has been hurt, or that many others have been hurt because instructions were not properly relayed, this hurts business. Any perceived profit from underpaying this population goes away if there are high accident rates or poorly performed work due to poor instruction.

However, many people do not see it that way. They would prefer to have as many deterrents as possible to prevent someone from coming into this country, and then for those who are already in this country to make it hard for them to stay. This strategy doesn't work. If people are determined to come here for opportunities, they will come regardless of how many fences built, programs thrown at them, and opportunities denied them and for one simple reason, a job. If there is a job opportunity, they will go for it to feed their family. Hopefully, they will be able to get better jobs and provide more opportunities for their family, a sustainable future. Most people in this country would prefer for them to not have this opportunity. When blocks are created to keep these people down, that is where they will stay, however, that doesn't mean they will leave, or that it helps the economy.

What ends up happening when doors are shut to this immigrant population is that they are kept in that same place much like slave. They will come to the area for the job, live in substandard housing, and take their paycheck to send home to their family or try to use it to get their family here. However, when they cannot get the education or have the opportunity to learn the language, they will stay in that situation forever. Instead of becoming part of a healthy workforce in that community, they end up becoming a drain. They are kept poor and uneducated and not because they are not intelligent, but because they are blocked from learning English. This doesn't make them leave, partially because they become too poor for mobility, but mostly because it is still better than where they were. They will stay here and send their children to school here and use the medical facilities here, and use the many resources available to them here. They won't be able to pay back what they used because they don't make enough, and if they are not given the opportunity to make more to give back to the system, the drain gets bigger, until you get a system wide, or even a state-wide problem, both in schools and hospitals.

In a recent article, Arizona was last education-wise of all 50 states, and the chances for an Arizona student succeeding are dim. Why? Is it because public education is underfunded, that the cost of education is skyrocketing, or is it because this state believes in English only education?

Of course it is all of the above, but let's look at the last reason. Arizona is now the fastest growing state in the nation. Much of that comes from immigration, mostly Spanish speaking. A great deal of money is spent on helping Spanish Speakers learn English, but the process is wrong and often humiliating. Often, employers will send Spanish speakers to programs for them to learn English. After six weeks, they think they should be able to understand English. Realistically, they are no closer than they were six weeks ago. It take seven years to learn a new language, SEVEN YEARS and some people think it can be done in six weeks, or that English can be learned by osmosis, but this simply isn't true. This misunderstanding of how language is acquired hurts not just immigrants, it hurts everyone.

Perfectly intelligent students immigrate to this country for its opportunities, but don't know the language before entering. In school, they are given English immersion and not assisted in learning the material or subject. A student could be brilliant in math, science, or literature, but if they don't know the language, they may as well be a dunce. We used to have bi-lingual education, but with English immersion, no child left Behind, and prop 300, we have ensured that we will never tap into this intelligence and use it, and we are just wasting it. Proposition 300 will ensure that this population never gets an education, but that doesn't mean they won't stay here and it doesn't mean they won't come here. It just means that they will stay poor here and until opportunities for them are re-instated, you will feel that in overwhelmed schools, hospitals, and general services because this population cannot pull themselves up when everyone is pushing them down. However in the end, we all fall down by doing this.

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