Sometimes, I'm confused.
Recently, as an example, I went to the Tokay High School International Dance Festival. Tokay High is one of two ethnically diverse high schools in Lodi. I know some of the students in the show and didn't want to disappoint them by not going.
Before the performance started, I strolled through the Ethnic Food Bazaar and ordered the sweet and sour pork with fried rice. Not bad for $3.
Then, I watched the kids go through the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Latino routines. The stands were packed with cheering parents and friends. This was a happy time for the highschoolers and their families.
As I watched the Asians, I realized that these are the youngest of the refugee children. The Tran and Xiong families have named their kids James and Jennifer. These youngsters are U. S citizens and apparently part of the American fabric. ("Apparently" because that's what American neighbors of the bar-haunting 9/11 hijackers thought too.)
Recent statistics from the California Department of Education show that English Language Learners whose primary language was Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, or Lao are in steady decline after peaking in the early 1990s. They've "mainstreamed" - to use a term educators are fond of.
Only a handful of these assimilated children can tell you anything about the Vietnam War. I felt a strange sense of relief about that, too.
Whatever else may lie ahead, a debate about the merits of diversity is not in their future. This generation of Californians was raised singing the praises of diversity. While many critics question whether schools can teach reading, writing and arithmetic, no one doubts that when a California student get his high-school diploma, he has earned the equivalent of a Ph.D. in diversity indoctrination.
Which particularly matters when you look at the other half of the equation—the school's Mexican population.
Some of these children are U.S. citizens but many are not. And unlike the Southeast Asian immigrants whose arrivals into California peaked at 30,000 annually but have dwindled to 6,500 in 1998, the Mexicans keep coming and coming and coming.
The impact of this unending stream of students into the California schools cannot be overemphasized.
Here is a thumbnail sketch of California K-12 public schools: 6 million students, 2 million housed in temporary trailers, and 1.5 million English learners. As long as those abysmal conditions continue or if they worsen (as they will), talk of raising public school standards is nonsense.
A new report by the Public Policy Institute of California, "The Linguistic Landscape of California Schools," [263 KB PDF document] tells the whole dismal story. During the twenty years from 1981 to 2000, the number of "English-learners" i.e. non-English speakers in the San Joaquin Valley increased 516%. An astounding figure, but only good enough for fifth place statewide behind the Inland Empire, 656%; Sacramento area, 596%; Mountain Area, 543% and the Sacramento Valley, 533%. Spanish-speaking English learners account for 83% of the 1.5 million non-English speakers in California public schools.
My own school district, Lodi Unified, reflects these enrollment and language figures. "English learners" make up nearly 30% of the 27,000 students. The Asian enrollment is 20% and Hispanic, 26%.
These statistics represent more than just raw numbers. On March 5th, for the fifth time in twelve years, LUSD tried to raise money through a school bond issue. It passed only narrowly; the four previous attempts were soundly defeated.
The need for money is acute. Because the Lodi schools are so overcrowded, under a year-round schedule students only attend class 163 days a year instead of the normal 180. The system is designed for 20,000 students but has to accommodate 27,000. High schools built to hold 1,800 must fit 2,500. Access to computers, lab classes, fine arts and physical education facilities is severely limited.
Why did the good people of Lodi vote "No" four straight times? Despite the pleas from school district officials that new schools are needed "for our children," the resistance indicates that Lodians might be aware that not all of the students are "our children." Why should they vote their tax dollars to finance the educations of children from around the world – many of whom are here because they or their parents entered the country illegally?
Immigration has left the community with no good options. A "No" vote dooms the children – including, importantly, their own - to many more years of a substandard learning environment. As the enrollment continues to grow, the crowding will worsen. And ultimately California will have a larger undereducated population than we already do. Believe me, that is a frightening thought.
A "Yes" vote, on the other hand, reinforces the "send them and we will build" message. California cannot keep pace with unchecked immigration—not in our schools, not in our emergency rooms and not in our housing, highways or airports.
The school bond issue got only 57% of the vote. That would not have been enough without Proposition 39, passed in November 2000, which reduced the 2/3 requirements for school bond passage to 55%.
As for my own vote, I didn't like either option. As I said earlier, I'm confused a lot of the time.
But in the end, I voted "no."
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.