Ballot Measure 58 is bad for all students

Bill Sizemore is once again trying to interfere with the education of Oregon students. Ballot Measure 58, which is one of his latest creations, is an attempt to keep the English language learners out of programs that will contribute to their success as speakers of English, in school and beyond.

I had the privilege and the honor to be the first English as a Second Language coordinator for the Three Rivers School District. During my tenure at Three Rivers not only did we have Spanish-speaking students, but we also had Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Indian students.

I worked with principals, classroom and subject teachers, as well as teachers in training and parents to best serve the needs of these students, while tailoring the curriculum and the delivery of instruction according to the needs of each school and available resources.

Sizemore argues that students are kept in English language learning programs in order to acquire the extra dollars that these students generate. Contrary to what Sizemore says, and according to Oregon Department of Education regulations, our students were tested every year to measure their progress in English. They were exited out of the program once they were proficient enough in English to handle the subjects they were studying on their own. Our goal was to make them proficient in English.

What I have explained is only half the argument to counter this ill-conceived measure. The other part that Sizemore addresses is teaching in a language other than English for more than two years except for teaching a foreign language to English-speaking students.

So Sizemore believes in the benefits of learning a foreign language for our English-speaking students, but he does not believe that the "others" who speak another language and who are learning English should have the same benefit. This is at worst a terrible bias and at best a total ignorance of the benefits we all reap when our citizens become well-educated individuals in more than one language.

What Sizemore proposes by banning teaching in a language other than English except for students who are speakers of English is nothing less than to take away the opportunity for better educated students. I am not talking just about the minority students who are in the process of learning English. I am talking about all — yes, you read this correctly — all students.

There are very few programs in Oregon that teach students in their native language. However, those programs are for the most part geared to classrooms in which students are taught in both languages: a language other than English, and English. In areas of the country where these programs are offered, there is great support from mainstream parents. They know their English-speaking children will have an early exposure to a foreign language.

The benefits are spread equally between the English-speaking students and the English-learning students: All the students learn in both languages. They begin to associate in their early years with different groups of people. They learn about one another's culture. They learn not only to speak, but also to read and write their second language, be it English for the English learner, or Spanish, Russian or Chinese for the English speaker.

Yes, the English speaker continues his development of English while becoming proficient in a foreign language. The English learner continues with the development of his native language while becoming proficient in English. What this does is create truly bilingual individuals, proficient and literate in both languages.

At this time when our world is becoming smaller and our concerns are global, we must continue to grow a pool of individuals who can become our international leaders of tomorrow. Let us not waste this opportunity.

When children are forced to abandon their own language we take away the foundations on which to build a second language. Instead of throwing away the resource we can find in people who can communicate with others in their own language, let us nurture it. It is a skill that may lead more to peace than to wars.

We need to communicate with one another everywhere in this small world. We need people who are proficient in more than one language. Join me in voting NO on Measure 58.

Bea R. DeFoe is a former secondary specialist for Southern Oregon Education Service District's migrant and English as a Second Language programs and ESL coordinator for Three Rivers School District. Now retired, she lives in Grants Pass.

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