English as a first priority
Sun-Times, Chicago
Aug. 23, 2007


Students here who speak only Spanish are hurting themselves -- and teachers

Spanish-speaking Chicago kids are being denied their chance at the American Dream -- and some teachers are being dragged down with them.

The influx of kids who speak only Spanish is threatening the jobs of teachers who speak only English -- no secret in places like Elgin and Waukegan. Teachers who don't speak Español are increasingly getting turned away for new jobs, reassigned from old ones and steered toward taking expensive English as a Second Language classes.

Known as bilingual ed, it's offered when 20 or more non-English-speaking kids are in a grade level. It's usually indistinguishable from Spanish-only instruction and is almost always a bad practice.

But don't take my word for it. The Migration Policy Institute did a study showing more than half of students ages 3 to 21 who can't speak English fluently were born and taught in the United States. Of those, 27 percent were second generation and 30 percent were third generation!

Dawn, a nine-year tenured teacher who toils at a South Side elementary school, called to vent.

"I was taken out of my classroom and made a resource teacher because I don't speak Spanish, and I'm working on my master's, so it would be hard for me to fit ESL classes in. It's hard. ... I feel like I'm not good enough anymore."

Dawn was told to "get with the times," but she's upset: "As they get older, if they don't learn English well, they're not going to succeed -- that's what the goal is."

I told Dawn that as a bilingual teacher, I noticed that non-Spanish-speaking immigrants seemed to pick up English quickly without separate classrooms. She said: "I've had kids from other countries -- I taught them in English, and by the end of the year, they were doing fine."

All over the world, English is the language of success. To deny children of immigrants who have come here for that "better life" -- and deny jobs to those who dedicate their lives to teaching them -- is nothing short of shameful.


Pregunta del Día
Cepeda fanatico John was none too pleased about my interview with Jose Padilla's mom, who was livid her son was convicted of aiding terrorism.

"His mom says what a wonderful boy he is. Didn't he once murder a young man in an [alley]?"

John, you can't blame his mom for loving and standing by him -- it's what moms do.

Yes, though convicted of lesser charges, as a teen he did his time for helping kick a rival gang member to death.

So does that make it OK that he was labeled an enemy combatant, denied his right to a lawyer and slapped with dirty bomb charges that never stood up in court?

OK that for three years he was chained in darkened solitary confinement, not fed and pumped full of truth-serum drugs, blindfolded and deafened even outside his cell?

He was convicted on some stray fingerprints -- how many pieces of paper have you touched today?

Last I checked, Lady Justice isn't supposed to take off her blindfold and tip the scales -- even against gang-bangers.


Olympics 2016 watch
When a Sept. 9 soccer match between Mexico and the U.S.A. in Mexico City's Azteca Stadium instantly -- due to "contractual and financial considerations"-- became a U.S.A. vs. Brazil match at Soldier Field, I thought I sensed a little of the ol' Chicago Way.

I couldn't confirm Da Mayor's force of will at play -- clearly hosting an Olympic bid rival seemed quite the coup -- but I wasn't too far off.

"The opportunity became available to schedule Brazil quickly," said Jim Moorhouse, a spokesman for U.S. Soccer. "We're certainly aware and a big supporter of the 2016 bid. In terms of talking to the city, working with them, it's a thought in the forefront. Certainly those conversations are taking place."


The war on 'THE WAR'
Ken Burns does not hate Mexicans.

A well-intentioned but vicious organization called Defend the Honor has been dogging him for months to change his upcoming World War II epic film to include Hispanic veterans.

Burns made some changes, but Hispanic activists are demanding there be more "meaningful" additions and to have final say on the finished product.

Burns -- well within his right to artistic license -- doesn't need anyone's approval.

His team went into four small towns with massive ad campaigns to find every vet with a uniquely compelling story.

Originally, no Hispanics who could articulate their experience and provide pictures, letters, etc. made it to the original cut.

Surprising? Hispanics are raised by their families not to call attention to themselves -- a trait also shared by many others of that generation.

Last month, I wrote about Hispanic WWII vets in Chicago and asked people to send their stories but got all of two responses. Not exactly a crush.

Burns, co-director Lynn Novick and I talked about this extensively.

"The attacks have been painful and surprising," Burns told me last month, "but I think we've done everything we can and still maintain the integrity of our original film."

The haters need to back off. I watched all of Burns' breathtaking, heartbreaking film in July, and it transcends race, ethnicity and gender. It speaks directly to our hearts about the sacrifices made by all veterans for American freedoms -- none of which are superior to others because of the color of the vets' skin.