School board Member Immigrant from Mexico Criticizes Bilingual Education

Imagine my surprise at the West Chicago school board president strongly criticizing bilingual education.

When I was in first grade (the only first grade class, Miss Callahan’s) in Easton, Maryland, in 1948 two really big girls joined us after school started.

After a while we saw them in the hall mixing with another class. I think it was the second graders in Miss Sullivan’s class across the hall.

Later they went to still a third teacher and then, they disappeared into the upper levels of elementary school at the front of the building.

I learned they were called “displaced persons,” “DP’s” for short.

The point of this little story is that there was no bilingual education in 1948-49 and these two girls presumably did fine.

Fast forward to 1975, I think, when Boris Antonovych, a Republican Ukrainian American in the Illinois House was sponsoring a bilingual education bill. He sat behind me next to Roger Keats. Both had been elected the same year.

We had the bill beaten when Boris prevailed upon his seatmate Roger to switch his vote from “No” to “Yes.”

The bill ended up passing.

I think it was later that I verified my early personal experience by talking to Gil Johnston, a professor at John Marshall Law School.

Before that he had headed legal aid in Hawaii.

Gil told me that the native Hawaiians who went to the native speaking schools generally “didn’t make it.” Those who attended English-speaking schools did.

Now, the Sunday Daily Herald’s lead story is about another immigrant, one from Mexico, who is now president of the West Chicago School Board.

55-year old Tony Reyes told reporter Rupa Shenoy:

“By the end of the first day, he and the rest of the Mexican kids had learned at least one English phrase: ‘Miss, may I be excused?’

“’It came out more like, “Miss bees cues?”

“‘It was like a rhyme,’ Reyes said. ‘If you didn’t learn it, you wet your pants.’”

His success story adds a third point in my belief that English immersion is the way to go.

And, here’s a tid-bit from far down in the long article:

“test scores seem to indicate something is working. As the school’s Latino population increases, standardized test scores have improved.”


“In reading, 21.1 percent of Latinos met AYP goals in 2004. The next year 32.6 percent hit the mark, and in 2006, 43.5 percent did so.”

Any local high school able to show that kind of progress?

How different from the Waukegan experience where a teacher was fired because she couldn’t speak Spanish.


School board Member Immigrant from Mexico Criticizes Bilingual Education — 1 Comment

  1. It is a shame that a school board president can be so uninformed about current research and
    best practices in education.
    Mr. Reyes said, ”We coddle students and pretend that they are stupid.” Who is he referring to and who is doing this pretending? He cannot mean bilingual teachers as there is plenty of academic challenge in a bilingual program.
    Students are learning a second language as well as taking content classes.
    Mr. Reyes says his attitude reflects that of many Hispanic parents who are removing their children from bilingual programs. Parent education of how a bilingual program is meant to support students is ongoing. If parents are fully informed of long term benefits and how their children are supported in their transition to English most would not consider removing their children from the program.
    The article quoted teachers as being afraid to speak openly from fear of
    reprisals. Mr. Reyes apparently does not support a collegial atmosphere of inquiry and collaboration between faculty and board members. This is sad as it is the students who suffer from a system closed to new ideas.
    Mr. Reyes promotes a maximum of three years in a bilingual program. This shows only familiarity with state regulations and no knowledge of research on bilingual education. For years, the research as shown to truly gain academic
    proficiency in a second language it takes 7-10 years. The upper range applies to older students such as high school students.
    Mr. Reyes also wants Anglo teachers with no accent. This suggests he sees no value in bilingual teachers with college degrees who demonstrate success in two
    languages and two cultures. Teaching English without an accent is a tricky thing anyway. What English accent is appropriate? A Texan accent, Southern accent, Boston accent?
    Let’s hope Mr. Reyes never has cancer. Will he ignore the latest, most up to date medical research and simply tell the cancer cells to go away as he seems to want Spanish to simply leave the high school students? The “cure” for his
    speaking Spanish of 30 years ago is not current best practice. Fortunately, today’s educators, doctors, and many parents are better informed.

    Salvador Tamayo
    West Chicago, Il

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