By Steve Leveen
Episode 15: Sealed con un Beso
He was rich, persuasive — and wrong. But Ron Unz succeeded in leading our most populous state down a dark path in the history of language education. Fortunately, his very success planted the seeds of change that are yielding a harvest of good in the nation today. Hear the origin story of the Seal of Biliteracy, which began in California and is now transforming America.
Something new in America: honoring bilingualism
The Seal of Biliteracy is a seal that high school seniors can earn on their diplomas and transcripts after demonstrating written and oral proficiency in English plus another language. In the five years since its creation in California, the Seal of Biliteracy has been adopted by a majority of US states.
The organization behind the innovation is Californians Together. Says Executive Director Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, “This is a not-very-labor-intensive reform movement that has captured the imagination and spread in a way that other education reform initiatives have not.”
America the Bilingual is a storytelling podcast for people who think bilingualism is good for themselves, for their families, and for their country.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”— Margaret Mead
Many scholars and language teachers consented to my requests for interviews and helped me understand the history of bilingual and world language education in America. (Mistakes in interpretation are, of course, mine.) At Harvard, I thank María-Luisa Parra and Adriana Gutierrez. At Stanford, I thank Russell Berman, Elizabeth Bernhardt, Albert Camarillo, Kenji Hakuta, Sean Readon, Kenneth Romeo, Jonathan Rosa and Guadalupe Valdéz. At Vassar College I thank Eva Maria Woods Peiro and Jeff Schneider. Books quoted in the episode are “Why Don’t They Learn English?”: Separating Face from Fallacy in the U.S. Language Debate by Lucy Tse and Advocating for English Learners: Selected Essays by James Crawford.
Special thanks to Samantha Greene, Communications Director for Congresswoman Julia Brownley.
The America the Bilingual podcast is part of the Lead with Languagescampaign of ACTFL — The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
This episode was written by me, Steve Leveen, our producer Fernando Hernández, who also does our sound design and mixing, and our associate producer, Beckie Rankin. Our brand and editorial director is Mim Harrison. Graphic arts are created by Carlos Plaza Design Studio.
Julia Brownley — from school board to U.S. Congress
U.S. Congresswoman Julia Brownley was early in her public career, serving on a school district board when California Prop. 227 was voted into law in 1998. “I have been fighting this issue, quite frankly, ever since.
The battle for the seal continues in Massachusetts
Advocates for the The Seal of Biliteracy in Massachusetts continue to pilot programs in school districts while the legislation winds it way through the statehouse. Says Kim Talbot, Director of Global Education at Melrose Public Schools, “We’re from Massachusetts, we’re supposed to be revolutionaries!”