Migrant Ed And The Holocaust
June 03, 2002, 05:00 AM
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Teresa, a high-school student who assists me in my Adult English as a second language classes, recently spent a week in Washington D.C.

Along with a group of other Migrant Education students from the San Joaquin Valley, Teresa traveled east to meet with some of the capital`s high and mighty. (The Federally-funded Migrant Education program was established 35 years ago during Lyndon Johnson`s Great Society reforms to assist the children of farm workers with their special learning needs.)

Teresa isn`t really sure how she qualified for the Migrant Ed boondoggle.  Her parents may have been field workers at one time. But Teresa isn`t sure. She`s never heard them speak of it.

In any case, even if Teresa`s parents were migrant workers, those issues don`t resonate with her.

These are heady times for Teresa. The night before she took off for Washington, Teresa went to her Senior Prom. And Teresa has just been accepted to the University of the Pacific, a respected private college in Stockton, CA. She`s been flipping through the pages of Auto Trader hoping to find an affordable convertible to get around campus.

But Teresa, who had never been out of California, is smart enough to know a good deal when she sees one. If someone wants to put an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. in her hand and give her a week off from Tokay High, then she`s game.

For the most part, the "Experience in Democracy" agenda was predictable. Senators Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, Representative Richard Pombo and Representative Hilda Solis were visited.

The students also called on Alicia O. Fernandez-Mott, Chief of Farmworker Programs in the Department of Labor, Francisco Garcia, Director of Migrant Education and Lou Gallegos, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the Department of Agriculture.

Lisa Diaz and Patricia Campos hosted workshops on "Team Building" and "Power in the Political Arena."

The AFL-CIO sponsored the "The Young Worker`s Forum" and "Power in the Political Arena" presented by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and chaired by Ana Polanco.

Of course, I have problems—to varying degrees—with all of this.

First, Migrant Education has long since outlived its usefulness. Today, the program is a bottomless bureaucratic money pit that no one dares touch lest he be targeted as insensitive to migrant workers and their children.

The reality is that migrant students can walk into any K-12 campus in the country and receive a full panorama of educational and social services.

Second, pulling kids out of school late in the semester is a poor idea. If you have spent any time around California`s high-school students, you`d know how badly they need to be in school, working harder and learning more.

Third, the kids—especially those who live in the migrant camps—want to learn about opportunities outside of agriculture. I haven`t heard too many say they want to follow in their parent`s footsteps. So meetings with Latino big shots in the federal government and attending seminars about Latino political clout is not where they`re at.

And I noticed a singular lack of diversity in the agenda. With as much ballyhoo as diversity gets on high-school campuses, you would think a call on an Asian or African-America bureaucrat would have been appropriate.

Fourth - my biggest problem - was with how the organizers allocated sightseeing time. During the week, the kids had a total of two hours for a guided tour of DC sites. During that time, a bus whizzed them past the Smithsonian Museums, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Wall.

But later in the week, the kids spent three hours at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The evening prior, in preparation, they watched an hour-long introductory Holocaust Museum video followed by a group discussion.

Two hours total for all of DC`s dozens of sites but three hours-plus for the Holocaust Museum? Remember that these young students know next to nothing about American history or civics.

Naturally, the kids should be exposed to the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Of course, time spent at the museum isn`t wasted.

But the extended tour of the Holocaust Museum indirectly sends a grim message, perhaps purposely, to the kids.

That message is:  

"Do you see what happens when people hate? You, as a Mexican-American, may be a victim of hate. There are people out there who don`t like you and want you to go away. Can you see where hate leads?"

This is just my analysis. But the themes that are hammered home over and over again in high school deal with the wonders of diversity and the shamefulness of racism. The Holocaust Museum visit reinforces the idea in young pliable minds that racism, taken to its extreme, leads to death.

Had I organized the week, I would have loaded the kids up onto a bus, driven along cherry blossom lined Potomac and headed for Mt. Vernon.

When you know very little about America, as is the case with the "Experience in Democracy" crowd, George Washington is the place to begin.

To ignore him (and us) is an insult.

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.