"No" to English Only Initiatives Before Congress

Press release from the National Education Association. 1 November, 1995

To: National Desk, Education Writer
Contact: Elvira Crocker, 202-822-7208, or Charles Ericksen, 202-822-7228, both of the National Education Association

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 -- The National Education Association today told a congressional subcommittee that legislative initiatives calling for English Only are a "form of thought control and another inappropriate burden placed on teachers and schools.

"English Only is government-sanctioned bigotry," asserts the NEA. "Whether or not its proponents are bigots themselves, English Only gives comfort to anti-immigrant forces. These forces cloak English Only in the rhetoric of national unity, but a federal law would, in fact, question the patriotism and make outsiders of those still learning English." That puts schools in a difficult situation -- given that they teach the values of tolerance and respect.

Teachers already are required to act as counselors, nurses and social workers -- in addition to teaching. Adding the role of "language police" stretches them even further and detracts from their more critical work of instruction, said the NEA.

An English Only law makes it difficult for schools to prepare students for jobs of the future -- a technology-charged future with economic opportunities that increasingly extend beyond this country's borders. Diversity in language is a key element to the U.S.'s ability to compete, the NEA points out. Such a law is counter-productive to the interests of business or private enterprise.

Elaborating on its distaste for such proposals, NEA says such a law is intrusive to the "sanctity and privacy of the home, where prayer, dreams and family love are expressed in one's native language."

In written testimony submitted to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families of the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, NEA says such measures would at worst "derail the education of many students, preventing their transition from bilingual programs into mainstream classes. An English Only law would result in the kind of intrusion that led a Texas state judge to order a mother in a child custody case to speak only English to her child in the privacy of their home."

NEA says English Only proposals don't square with reality. "People who live in the United States understand and accept the economic importance of knowing English and don't need a law to force them to learn it. A 1990 Census Bureau report indicates that 94 percent of U.S. residents already speak English. What's out of balance, NEA notes, is that the demand for opportunities to learn English far outweigh the services available. Waiting lists for English instruction are thousands-long in places like Los Angeles and New York City. An English Only law would create obstacles to learn English by eliminating bilingual education and English as a Second Language programs, says NEA.

NEA believes that all students should be proficient in speaking, reading and writing English. But teachers, parents and schools working together on a local level are best qualified to determine how that learning should take place. What an English Only law does is "usurp local efforts by involving the federal government in the relationships between teachers and parents, teachers and students, and parents and their children."