The Los Angeles Unified School District’s rollout of the A-G requirements, completion of 15 courses with a C or better that are required for admission to the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems, is a good start but still fails native English speaking students. LAUSD and other school districts particularly in California should put forth the same effort into make sure that native English speaking students graduate with fluency in a second language, as they do into making sure that English as a Second Language (ESL) students learn English from kindergarten. With or without a high school diploma or college degree, black and white students will find themselves locked out of California’s job market if they don’t speak Spanish.
I am 36, educated, and like millions of other native Californians, I don’t speak Spanish. Yes, I took the optional one course of a foreign language to graduate from high school. I even upped the ante and took an additional year of Spanish to be eligible for admission into the California State University system. Had I known or been told at 16-years-old that Spanish was going to become the dominant language in California, I might have stayed the course and become fluent. And that’s the story for millions of adults my age and older who now find themselves educated and skilled but locked out of the job market in California simply based on their inability to speak Spanish. And it’s not just the entry-level minimum wage jobs that English-speaking-only Californians are unable to qualify for—it’s also the middle, upper, and executive management positions as well.
Now before you fire off an email to me accusing me of being anti-Latino, this isn’t about Latinos. This is about the fact that Spanish has now become this state’s unofficial second language and those who don’t speak it are being left behind.
LAUSD board members should take the lead in leveling the playing field for the forgotten students in our public school system who don’t speak Spanish so that they don’t find themselves in the same position as their parents—unemployable not because of a criminal background or even lack of an education—but because of their inability to converse, write, and read in Spanish. What I liken to as the new face of employment discrimination, Spanish speakers wanted only.
The fact is, if algebra, geometry, and biology weren’t courses that I had to take in high school to receive a diploma and matriculate into college, I wouldn’t have taken them. The same can probably be said for many adults looking back on their high school years. Two years of a foreign language as a requirement to receive a high school diploma is a step in the right direction but falls short of preparing Black and white students for the local job market—let alone the global job market.
Likewise, learning how to operate an iPad isn’t going to narrow the gap between the unemployed and employed in California now or in the future unless that iPad comes with Rosetta Stone® and is given to students in kindergarten. Requiring foreign language classes for native English speaking students from the first day of school through grade 12 however will narrow that gap and further guarantee their chances of finding a job when the time comes.
Lawmakers saw the writing on the wall and adjusted policy and social programs accordingly, hence the reason why government forms are now published in several different languages. It’s time our public schools did the same because English speaking only students want their chance at the American dream too and ironically, it starts with learning a language other than English.