Arizona wanted her to stop teaching English because she has an accent
Ms. Aguayo is a veteran teacher in the Creighton Elementary School District in central Phoenix as well an immigrant from northern Mexico who learned English as an adult and taught it as a second language. Confronted about her accent by her school principal several years ago, Ms. Aguayo took a college acting class, saw a speech pathologist and consulted with an accent reduction specialist, none of which transformed her speech.
As Ms. Aguayo has struggled, though, something else has changed. Arizona, after almost a decade of sending monitors to classrooms across the state to check on teachers’ articulation, recently made a sharp about-face on the issue. A federal investigation of possible civil rights violations prompted the state to call off its accent police.
“To my knowledge, we have not seen policies like this in other states,” Russlynn H. Ali, the assistant federal secretary of education for civil rights, said in an interview. She called it “good news” that Arizona had altered its policy.
Silverio Garcia Jr., who runs a barebones organization called the Civil Rights Center out of his Phoenix-area home to challenge discrimination, was the one who pressed the accent issue. In May 2010, he filed a class-action complaint with the federal Department of Education alleging that teachers had been unfairly transferred and students denied educations with those teachers. The Justice Department joined the inquiry, but federal investigators closed Mr. Garcia’s complaint in late August after the state agreed to alter its policies.
“This was one culture telling another culture that you’re not speaking correctly,” Mr. Garcia said….
But the federal review found that the state had written up teachers for pronouncing “the” as “da,” “another” as “anuder” and “lives here” as “leeves here…”
In the Creighton Elementary School District, where about a dozen teachers attracted the attention of the state monitors, an accent reduction specialist, Andy Krieger, was brought in from Canada last year. Mr. Krieger, who has taught actors, business executives and others from around the world to speak American English, said some of the teachers had what he considered heavy accents…
It was Ms. Aguayo’s principal and not the state monitors who first questioned her accent and suggested that she join Mr. Krieger’s class, Ms. Aguayo said. Because she was told that state policy forbade her to teach students who were learning English, she has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“I have the same credentials as everyone else, and I don’t think it’s fair that I’m being singled out,” Ms. Aguayo said, adding that her school has teachers with a variety of regional American accents. “I know I have an accent. It’s been hard to get rid of it. I think I’ll always have it…”
Arizona is still the Mississippi of the West. The bigots-in-charge decided the best way to maintain political control of the state is to inhibit any and all opportunities for non-Anglos to advance. Indios or Hispanics, it doesn’t matter. Even if you collaborate you are suspect. Your children are suspect. Have an accent? You are suspect.
The drill is designed to keep whole generations from feeling they have a chance to change anything. So, make certain schoolkids see that if their teachers don’t fit the Anglo mold – they will be dumped. An object lesson for how to fit into Arizona society.