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A reader writes by Scott Fullerton: Tainting young minds at aSouthwest High?

March 01, 2002

An amazing thing happened in my classroom today. It's a Friday afternoon, seventh period, last class of a very hectic week — semester grades due, we're in the thick of the IVL schedule, Golden State exams, and so on. In other words, an appropriate time for a guest speaker.

A few days earlier, a former student of mine from my Central days approached me and asked if she could make a short presentation in each of my classes. It would concern voter registration, complete with the signing up of those students who would qualify for the upcoming March 5 election. Hey, way cool. Registering new voters is the essence of democracy in action.

I introduced her to my seventh-period seniors, adding, correctly, that she was currently serving her second term as student body president at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus in Calexico. While I busied myself at my desk with some other tasks, she gave the standard spiel I'd heard her give my other classes. She handed out the registration forms while issuing explicit instructions as to how they should be filled out. As she gathered the completed forms and got ready to leave, she did a curious thing. She moved quickly to the middle of the class, sat on a desktop and launched into a rapid-fire harangue in Spanish, glancing furtively at me as she did so.

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While not fluent in Spanish, I know enough to understand "Necesitamos hacer este por la raza" and "Necesitamos mas clases bilingues." At least that's what I'd thought I'd heard; the word "raza" was mentioned so often I thought maybe it was a preposition. God knows what else she was telling them. But since I wasn't sure, I did not interrupt (that would be rude) and when she finished and left to a colleague's class, I resumed my lesson.

Toward the end of the hour I asked my class if what I'd heard was true. "Oh, yes, Mr. Fullerton, she was saying that," they said. And then one Latina spoke up from the back of the room (she normally sits front and center) to say, "Mr. Fullerton, we don't need more bilingual classes. We need more English."

It was a plea. This from the only student to receive an "A" in that class for the fall semester, a girl who does not speak fluent English but who relentlessly worked her tail off to get where she's going. Not at, going.

After the bell rang and the kids left, I went across the way to a colleague's room and saw the guest speaker, asking her to confer with me in my own room. I there upon let her know in no uncertain terms that what she did was not only unethical but possibly illegal. I then asked her (again) who was sponsoring this program. She replied it was the Southwest Regional Voting Program, or something like that, and that it was based in San Antonio, which makes sense, as San Antonio has the highest Latino population percentage-wise of the top 10 cities in the U.S. (yes, in the U.S.; Texas has three of the largest 10 cities in the country in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio). I took a chance and asked her point blank: "Who is running the program here? Is it Daniel Santillan?"

She nodded vigorously in the affirmative and said, "Yes." The interview ended and she left.

I later did some investigating and determined another question she attempted to steer the class toward her point of view (though quite subtly) was the future location of the SDSU campus — should it remain headquartered, indeed in, Calexico or moved to Brawley?

Let it be said here, as it has been said many times before, that I am all for raising the political consciousness of the Latino community and the resultant power that invariably accompanies it. But there are rules to any game and, like the game itself, which must be honored, it must be played on an even field.

To those who would subvert the rules while claiming, "Well, that's politics. Everybody does it," I submit the days of the ward-heeler have long been over.

In this Age of Information, the electorate is far too sophisticated to bite into the tawdry tactics employed by those who have only the most facile understanding of what this country is all about. It is rare to get something of good quality on the cheap anywhere; something for nothing just won't cut it. To deliberately send some college kid (who should have known better) to a public school and surreptitiously proselytize for one's cause seems not only amateurishly rank but, in hindsight, positively obscene. And she told me her group had already been to several schools around the Valley.

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