Oct 082002
Authors: Ashley Wheeland

One of the biggest contentions in the November elections is Amendment 31. If passed, Amendment 31 will force public school students who speak another language (in Colorado this usually means Spanish) into English-only classrooms after one year of an intensive language class.

Currently, Colorado public schools can decide how to organize their schools to meet bilingual needs at the school district level. For example, the elementary school in Denver that I attended had several classes at each grade level that were taught bilingually. My little sister was in one of these classes. It allowed her to learn something more than I learned in my all-English speaking class, another language and about another culture.

However, the most important reason for these bilingual classes were that they helped to teach the mostly Spanish speaking community the school was located in to speak English, and also allowed them to stay scholastically at the grade level of their age.

One major flaw with this bill is that it focuses on allowing students only one year of language training. This does not account for the fact that students at different ages and with different abilities may not be able to learn another language in just one year. I doubt the seven-year-olds in my sister’s class would be able to succeed in the next grade after one year of English education. Not to mention during the year program they would get behind students of their own age. They would then be sent into another grade in which they were institutionally discriminated against.

It seems somewhat hypocritical to expect a child to learn a language in one year, when it takes many of us (meaning me) many more years at the high school and college level to not master even one.

Yet another problem with this proposed amendment is the legal repercussions if it is passed. The amendment contains language that holds educators legally responsible and punishable if they do not obey the amendment. There is also a provision that allows educators to be liable for signing any waiver that allows a student out of the one-year intensive class, for up to ten years after signing.

While the governor and I disagree on several policies when it comes to education, we agree on opposing Amendment 31. Owens has said that the threat the amendment poses to educators is a problem, and therefore does not support the amendment.

While I agree that learning English is extremely important for non-English speakers, I believe that they have to get the tools to actually succeed in society. They cannot be institutionally discriminated against from the beginning of their education. I also believe that teachers are the people that know what students are capable of, and want to help them succeed. So why change a system to create more problems? Why not look for real solutions that help everyone involved?

Punishing teachers for being willing to go the extra step to help a child is something I want to praise them for. Amendment 31 seeks to punish. I have always believed that education is about learning and teaching.

For more information on this amendment or other Colorado political issues go read a newspaper, online or at the coffee shop!

I plan on taking my next four columns and writing about issues that are coming up in the November elections. This will include looking at the candidates, the amendments, and the importance of specific state races. No matter the opinion I spout, my main goal is to educate those of you who have been disenfranchised (for your age, your sex, your race, your class) and get you thinking about the elections.

Ashley is a boring grad student and needs more ideas about what you want to know about. Drop her a line about your ideas on what she has said or what she should say.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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