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An Equa Opportunity to Learn Nothing is so important to succeeding in American society as an education. Today, an education means a job, higher earnings, higher status. For Mexican Americans, an education has a special meaning. It represents a chance to break through the patterns of poverty and deprivation. It is a means by which we can understand our past and shape the present. It is, in the end, our hope for a better future. Yet the statistics on the educational attainment of Chicanos show that we are not getting our educational entitlement. On a national scale, more than 40 percent of the Chicanos who enter first grade never complete high school. The median number of school years completed by Chicanos is 8.1lower than any other group in America. In Texas, the number of Chicanos who never complete high school reaches alarming proportionsin some school districts, over 70 percent. Studies conducted to understand this problem bear out what every student from a Spanish-speaking community already knows: that you can’t take Spanish-speaking children, put them in English-speaking schools and expect them to learn and to grow. Chicano students learn the lessons of failure rather than the basic skills necessary to advance educationally. Public schools continue to classify many Chicano children as “educably mentally retarded” because of a failure to recognize and respond to the linguistic needs of Spanish-speaking students. It is little wonder that after nine or ten years of this sort of experience, vast numbers of Chicano students feel that there is no place for them in the schools or in American society generally. MALDEF’s Challenge The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. an equal opportunity to learn for Chicano children since MALDEF’s founding in San Antonio in 1968. Focusing on discrimination against Spanish speaking students, MALDEF participated in the California lawsuit, Lau v. Nichols, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that language minority students have the right to “adequate instructional procedures” to enable them to participate meaningfully in public education. Yet the Court specified no remedy to end discrimination against language minority students. MALDEF has pressed forward in subsequent cases to secure the best remedy. In 1974, MALDEF won a landmark decision in the New Mexico case, Serna v. Portales, where the court held that bilingual/bicultural education was required by law to provide equal educational opportunity to nonEnglish-speaking students. Here the court recognized the sad truth about the experience of Chicano children in today’s schools: that when Spanish-surnamed children come to school and find that their language and culture are totally rejected and that only English is acceptable, feelings of inadequacy develop; that a child withdraws from a school where he finds no evidence of his language and culture; and that until a Spanish-speaking student develops a positive selfimage, teaching him English as a second language will not be successful. For these reasons, the court, for the first time in American history, ordered that non-English-speaking students were entitled to some instruction in their native language and culture until their English language skills were sufficiently developed. A Misunderstood Concept Yet despite Serna, the court struck down the remedy of bilingual education in a recent Colorado case, arguing that Chicano students were not entitled to “an educational experience tailored to their unique cultural and developmental needs.” This case underscores the fact that Americans in general, and courts in particular, have misunderstood the goals of bilingual education. It is not to preserve ethnic or linguistic separateness. Its aim is to accelerate the integration of non-English-speaking children into the English-speaking schools. Equal treatment cannot be achieved merely by providing all students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum; for students who do not understand English are in effect denied a meaningful education. In Texas, and throughout the Southwest, Chicano children are sitting in classrooms, being taught in a language that they do not understand. MALDEF is trying to do something about it. We ask for your help. MALDEF 501 Petroleum Commerce Building 201 N. St. Mary’s Street San Antonio, Texas 78205 Enclosed is my contribution of $ Name Address City State Zip Make checks payable to MALDEF. Contributions are tax deductible. MEXICAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND, INC. A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Executive offices, Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board