Longform

Nada Chance

Page 6 of 7

Martín confides that school in Mexico was a lot tougher than it is here. He recalls the in-depth research papers he had to write, the lengthy math assignments and the complex science projects.

The curriculum in ESL and bilingual classes is made easier simply to move kids to the next grade level, says Margaret Garcia-Dugan, principal at Glendale High School and a leading advocate of Proposition 203.

"We feel that it has kept our Latino kids down," she says.

She's been labeled a racist for her position. But Garcia-Dugan, who grew up in Bisbee and learned English through immersion, says it's time for the Latino community to put faith in their own.

She believes that it's wrong to exempt kids who are just learning English from taking placement tests, that it's a form of segregation. And, she says, Chinese and Eastern European immigrants excel faster, get more scholarships and rank at or near the top of their classes because they choose immersion over bilingual education.

How many Latino kids are National Merit Scholars, the top three percent of students in the nation, she asks? She knows the answer: None.

Garcia-Dugan criticizes Senator Lopez for his stance on bilingual education because he, too, was raised under immersion.

"I'm a principal, he is a senator. We both have pretty good jobs," she says.

Lopez's biggest argument is that Proposition 203 would take away parental choice. But he also sees the problems with bilingual education resting on the fact that there's never been enough money to carry out the program successfully.

He says that 36 percent of teachers teaching bilingual education do not have credentials; that there are not enough teachers available to school districts; that there's not enough monitoring of bilingual programs; and that there are no sanctions to enforce when students show no signs of advancement.

"We need to evaluate these programs in ways we can make determinations of their worth," Lopez says.

For three years, he's been pushing for bilingual reforms, but he has received little support.

Meanwhile, Martín sits in his ESL world history class while his teacher, Stephanie Johnson, quizzes the class on current events.

"Who's fighting in the Middle East?" she asks in English.

There's silence for a few seconds. Then someone answers, in English. "Palestine and Israel."

"Who's the leader of the Palestinians?"

"Slobodan Milosevic," says a voice in the class. "I don't know," says another.

Students giggle and continue to talk.

"What did Henry Ford invent?"

"The telephone," a boy yells out.

"Who invented the light bulb?"

"Thomas Edison," comes from a soft, female voice.

A kid yells out in Spanish, "How come she knows so much?"

A couple of unruly teens, Roberto and Pedro, holler at the teacher: "Start the movie already."

Johnson turns on the World War I documentary. Most kids ignore the film and use the opportunity to turn their chairs and start talking, whispering to each other in Spanish. They really don't care about the 19th-century German Empire and Otto Von Bismarck.

Martín sits quietly, watching the film. The narrator sounds like he's talking into an aluminum garbage can.

After the movie, the class has to answer two questions written on the board. Johnson says there would be four questions in a mainstream class.

She says she has struggled to teach some of these students.

"These kids already have opinions about the United States . . . Some don't stand for the pledge," Johnson says.

She adds that many kids do not let go of their culture and refuse to assimilate. Roberto, for example, refuses to speak to her in English. She thinks her gender and Roberto's machista attitude may have something to do with it. "If I was a male, there would be no problem," she says.

"Change is good," Johnson says. She's in favor of immersion.


Gisela is looking over her shoulder at her classmate's desk. Her class is practicing translating sentences from Spanish to English.

She reads out loud to her group of four, "El esposo de mi hermana es mi cuñado."

"Translate," she commands one of her friends.

Slowly, in English, he says, "My sister's husband is my brother-in-law."

"That's right," Gisela applauds the teen, in English.

Gisela is a teacher in the making; she dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher someday. Her mother remembers when Gisela, as a child in Mexico, would gather her friends and teach them about things she'd learned, like where toothpaste comes from.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Caleb Correa