Arizona vs. accents, ethnic studies

Arizona teachers who speak English with a strong accent or poor grammar won’t be allowed to teach classes for English Language Learners, the state education department has ruled. The decision primarily will affect elementary teachers recruited from Latin America to staff bilingual classes. When Arizona voters ended bilingual education in 2000, teachers were told to use English only. But some aren’t able to speak fluently or model good English, state officials complain. From the Wall Street Journal:

The education department has dispatched evaluators to audit teachers across the state on things such as comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing.

Teachers will be given time to improve their English, but those who can’t meet the state auditors’ standard must be reassigned to mainstream classes or fired, says a state education official.

. . . Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as “biolet,” think as “tink” and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.

Creighton’s principal says her foreign-born teachers are dedicated, experienced and understand the students’ culture. There aren’t enough mainstream early elementary classes for teachers with accents, unless they can teach higher grades. The school — nearly all Hispanic and all poor — is rated “performing plus” by the state. By middle school, students are catching up to state averages, especially in math.

In other Arizona news, a bill designed to ban ethnic studies classes has reached the governor’s desk, reports the Arizona Republic. State Superintendent Tom Horne, a candidate for attorney general, wrote the bill to abolish classes that:

• Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

• Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

• Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

• Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.

Horne is targeting Tucson’s La Raza studies class, saying it’s “aimed primarily at members of one race, and we have testimony that this has promoted resentment.” He said students could be exposed to various cultures and traditions in social studies classes.

Tucson school officials say there’s nothing in their curriculum that would run afoul of the bill’s provisions. “In no way do we teach the resentment of any particular group of people,” said Sean Arce, director of the Mexican-American studies department in the Tucson district.

The district integrates Mexican-American studies into its offerings, from kindergarten through high school.  

Oh, and there’s that law about illegal aliens. Arizona’s new moniker: The Grand Ban ‘Em State.

About Joanne


  1. Teaching requires modeling – demonstrating for students what it is they need to do. If you are not capable of doing what you are supposed to be teaching the kids to do, then you are not qualified for the position. A person who can’t add shouldn’t be teaching math, a person who can’t tell metric from imperial shouldn’t be teaching science, and a person who can’t speak proper English shouldn’t be teaching it.

    As far as ethnic studies classes go, it’s been clear to most for decades that the first sign that you are not looking at a serious academic subject is the presence of the word “studies” in the title. Even so, I am always wary of any government attempting to put restrictions on curriculum. If this law were restricted to public universities, I would have less of an issue with it.

    As an alternative, I would love to see employers and graduate schools specify that a requisite bachelor’s degree must be in a real academic subject. That would certainly get the appropriate people’s undergarments in a twist.

  2. Taxpayers would get more language fluency, mathematical and scientific literacy, and vocational preparation for their K-12 subsidy if students received academic instruction in their first language. I’d rather flounder in broken Spanglish with a competent mechanic than entrust repairs to machinery to an English-fluent but incompetent mechanic. I’ll vote for a politician who advocates, through a translator, market solutions to social problems over an English-fluent socialist.

    “As far as ethnic studies classes go, it’s been clear to most for decades that the first sign that you are not looking at a serious academic subject is the presence of the word “studies” in the title.” 100% agreement.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    Teachers speaking with an incomprehensible accent? My son and his friends complain about that at the highly-ranked “institute of technology” they go to.

  4. momof4 says:

    Too true about “studies”, and it’s a pity. In the 60s, my school had a Latin American Studies major that was real; designed for those aiming for careers in government or private enterprise dealing with Latin America that required knowledge of the language and culture. Fluency in speaking, reading and writing in either Spanish or Portuguese (the school/state had almost no native speakers) was required, as were courses in geography, history, economics and literature. I knew a few students from the program and the kind of politization and ethnic grievance-mongering that goes on today was absent. The school also had a Canadian Studies program, with similar requirements. Foreign study was pretty much required for both, at a time when that was much less common than now.

  5. Thanks Joanne!

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    You make false opposites. There’s no reason a good mechanic can’t speak good English.
    However, the issue is not a teacher speaking heavily accented English teaching, say, chemistry. It’s a teacher speaking heavily accented English teaching English.
    All teachers teach English merely by speaking, so even if they teach chemistry, the kids get English training.

  7. Richard,

    A child whose first language is Spanish (or Vietnemese, or Lao, or whatever) will learn more Chemistry, or Algebra, or Auto Mechanics if the instructor communicates in the child’s first language. Certainly, children could learn English in Chemistry class, but they will learn less Chemistry than if their instructor communicated in their first language.

    According to Thomas Sowell, there were public (i.e., government-operated) schools in the US where the language of instruction was German, until US entry into WW I. The deliberate eradication of Native American languages by the BIA schools is a black mark on US history.

    In a voucher-driven competitive market in education services, language-specific immersion schools could provide all instruction in one language, except for English class, which students could take as I took Latin, as a foreign language. Segregation? Perhaps. If it’s voluntary and beneficial, so what?

  8. Fred Beloit says:

    Let’s try it the other way and see if it holds up, shall we?
    Arizona implements new teacher qualification instructions:

    “Failure to use understandable speech no longer a bar to becoming a teacher.”

  9. The topic of language is always an emotional issue.

    It’s difficult to make wise decisions when emotions take the front seat.

    By the way, California still has on the books that you can’t get a teaching credential if you have a speech impediment.

    If you don’t sign the loyalty oath or if you can’t suppress your stutter, no credential.

  10. Bill Leonard says:

    Lemme see, Arizona abandoned bilingual education in 2000. And the teachers with the heavy accents still have the heavy accents 10 years later? Fine. Let ’em do something else, but keep ’em out of the classroom if their accents are so heavy as to unintelligable.

    As to the ethnic studies brouhaha, it has long been my opinion that ethnic studies are largely a waste of everyone’s time.


  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    They may do better if taught in their first language–until they get English reasonably well.
    But they don’t get English. So we’re stuck with a good mechanic who can’t communicate well with his customers, nor understand English news.
    He’ll have to get his info from Univison or La Raza.
    It used to be that balkanization was a bad thing.

  12. “Horne is targeting Tucson’s La Raza La Racist studies class,…”

    Fixed that for ya.

    I figure that any organization which bills itself as “the race” is inherently racist.

  13. Richard,
    Adults can learn to speak in a second language without formal instruction in that language. I expect that anto mechanics who live in the US will either acquire English through osmosis, work under a bi-lingual supervisor, hire a bi-lingual front-desk person to deal with customers, or deal with customers from the immigrant community.

    The clear downside to policies which compel students to attend schools in which instruction occurs in a language that the students do not comprehend is ineffective instruction and, for some, lasting psychological harm.

    It used to be that federalism and tolerance of diversity were good things. Consider, for example, the advantages the US would enjoy in the current war if we had fluent patriotic speakers of Arabic, Pashtun, and Farsi.

  14. Richard Aubrey says:

    I worked with foreign exchange students for more than twenty years (AFS), and have hosted half a dozen for up to nine months at a pop.
    By the end of their stay, they’re even dreaming in English.
    Not that tough, given full immersion, which exchange studenting is.
    Secondarily, I had three weeks of intensive Vietnamese. Eight hours of class and three-four hours of homework. Didn’t speak it really well at the end, but the grads of that class could pick up the language as if it were nothing, and in no time, when they got “immersed”. We didn’t learn all about Vietnamese, but we coudl distinguish “friend” and “shoot” (intonation), order a meal, give a few simple orders. It seems to have been not the usual intro, but the insertion of a Vietnamese-learning tool kit into our brains.
    Now, let me forestall a couple of objections: I am not saying this is the only way–since you would no doubt claim it’s impractical–but using it as an example of various ways of learning quickly. And since kids whose parents don’t speak English aren’t going to immerse them in English, this is the fallback position. Works.
    Problem is the model of one hour a day in high school is probably the slowest way of learning. We ought to recall there are other ways that are far better, which is to say, quicker.

    Used to be, balkanization was considered a bad thing, no matter the rationalizations.

  15. Loco, “raza” doesn’t exactly have that translation.

    Bill, please keep in mind that a person can have a heavy accent yet be perfectly intelligible.

    I believe elementary school children who can only speak Spanish heed to receive some of their school instruction in Spanish.

    Yet I don’t think any government documents like voter guides or DMV tests should be printed in anything but English.

    Juan Williams recently interviewed the Alabama politician who wants all drivers’ tests to be just be in English. Williams accused him of pandering to the anti-immigration crowd, which, is unfortunate liberal bias on Williams’ part.

    School children who need to receive some instruction in Spanish should get that instruction but nobody needs to drive or vote unless they first learn English.

    Too bad that it’s hard to sort out the xenophobes when discussing this issue.

  16. School children who need to receive some instruction in Spanish should get that instruction but nobody needs to drive or vote unless they first learn English.

    Ever try to get a job without a driver’s license?

  17. I imagine getting a job without a driver’s license is hard.

    So I would highly recommend everybody get one.

    Knowing English is not an unreasonable requirement.

    In fact, I think it makes an excellent incentive.

  18. All children in the U.S. should be guaranteed a good education–and sometimes that requires instruction in Spanish.

    But should all adults be guaranteed employment? I don’t think so.

  19. Richard Aubrey says:

    I can see guaranteeing an excellent opportunity.
    But, as I said some days ago, what about the kid who doesn’t have it, is not suited for twelve years of desk time, or the intentional non-learner (new concept in my wife’s last PD session)?


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