Friday, March 6, 2009

Lambert Stirs Controversy With Objection To Mexican Government's Book Donation

A routine donation of books to the state by the Mexican government has a Colorado Springs legislator worried that students will be exposed to "foreign propaganda."

Republican Rep. Kent Lambert said in an interview today that he believes the books, which were donated this morning in a recent tradition that has been in place for more than a decade, should be reviewed by the state's Board of Education before being given to school districts.

“One thing in particular is, since this is apparently an official curriculum from the government of Mexico, we have heard in the past that that includes claims to the national sovereignty of the southwest United States," Lambert said. "Why we would teach that in American schools, I don’t know. We need to find out if that’s in the textbooks because I think its false history and political propaganda. I can’t confirm that’s in there because I haven’t seen the textbooks and neither has the state school board.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Education said the books are not classroom teaching materials and range across a variety of subjects and purposes.

"They’re math, science, geography, history, writing, reading. And then there is additional fiction, mostly for elementary and middle schools,” the agency's Mark Stevens said. "They are all in Spanish. They are for students who are still in the process of learning the English language.”

He also indicated that CDE had not been asked to submit the donation to the Board of Education for review and that the books are not used to teach students any classroom subjects.

“There is no plan for the State Board to review the donation," Stevens said. "Again, these aren’t like curriculum materials. These are support resources. This is just the equivalent of having additional books in the house that will engage these students in reading.”

Colorado law gives the Board of Education no authority over the curricula taught by local school districts.

Lambert, however, argues that the books might affect a school district's compliance with the state's academic content standards and that the books might undermine efforts to teach English to Spanish-speaking students.

“Take it out of the context of Spanish language," Lambert said. "We have immigrants from probably 180 countries in the Denver area. This is a challenge to the public education system. In virtually every other case the direction of the curriculum is English language immersion, which has always proved to be the most effective way to get the students up to a level of proficiency.

"I think it probably is the quickest way to learn for kids. But the real issue is whether you use content that does not correspond to the content that sets a certain standard for learning that you would expect from our textbooks in any public school.”

Lambert said the donation of books amounts to a taxpayer-financed effort to accommodate Mexican citizens' unwillingness to assimilate into American culture and that his objections are not related to the language in which the books are written.

"There needs to be some standards for education. Obviously if these are targeted at Mexican citizens living within the United States, why should American taxpayers pay for it?," Lambert said.

“Let’s say you go to the John Birch Society, or the German-American Bund or something, if the director of the Colorado Department of Education says, sure, bring your textbooks in, because they teach German, and then there’s an international bias in those textbooks, they need to be vetted.”

But Democrats say that this argument, too, is a red herring.

Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, said that English language learners need to study and read in their native language while they learn a new language.

"The reality of English language acquisition is that in order for students to be successful in English language immersion they need proficiency in their native language," Middleton said. "The idea that they can’t do anything in the subject matter until they know English is short-sighted."

Middleton also suggested that Lambert's criticism is simply a partisan effort to prepare for the next election.

"I think it’s fairly obvious that a lot of these issues are being highlighted to play on the fears of voters and to set up a challenge for 2010," Middleton said. "I guess I’m focusing on policy and resources for kids. I’d hoped we could get beyond that when it comes to kids and education."

"It’s very clear that several members of the Democrat Party, specifically, want to make Colorado and Denver a sanctuary state for illegal immigration," Lambert said. "We have had very little success at blocking this. This is coming, unfortunately, at the same time, in the same week, as an effort by the Democrats to offer instate tuition to illegal immigrants. This is part of a process that, I think, they are on the wrong side of. Colorado citizens, I don’t think, want foreign curricula taught in our schools any more than they want instate tuition offered to people who are here illegally.”

Lambert was referring to SB 170, a bill that would open the door for some children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities.

He also said that he has not decided whether to introduce legislation to require a review of the donation by the state Board of Education but that he also has not ruled that out.

"I don’t know if there is a legislative issue there," Lambert said. "But when you have 500 textbooks coming in to be used in American classrooms, I don’t think that’s appropriate."

Middleton said any bill introduced would not be likely to get far in the legislature.

"We have a strong tradition of local control," Middleton said. "If there are school districts who share Rep. Lambert’s point of view, they simply don’t accept the books. School districts get to make these decisions."

The Mexican consulate has donated books for use in the state's schools for 14 consecutive years, Stevens said. He noted that the donation accepted by CDE Friday is not different in purpose or focus from earlier gifts.

"The only thing that has changed is the size of the donation,” Stevens said. He also said, in response to a request from this reporter for a list of the titles of the books donated, that CDE did not have such a list.

Lambert said he had expressed his concerns about the donation to state Board of Education chairman Bob Schaffer and 5th Congressional district representative Peggy Middleton.

Lambert said that his conversations with those Board of Education members left him with the impression that the donation would be scrutinized.

The state Board of Education has a 4-3 Republican majority.

A call to Schaffer seeking comment on the donation and any plan by the Board of Education to review it was not returned.