The president of the Chula Vista, California, branch of Kaplan College was fired after telling students that they could be disciplined for speaking Spanish in their classes.
Here's what prompted the incident: During a break in a medical assistant course, Jonathan Cedeño and some friends were grumbling in Spanish about an Anglo student who had criticized them for not keeping up with the classwork. After class the Anglo student complained to Dennis Manzo, the school's president, that she couldn’t understand what the other students were saying about her.
The program director turned up at the next class to warn students that "campus policy forbade the use of any language other than English in class, even in side conversations." Later, Pres. Manzo told the Chronicle of Higher Education that Kaplan's English-only policy was necessary to ensure that students attain the highest level of professionalism, and that "having a side conversation in Spanish [is] unprofessional."
Speaking of professionalism, Kaplan College is actually a storefront in the basement of the Chula Vista Center Mall, tucked between the $1 Bookstore and A&M Jewelry. Kaplan courses are taught in English, and Kaplan students are expected to have a solid command of the language. But because Chula Vista, south of San Diego, is only seven miles from the Mexican border, banning Spanish on the Kaplan "campus" would be an exercise in futility. In fact, despite Manzo's claim, Kaplan doesn't ban Spanish or any other language for its on-line courses or at any of its bricks-and-mortar locations.
So when stories about Kaplan’s English-only policy broke, Manzo's bosses at Kaplan Higher Education, part of the Stanley Kaplan Test Prep empire, apologized to students and decided that it was time for Manzo and Kaplan Chula Vista to part company (the program director left as well).
A few schools have successfully implemented an English-only policy (schools like St. Anne's in Wichita, Kansas, where many students are bilingual but no foreign languages are taught). We're also seeing English-only rules in municipalities and in individual workplaces, where everything from City Council meetings to break-room conversations has to be conducted in English.
But Kaplan, which is owned by the Washington Post, isn't in the language-banning business. It even publishes some Spanish-language materials geared specifically for Kaplan students.
According to the Kaplan web site, Kaplan Spanish for Nurses will "help you communicate clearly in most types of medical situations," for example, "Nurse: 'Describe your pain: Acute? Comes and goes?' Describa su dolor: ¿Agudo? ¿Va y viene? [dehs-'kree-bah soo doh-'lohr / ah-'goo-doh / bah ee bee-'eh-neh].'" And Kaplan Spanish in a Box consists of flashcards with "250 essential verbs fully conjugated, defined, and identified" and "250 challenging Spanish vocabulary words defined."
Kaplan is a for-profit college dedicated to making money by teaching students what they want to learn. Kaplan coaches Spanish speakers in English so they can pass standardized tests. And English-speaking students, whether or not they live in the greater San Diego area, may find that Spanish is a plus for anyone who wants to be a medical assistant, or who wants to specialize in the three other "professional" degree programs that Kaplan Chula Vista offers: medical billing and coding specialist, medical practice management, and criminal justice.
Although the Latin motto on the great seal of the United States, e pluribus unum, 'one out of many,' reminds us that unity and diversity don't depend on language, English-only supporters insist that America will fall apart unless English becomes the official language of every aspect of American life, from the schoolhouse to the White House. But Kaplan College resists the official English groundswell not because the school is driven by the left-wing liberal agenda that conservatives frequently attribute to American colleges, nor out of some knee-jerk celebration of diversity, but because legislating language actually turns out to be bad for business.
Kaplan recognizes that it's not the English language that holds America together, as English-only supporters frequently insist, but the almighty dollar. Lots of American colleges have Latin mottoes that characterize the institution's ethos. Yale's is lux et veritas, 'light and truth.' The University of Chicago motto is crescat scientia, vita excolatur, 'let knowledge increase, let life be perfected.' If Kaplan College had a Latin motto, it might be pecunia loquitur, or in plain English, 'money talks.' Because in the true American spirit of enterprise, at Kaplan College the language of money trumps English-only every time.