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. . . MAKE FLUENCY IN ENGLISH A PREREQUISITE TO COLLEGE IN U.S.

SHARE . . . MAKE FLUENCY IN ENGLISH A PREREQUISITE TO COLLEGE IN U.S.

IN 1993, PHILADELPHIA'S La Salle University proudly announced that it had instituted a program where students could earn an associate's degree in which virtually all classes - history, religion, philosophy, fine arts and others - would be conducted in Spanish.

When asked about the new program Emanuel Ortiz of ASPIRA, a Hispanic rights group, said, "I'm more than ecstatic. This is an opportunity we've been looking for a long time."Most people would disagree with Ortiz. A real opportunity is when a person who does not speak English is given a chance to learn the language. Ortiz, and his allies, seem to prefer that such persons be encouraged to remain monolingual Spanish speakers.

Colleges are perfectly free to conduct classes in the language of their choice, but they should not imply that such classes lead to enhanced job opportunities. If a student arrives at college not speaking English, the first thing that student needs is an English class. The handicap must be addressed for that student to receive the full benefit of his tuition dollar.

Ostensibly, the notion that students who do not speak English can still receive a college education sounds compassionate. But what this idea means in practice is that students pay costly tuition in order to obtain a degree that will have little or no value in the marketplace.

Higher education that does not involve English is not a way to open doors, but to keep them shut. Richard Reeves put it this way: "No matter what the intentions, being dazzling in a foreign language but halting in English is a formula for washing dishes and digging ditches."

The problem is that a person who must study biology in Spanish will not have the same opportunity to go to medical school in the United States as his English-fluent counterpart. History and philosophy are good training for law school - but fluent English is also required for law school.

It was not so long ago that German was the language of science and French the language of diplomacy. Today, English has become the world's language, used for business and overwhelmingly the choice of Internet users. That does not make English "better," but it does mean that fluent English is increasingly a basic requirement for professional success in any field.

This is why studies of students who learn subjects like grammar and math in a foreign language fail achievement tests given in English. These studies have found bilingual education (i.e. subject matter in a foreign language along with English classes) is no better or worse than doing nothing at all over 90 percent of the time.

James Traub wrote movingly in his book, "City on a Hill," of the struggles non-English-speaking students had at New York's City College. That college has an intensive English program for students who are not fluent. Traub wrote: "the fluency-first approach had done what it was supposed to do." Those students were now ready for college-level work.

To require that students who do not know English learn it to benefit fully from college is just common sense. History and biology classes in Spanish are given with the best of intentions. But such classes are patronizing and demeaning to the students, who are, after all, our nation's future. Knowledge that a person cannot discuss with others is, after all, the functional equivalent of ignorance.