Conducting Public Education in a Foreign Language: English

middle schoolLAUSD: Where Public Education Is Conducted in a Foreign Language Called English

Presently, it is fashionable to demonize teachers for the longstanding and what remains the continuing failure of their students. This is based on one fundamental misconception that the students in their classes are presently capable of being engaged by their teachers, when they generally have abysmal skills in English, math, and other missing foundational skills that should have been acquired in earlier grades.

The simplistic argument goes something like this: If these students are not learning, it must be because the teachers are not doing their job. There is a certain irony to such a cursory analysis where the resulting effect of students not being educated is the exclusive factor considered by administrators and politicians who themselves seem to have not received a very good education with the analytical skills necessary to fairly understand and address the continuing failure of the students they have power over.

Although most teachers have the education to address the problems, they clearly do not have the power in public education bureaucracies that still favor a top-down feudal model as opposed to one of two-way accountability. However, teachers are the most convenient scapegoat for student failure, rather than addressing and dealing with a myriad of causal factors that start with inadequate prenatal nutrition through absent or inadequate early child development in all language acquisition skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening).

No consideration is given to the facts that family insecurity caused by poverty, divorce, and purposefully marginalized minority cultures, where tradition nuclear families are the exception rather than the rule, cause the vast majority of these young people to initially arrive at school having heard millions of less words than their more affluent student peer group.

It is not racism to say that predominantly Black and Latino students cannot learn when every effort has been made to destroy their intelligence by not timely addressing their fundamental needs in education or by not doing adequate remediation at an early enough age to get them caught up to their peer group. The Music Man and other teacher movies are Hollywood. The hard reality is that once the neurobiology and sociology human development milestones are allowed to pass without even attempting to fulfill them, permanent damage is done in a more and more irreversible manner as a direct function of how long they are allowed to last, until it is no longer possible for the student to reach what would have been their potential, if they had been taught in an age-appropriate manner.

leonard isenberg

While low achievement of minority children is clearly understandable in this context and rather easily remediable with the political and moral will to do so, what is harder to deal with is the lack of common sense in the dominant culture that seems hell bent on sowing the seeds of its own destruction, because they seem incapable of learning the clear lessons of history as to what causes social instability, chaos, and ultimate disintegration.

Leonard Isenberg


  1. Joe Weinstein says

    On the abstract general level the author makes perfect sense. So exactly what would he suggest (at least as one possibility) for how specifically to start coping with the situation?

    Case study – my parents – and many others like them. Yiddish-speaking and just off the immigrant boat at age 10, they were raised in a poor neighborhood in Milwaukee. Within months, like other neighborhood kids, they went to a six-month to one-year combination education and catchup program in the public schools. After this, they were ‘mainstreamed’ – continuing to speak Yiddish at home, but fluent in English and using it as a tool to expand horizons. These included frequent visits to the public library as well as school events. Father went on to become a physician. Mother went to UC Berkeley years after raising us, majored and received the BA in Engish, and was urged (unsuccessfully) by a renowned professor to continue in graduate study.

    It does take a village – or anyhow a combination of various actors (including but not only LAUSD) to successfully raise a child. As to what that means here and now I and likely many others really require education in the specifics, preferably by the author here. I don’t know what he finds to be the key deficient ingredients.

    Among other things, I wonder whether he does (or does not) find deficiencies to exist in any of the following: LAUSD arrangements for a combination English-immersion and continuing-education catchup year; Black and Latino parents who insist on their kids striving to advance in their education and skills for coping in the broader society; a general expectation that we are one people who, regardless of individual and family and community practices, can and will converse and collaborate using a standard local version of English.

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