Dole campaigns for English as official language

September 05, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

INDIANAPOLIS -- Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole called yesterday for an end to most bilingual education and denounced new proposed standards for teaching history as he sought to cast his presidential bid as a defense of the nation's cultural heritage against divisive assaults by Washington and "intellectual elites."

Attacking what he called the "embarrassed-to-be-American crowd," the leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination told the 77th national convention of the American Legion that "if we are to return this country to greatness, we must do more than restore America's defenses.

"We must return as a people to the original concept of what it means to be an American," Mr. Dole said, adding that the goal required adherence to a common language and a long-agreed-upon version of the nation's history.

The Kansas senator's proposal to end most bilingual classes, if carried out, could uproot policies in most states under which children who have limited fluency in English are taught at least part of the day in their native language.

Mr. Dole's plan, would eliminate bilingual education except for language classes designed to help immigrants and their families learn English. He would ban courses aimed at "instilling ethnic pride, or as a therapy for low self-esteem" or inspired by "elitist guilt," Mr. Dole said.

In addition to denouncing bilingual classes, Mr. Dole also argued that English should be proclaimed the nation's official language.

As for the proposed national history standards -- a set of voluntary guidelines for teaching history in primary and secondary schools -- Mr. Dole complained that they suggest "concentrating on some of our worst moments," such as McCarthyism and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, without even describing George Washington as the nation's first president. The guidelines have been widely criticized since being released late last year by the UCLA National Center for History. They are being revised, and a new set is expected to be issued later this month.

The conventioneers many of them, like Mr. Dole, decorated veterans who were wounded in World War II, responded to Mr. Dole's views with loud applause.

Mr. Dole's speech yesterday, together with another talk scheduled for today in Chicago in which aides have said he will espouse pro-growth economic policies, represent a double-barreled effort by the senator to provide his candidacy with the ideological definition and emotional inspiration which critics contend it has so far lacked.

The speeches to the legion and to the Economic Club of Chicago today come at what could be a critical moment in which the Republican Senate leader's third drive for the presidency badly needs a lift.

Though Mr. Dole still holds a commanding lead in the polls over his Republican rivals, his candidacy has recently seemed to be sputtering, a dangerous perception for a front-runner.

He could do no better than a tie against Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas in a recent straw poll of Republicans attending an Iowa party convention. His campaign was further embarrassed when Mr. Dole's managers decided to return and publicly disavow a campaign contribution from a gay Republican group which they had previously solicited.

His statements yesterday were designed to quell mounting complaints that he lacks a compelling message, and they also seemed directed at conservatives who dominate the Republican presidential nominating process.

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