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Roth Hears Conflicting Views on Bilingual Education

August 25, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Wisconsin congressman wants English to be the official language of the land and Jose Fabila, the son of Mexican immigrants, thinks that is a good idea.

Fabila said Tuesday that learning English was integral to his success and ″I do not want my children to be denied an education in English.″

The owner of a food company in California, Fabila was among those who testified before a temporary panel chaired by Rep. Toby Roth, R-Wis., in behalf of his bill to declare English the official language of the United States.

The measure would repeal all federal bilingual programs and direct the Immigration and Naturalization Service to establish an English-language proficiency standard for immigrants to obtain U.S. citizenship.

Testifying against the measure before Roth’s Congressional English Language Task Force was Sara Melendez, a Puerto Rican native who spoke no English when she came to the United States, but majored in English and eventually received a doctorate from Harvard University.

She suggested there was nothing wrong with programs that let students be taught math, science and other subjects in their native language while being taught English.

Roth questioned what would have happened if such programs had existed when thousands of Europeans emigrated to the United States.

″Could you imagine Yiddish in New York, German in Wisconsin, Scandinavian in Minnesota ... you wouldn’t have a United States of America,″ he said.

Fabila said his parents came to the United States from Mexico in the 1940s and didn’t have the help of government programs. They had to learn English to succeed, building a company, Fabila Foods, that now employs 103 people, he said.

He described English as the ″language of opportunity″ and said that when the government decides to grant special treatment to other languages ″it is asking for trouble.″

Christine Rossell, a professor at Boston University, said bilingual education does not work because it is illogical to think children will learn a second language by being taught in their native tongue.

Rossell said the programs are a product of the civil rights movements of the 1960s when educators embraced the notion that maintaining a connection to culture and roots would encourage self-esteem in students.

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