State Superintendent Huppenthal determined to keep accents out of classrooms

The state with a Governor famous for saying “we have did” now wants to clamp down on a serious English problem in our schools: accents, as in Spanish accents.

In order to avoid a probable federal lawsuit for civil rights violations, the state agreed to end its articulation monitoring of teachers in English language immersion classrooms. Instead, they must rely on more extensive and objective standards of English fluency.

This, of course, has our State Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, up in arms. He’s determined to do an end-run around the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to make his subjective testing legal.

Keep in mind these instructors are already required to pass fluency tests that adhere to state and federal standards, tests that are not as subjective as the ones Mr. Huppenthal advocates. Also keep in mind several studies have shown that students are able to acquire a new language easier if given bilingual instruction, something this state has outlawed.

But instead of allowing research to guide our policies, state politicians cling to the “English only” motto and incite voters with unwarranted fears about Spanish becoming an official language and teachers who don’t sound American.

Apparently, we should all be up in arms over the findings these taxpayer-funded monitors have uncovered. Findings such as teachers who say “leeves here” instead of “lives here” or “da” instead of “the.”

I can understand how those types of accents would be offensive to people who believe they speak proper English. Of course unless you’re British, chances are you, too, do not speak what’s considered “proper” English.

I wonder then, if we will also ban teachers with other types of accents. Surely the word “ya’ll” must offend Mr. Huppenthal, and so it makes sense any teacher with a southern drawl would be banned from teaching in this state. And those New Yorkers with all that cawfee talk? Well, they should definitely be banned.

While I jest about Southerners and New Yorkers, I do not speak in jest about the discriminatory practices Mr. Huppenthal wishes to legalize under the guise of better education practices. It’s true that students in ELL classrooms typically underperform on standardized tests such as AIMS, but do we really believe those test scores are the result of a teacher’s accent?

Do we really think we’re making wise use of our limited education dollars by monitoring teacher articulation? Does this not strike us as somewhat ironic considering the limited educational backgrounds of some of our top legislative leaders?

If we’re really serious about improving grammar among school-aged children, then let’s start with the requirement that our lawmakers must also adhere to strict grammar rules and proper English enunciations. Let’s hire monitors to sit through legislative sessions at the Capitol and hand out warnings and fines to those who pronounce “mum” as “mom” and who refuse to properly pronounce Latin names such as “Colombia” and “Ecuador.”

Sound ridiculous? It does to me.

A much better approach would include placing a higher value on the acquisition of a foreign language among all Arizona schoolchildren. This country lags far behind other industrialized nations in the numbers of bilingual adults, and in a global economy, the ability to effectively communicate with people beyond our borders is increasingly important. Relying on other countries to fill in the gap puts America behind the curve.

But what’s even more absurd is the idea that the anti-regulatory party is now in favor of creating new regulatory legislation to subjectively address articulation among ELL teachers. It is also, without question, a blatant act of discrimination.

In the last few years, Arizona has taken a giant step backwards in the arena of civil rights. Our lawmakers have used fear and ideology to implement discriminatory legislation against Latinos and those believed to be “illegal.” We have cast doubt on an entire population of citizens based on skin color and accent.

One would hope the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would no longer be needed. But as Arizona legislators try to whitewash their efforts at discrimination, it seems obvious the act is as relevant today as it was 47 years ago.

When we find Spanish accents offensive enough to require legislation, we know we’ve turned our back on cultural diversity and crossed a dangerous line. This is nativism, and this is not the Arizona I know and love.


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  1. denise alvarez

    great article, i am a retired teacher. I remember how a lot of people could not understand a new student. Everyone thought he had a speech problem but really he was just from Brooklyn New York!

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