Rockford, Illinois, the home of The Rockford Institute and Chronicles, was established in a series of migratory ripples: first Yankees, then Scots, then Swedes. A later wave of immigration brought many Italians, both from Sicily and Northern Italy. Today, German-Americans are the largest ethnic group in Rockford, as they are in the United States as a whole. Therefore it made perfect sense, when the Rockford public school district recently broke ground for a new “two-way language immersion” magnet school, to choose Spanish as the second language.

What is going on here? As readers of Chronicles know, the Rockford public school district has been the target of a prolonged desegregation suit which has destroyed neighborhood schools, led to the busing of thousands of children, and cost Rockford taxpayers over $150 million so far, while minority test scores have plummeted and dropout rates have climbed. But our Spanish-speaking magnet school cannot be blamed on a money-grubbing Chicago lawyer and an arrogant federal magistrate. While the federal court ordered the construction of a new school, it did not specify a bilingual magnet. That decision was made by the professional educationists who “implement” Rockford’s “desegregation remedies”—and destroy a community in the process.

Ultimately, however, the source is the same. Today’s multicultural educational agenda flows from the federal government, by way of the Department of Education. With the willing cooperation of teachers’ unions and superintendents’ associations, the Department of Education continues to promulgate a radical program designed to remake American education to support the aims of the federal government.

It has happened before, although few today remember it. When I first moved to Rockford, I was pleasantly surprised by what I assumed to be a charming display of local patriotism. Traveling across town from west to east, one crosses streets named after the great cities of Europe and America: Chicago, London, Paris, Rome . . . Rockford? While Rockford is the second-largest city in Illinois, it is hardly on a par—cultural or economic—with Chicago, let alone the great capitals of Europe. When I mentioned this to Tom Fleming, he laughed and informed me that Rockford Avenue was originally Berlin Avenue. Having grown up about 15 miles from Marne, Michigan, home to the Berlin Raceway and the annual Berlin Fair, I understood immediately: Berlin Avenue, like hundreds of little Berlins and Munichs across the United States, had succumbed to the anti-German hysteria of World War I and World War II. In Milwaukee, with an overwhelmingly German population, streets and civic buildings were renamed to hide their Germanic provenance, and domes were removed from German churches because they looked too much like spiked helmets.

During wartime, people and countries overreact, and some of the anti-German fervor is understandable—although much of it stemmed from a propaganda campaign by the federal government, designed to rally American support for intervention in European affairs. But the real story is what occurred between the wars, and not simply to German-Americans.

“The American melting pot” is a favorite myth both of immigration enthusiasts, who argue that anyone can become an American as long as he holds certain beliefs, and of immigration restrictionists, who argue that assimilation is a long, hard process and that today’s unprecedented levels of immigration impede assimilation. But for most non-British immigrants, assimilation never really occurred. Both the Northern Europeans who arrived in the first half of the 19th century and the Central and Southern Europeans who arrived in the second half (and into the 20th century) tended to settle with their own kind. My father’s family, German Lutherans from Alsace-Lorraine, settled in Southern Indiana in 1832, and over the next century educated their children in German at the parish school and perpetuated their German customs, traditions, and names. While they gradually learned English, they continued to worship in German at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (built on family land where most of my ancestors are buried). Mary Hitchens notes in our family history, History and Recollections: Jacob Richert, 1814-1901, that “the German services continued and confirmation services were also held in German until 1917, when they were discontinued due to the sentiment reflected by World War I.” While conforming to an Anglo- American political culture—indeed, while regarding themselves as “good Americans”—my family also clung to their separate identity as German-Americans.

But between the wars, the federal government’s tolerance of a general Euro-American diversity ended. There were many factors involved, but the most important was a demographic shift. While Anglo-Americans still held the reins of power, they were no longer the dominant ethnic group in America: German- Americans outnumbered Anglo-Americans. As John Lukacs wrote in Outgrowing Democracy:

In 1850, 2.5 million of the population were foreign-born, in 1910 over 14 million (a total that equaled the number of natives in twenty-two states of the Union). In 1850 English was the native language of 97 percent of citizens who were foreign-born (this includes, of course, the great mass of the Irish), in 1910 it was 58 percent and decreasing fast, since by then the overwhelming majority of immigrants were coming from southern and eastern Europe and Russia. . . . Their appearance and their expressions made them immediately recognizable, an alien element in the midst or on the edges of the American mass. Their visibility contributed to the increasing national sentiment in favor of immigration restriction.

Immigration restriction was a reasonable response to a culture that was being transformed—even if the transformation was simply from an Anglo-American culture to a more broadly European-American one. In 1921, Congress passed the Johnson Act, restricting immigration and establishing the “national origins” system, which discriminated in favor of European immigrants (the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act went further, discriminating in favor of Anglo and Northern European immigrants).

But more drastic, and ultimately destructive, measures were also adopted. Rather than allow an American national identity to arise slowly and naturally, the federal government embarked, in the 1920’s and 30’s, on a program designed to create an American nationalism through the destruction of lingering European national identities. Requiring a civics test of prospects for naturalization—which seems to have fallen by the wayside in the Clinton administration’s rush to naturalize Mexicans in time for the 1996 election—dates from this time, and the test, of course, was administered in English. Government agencies and “educational professionals” released citizenship manuals which encouraged the use of English, membership in civic organizations such as Rotary, and wholesome American sports like baseball. A typical example is The Life and Work of the Citizen (1935) by Howard C. Hill, head of the Department of Social Science at the University of Chicago High School. It is festooned throughout with fasces, symbolizing the attempt to mold the diverse European national identities into a common American identity, and to create a uniform citizen-worker. More ominously, the title page features four hands—symbolizing Law, Science, Order, and Trades—arranged in a swastika.

A chief instrument of the government’s nationalist program was the public school. The federal government—with the willing cooperation of the states—pushed for the expansion of the public school system in areas such as Southern Indiana, even though the people were well served by their religious schools. Public school courses were taught in English, and civics was invariably given a high priority.

By the end of World War II, the federal government had largely succeeded in replacing the various European-American identities with a “universal” American nationalism, and new immigrants were forced to abandon their national identity and native language and sign on to the “American way of life.” Postwar American nationalism—built on democracy, capitalism, the Pledge of Allegiance, hot dogs, baseball, and Rotary—may have been sufficient to drive the Cold War, but it was insufficient to bind the nation or to act as a bulwark against alien cultures. People long for roots, for a sense of belonging. An abstract conception of democracy and capitalism can only displace, not replace, the songs and stories, faith and food, language and kinship that compose a true national culture. By alienating European-Americans from their national cultures in the interwar period, the federal government replaced an emerging American national identity with a false nationalism, and undermined our ability to withstand assault from Third World cultures. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, removing the national preference for European immigrants and opening the floodgates to Third World immigration, he signed the death warrant of postwar nationalism.

In the 1920’s and 30’s, the government attempted to consolidate its power by destroying European national identities, but since 1965 the federal government has used immigration — particularly Third World immigration—as a tool to increase its power. Once again, the public schools are a primary battleground. Here in Rockford, the building of Barbour Two-Way Language Immersion Magnet School proceeds, and the federal court has expressed its desire to see Spanish-language bilingual programs implemented in all of Rockford’s schools. But is this school educationally necessary, or is it simply an attempt at social engineering? According to the 1990 Census, the Rockford Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has a population of 283,719—of which only 9,020 (3.18 percent) are of Hispanic origin (in contrast, there are 102,616 people of German ancestry, 51,023 of Irish, and 36,586 of Swedish). Of the 9,020 Hispanics, 2,698 are enrolled in elementary or high school, and of that group, only 432 speak English “not well” or “not at all.” (Since the Rockford MSA is considerably larger than the Rockford public school district, and includes two cities—Belvidere and Machesney Park—that have significant Hispanic populations, all of the Hispanic numbers are inflated.)

But Barbour School is not really meant for Hispanics who need additional instruction in English. As the school district’s web site notes:

Spanish and English speaking students will be together in the same classroom to promote social interaction and language learning through an interactive and cross-cultural setting. . . . Barbour Magnet gives students the ability to communicate with people that they would otherwise not have the chance to know [and] helps children to understand and appreciate people from other cultures.

Under the federal court’s desegregation order, no more than 55 percent of the students in any given school in Rockford can be Hispanic or black, and as many as 75 percent can be white. But according to the web site, “Instruction at the kindergarten level will be mostly in Spanish (90% of the time). As a student progresses through the grade levels, the amount of instructional time in Spanish and English will equal 50/50.” The purpose of the two-way language immersion program, therefore, is to force the Spanish language—and more importantly, Hispanic culture—on non-Spanish speaking white children.

Hispanic activists in Rockford don’t hide their intentions. Andy Campos, a vocal advocate of the court order, argued that the Mexican national anthem should be played at the groundbreaking of Barbour School because “we once controlled this country.” He got his wish. Campos, while briefly in the running for a school board seat, also claimed that all six of his children had dropped out of school because of discrimination. In a column in the local Gannett paper, another Hispanic activist, Richard Vargas, concerned that Rockford’s desegregation suit might soon come to an end, urged fellow Hispanics: “Get busy! Apply for any and all programs you can. Get them in writing . . . get them written in stone. Do whatever is necessary to make sure they can’t be retracted once the courts turn the schools back to the school board.” He argued that he had been discriminated against in the Rockford public schools, not by being deprived of a good education, but by being placed in the top educational track. “My peer group immediately realized we were on the top of the I.Q. scale. We developed an elitist attitude, became intellectually arrogant. [We] actually felt superior and looked upon all the other students as inferior,” Vargas wrote. At a Chronicles forum on multiculturalism, Vargas had also complained that he, “as a Native American,” had been discriminated against because the public schools didn’t instruct him in his “native language.” Which Native American language might that be? Why, Spanish, of course.

But Rockford is not alone. While bilingual programs are failing all around the country, and poll after poll indicates that Hispanics don’t want their children in bilingual programs, the educational establishment and the federal government push the multicultural agenda in an effort to re-educate whites. Multiculturalists’ publications make their intentions plain. Routledge publishes a series of books on multicultural education under the title, “Transforming Teaching Series,” while the State University of New York features books such as Multicultural Education as Social Activism in its “Social Context of Education” series, and Beyond Black and White: New Faces and Voices in U.S. Schools in its “Power, Social Identity, and Education” series. The titles of recent books reflect their revolutionary intent: Infusion of African and African American Content in the School Curriculum; Education Reform and Social Change: Multicultural Voices, Struggles, and Visions; Schooling Young Children: A Feminist Pedagogy for Liberatory Learning. The card catalog description for Revolutionary Multiculturalisms: Pedagogies of Dissent for the New Millennium describes author Peter McLaren as “one of North America’s leading educational theorists,” and goes on to say that “McLaren argues that the central project ahead in the struggle for social justice is not so much the politics of diversity as the global decentering and dismantling of whiteness.” As in Rockford, multiculturalist efforts nationwide are focused on the youngest of the young: Building Bridges with Multicultural Picture Books: For Children 3-5; Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective; Diversity in the Classroom: New Approaches to the Education of the Young (part of the “Early Childhood Education Series”). The one-word title of a 1991 book by Maureen Cech sums up the multiculturalist project: Globalchild.

What can be done? To say that America stands at a crossroads, with one fork leading to Europe and one to a global Third World culture would be incorrect. America reached that crossroads in the early years of this century, and by choosing to extirpate European national identities among Americans, our rulers chose the fork leading to the Third World. If we desire to revitalize our educational system and to reaffirm America’s status as a European country, we must, like the Prodigal Son, acknowledge our error (and our bankruptcy) and return home. The standard neoconservative “solutions” advanced by Allan Bloom and Bill Bennett—”Great Books,” a national core curriculum, an emphasis on assimilating immigrants—won’t work; these were, in fact, among the tools used to subvert the older educational system and to place us on our current path. Instead, we need to recover what elements we can of the former system that served America so well.

Central among those elements is the study of Latin. Latin is the language of European civilization, an indispensable aid for understanding European culture and learning other European languages (like Spanish and English). Early instruction in Latin and Latin literature can satisfy the natural curiosity of students for something “different,” and refocus their attentions on their civilization, rather than on that of the Third World.

While English should be the language of instruction in public schools (and the government—both state and federal should leave private schools alone), it is reasonable to expect that local schools will offer languages and cultural studies that reflect the heritage of those who attend them. If Rockford ever shakes off federal control and returns to a neighborhood school system, there is no reason why schools in ethnic neighborhoods shouldn’t become centers of their particular European-American culture. With the schools leading the way, Rockford could see a revitalization of Swedish-, German-, and Italian-American culture that could help Rockfordians effectively resist both the multiculturalist agenda and the bland pseudo-culture of Hollywood, New York, and the “global economy.”

Refocusing American education on our European roots would not be enough, however, to counter the propaganda of the past two generations. We need, first of all, to return to America’s pre-1965 immigration policy, with its national origins system. Latin Americans are a special case, both because they account for the largest share of immigration and because we share a common history, as well as a border, with Mexico. Mexicans and other Latinos are faced with a choice: either they are our cultural cousins (by way of Spain) whose heritage is to be celebrated, or else they are irredentist Native Americans, determined to play the minority rights game. Hispanic political activism that takes its cue from foreign countries and attempts to undermine America’s sovereignty and national identity is the equivalent of a declaration of war.

Multiculturalism is a fable, as is any American nationalism that hies to deny or eradicate the European and regional cultures that once made America strong. If America is to have a future as a nation, and not simply as a geographical region, then we must allow Anglo-American culture to bind Northern and Southern, Western and Central and Eastern European communities in the United States in a revitalized American civilization. It is time for the Prodigal Son to grow up, and to return home.