Bilingual Ed. Critic’s Comments About Paige Spark Racism Charges

Ron K. Unz, a critic of bilingual education, attempted to explain his remarks earlier this month after facing backlash for questioning Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s qualifications and indirectly suggesting that his race played a role in his appointment. However, the California businessman fell short of apologizing for referring to Mr. Paige as the "least intelligent" member of President Bush’s Cabinet in an email, and for insinuating that he was hired solely because he is black.

"I must admit that my comments were extremely insensitive," Mr. Unz stated in an interview. "However, the content of that email is based on information I gathered from reputable news sources."

In a subsequent email on August 1st, Mr. Unz suggested that Mr. Paige’s position in the Cabinet was due to tokenism, as President Bush did not afford him much influence over education matters. In the same message, Mr. Unz expressed surprise at the strong reaction and the number of news articles his words had generated. His initial comments, sent on July 15th to several individuals who regularly receive his updates, incited the anger of various groups and individuals who branded him as a racist. Some believe that his statements could hinder his ongoing efforts to replace bilingual education programs in states with one-year English-immersion programs. Mr. Unz has achieved success in California and Arizona, where he financed ballot initiatives that largely dismantled bilingual education. Currently, he is advocating for the English-immersion approach in Colorado and Massachusetts, where voters might consider this measure in November.

In a statement, Darnell L. Williams, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, criticized Mr. Unz’s rhetoric, arguing that it discredits both Mr. Unz himself and his cause. The Urban League opposes Mr. Unz’s position on language instruction. Mr. Unz sent his first email after Secretary Paige openly opposed his ideas during a visit to Colorado. The email highlighted Mr. Paige’s background as a "black former football coach" and suggested that he acquired his position due to President Bush’s unwavering support for affirmative action. Furthermore, the lengthy message claimed that Mr. Paige’s lack of ability meant that he had minimal involvement in the administration’s significant education initiative, the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.

In response to the email, Mr. Unz faced substantial criticism from numerous groups and public figures, including the National Council of La Raza and Colorado Commissioner of Education William J. Moloney. The chairman of Mr. Unz’s Massachusetts campaign, Lincoln Tamayo, distanced himself from the comments, as did Massachusetts Republican gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney, who supports the Unz proposal. On July 18th and August 1st, Mr. Unz dispatched subsequent emails in an attempt to clarify his remarks. Mr. Paige has not directly responded, but Department of Education spokesperson Daniel Langan condemned Mr. Unz’s comments as "outrageous and insulting."

Mr. Langan highlighted that Mr. Paige is an esteemed educator who has received awards for his accomplishments as a dean, a coach, a school board member, and as the superintendent of one of the nation’s largest school districts.


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