As the end of the academic year approaches, I again ask myself if my job as an English as a Second Language instructor at the Lodi Adult School is relevant.
Certainly the non-English-speaking population in Lodi has increased in each of the fifteen years I have been an educator. In fact, one evening in late April, I walked throughout the school's neighborhood—several blocks in each direction - and didn't hear a word of English.
Non-attendance is a mounting frustration for me because ESL classes could not be any more welcoming.
Not only are classes free (i.e. paid for by American taxpayers) but also the adult school's open enrollment system allows students to come and go according to their own schedule without any concern of being dropped.
Whether a student can only stay for two of the four daily classroom hours or only attend one day of the five Monday through Friday sessions - no worries!
Absences of several weeks—even months - are common. The students are always welcomed back.
What really put the kibosh on attendance this year was a class offering the GED (= alleged equivalent of high school diploma) run by the San Joaquin Delta College, a two-year college. The hook: the class prepared students to take the GED - in Spanish. The instruction and materials were all in Spanish.
When I got wind of this, I implored my students not to attend.
"What good will a GED in Spanish do you?" I asked. "Stay in my class; improve your English, then take the GED in English."
Despite my pleas, many students changed venues. And since the typical adult student only has "X" hours in a week to spare for classes, most could not attend both the GED class and my own.
When I urged my students to stay in my class to hone their English skills, my thinking was that no employer would be interested in a GED taken in Spanish. What proof would it provide that the prospective employee could read and understand English?
Imagine my surprise then when one of the defectors came around last week to show off his GED certificate made out completely in English - without any clue that the test he took had been in Spanish!
The GED test was administered in Spanish, the compulsory essay was written in Spanish and the math problems done in Spanish. But the GED certificate awarded was in English—identical to the one awarded to people who pass the test in English!
There's more. With his brand spanking new GED certificate my former student—illegally in the United States, by the way— can now apply for a grant to attend Delta College. All he has to do is complete an application—in Spanish—and write an essay—in Spanish—about how important achieving the GED has been to him.
Stop the madness!
I am surprised at how naïve I was. What, after all these years on the immigration reform front, would make me think that there would be some identifier on the certificate that would indicate the test was given in Spanish?
My former student now has his GED certificate and can check off on future job applications (one that you might also be applying for?) that he has either a high school diploma or the equivalent.
But I stick to my guns.
The right choice for him would have been to stay in class and master English.
I spoke with Amy Flores, Human Resources Management Analyst for the City of Lodi about the Spanish version of the GED.
"We don't distinguish between the English and the Spanish tests," she said. "But if an applicant cannot speak English, then he will not get our better jobs. We're looking for firefighters right now and we're certainly not hiring any who don't speak English. The first group of firefighter candidates we chose will be also be required to take a supplemental written test—in English. We're hiring general laborers, too. They don't need to speak English fluently. But that job doesn't require a high school diploma or a GED."In the end then, those who aspire to long-term prosperity in America need to speak English clearly and intelligently.
Short cuts like the GED in Spanish may create phantom opportunities. But when the critical job interview comes along, if the applicant can't speak English, no one will be fooled.
That's the next step. And, unless we get immigration under control, it's just a matter of time.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.