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Open Access Publications from the University of California

How Political Language Matters: Proposition 227 in the Political Spectacle

  • Author(s): Naylor, Nori Jo
  • Advisor(s): Ream, Robert K.
  • et al.

A direct democracy initiative that placed restrictions on bilingual education was codified into the California Education Code by the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998. This initiative attempted to address the problem of educating the current 1.4 million English learners enrolled in public schools who continue to lag behind native-English-speaking students academically (California Department of Education, 2013; Umansky & Reardon, 2014). This study focused on policy entrepreneurs in relation to Proposition 227 – both proponents and opponents of the Proposition – and the political strategies they employed to garner support for their preferred policies via the mass media. Research shows the attention newspapers give to education, including language education policy, can influence the education of immigrant students and ELs (Wright, 2005).

The methodological approach employed to study the political language used by policy entrepreneurs, interpretive policy analysis, and the guiding conceptual framework, political spectacle, aligned well to help uncover and understand the generation of meaning(s) by policy entrepreneurs and media around Proposition 227. Political spectacle is constructed via the language and images the media use when presenting political views and often serves to distort public policies and maintain the status quo (Edelman, 1988). An in-depth media study was conducted that included data from California newspapers covering three regions across the state and videos downloaded from a popular social media site. Findings revealed spectacle around Proposition 227 including the use of symbolic language to depict bilingual education as a failure, the casting of immigrant students as objects, and the enactment of dramatic actions that benefited the policy entrepreneurs rather than the immigrant students. The study also revealed Proposition 227 to exemplify the joining of three streams – problem, policy, and political – which opened a window through which the authors of Proposition 227 were able to push their policy (Kingdon, 1995). The study suggests that attending to the political language used by policy entrepreneurs can shed light on the political strategies that work to convey influential policy messages via the media. This insight should aid in the development of more effective and equitable language education policies in the future.

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