Friday, April 13, 2007

English for Dummies

The Herald recently ran a particularly absurd editorial on bilingual education. It might be the worst editorial yet under the current opinion editor, and that's saying a lot.

The editorial opens by attacking former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for stating a position that most Americans agree with, opposition to bilingual education and foreign language ballots.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently equated bilingual education with "the language of living in a ghetto" and mocked requirements that ballots be printed in multiple languages.

He believes that "we should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."

With millions of Spanish-speaking individuals living in America and migrating here daily, and with the recent controversy over this migration, it is certainly not illogical to deduce that he is referring to Spanish.
Note how illegal immigration, which is a crime, is characterized as "migration". Foreign language ballots should be unnecessary, since all legal immigrants are required to be proficient in English. In addition to increasing costs, they also greatly increase the possibility of errors, since few people can read them.

Bilingual education is actually conducted in dozens of languages. Spanish is certainly one of them, but far from the only one.

Gingrich, along with his xenophobic counterparts, seems to believe that Spanish is somehow inferior to English, much like how Hitler believed that the Jews were inferior to the Aryans. However, there is certainly no evidence to suggest this nor would there ever be a way to prove the supposed "superiority" of a language.
What would a nutty editorial be without an illogical Nazi analogy. There is no "evidence to suggest" that Newt believes any such thing. Nobody has said that English is "superior", much less that it is "pure".

Certainly English itself is not a "pure" language. Originally, English was a diverse group of dialects representing varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of what is now known as England. It was influenced in the eighth and ninth centuries by a wave of Scandinavian settlers and again by the Normans, who spoke a variation of French, in the 11th century, finally becoming what we know as "modern" English with the great vowel shift of the 15th century. English, as we know it today, is a hodgepodge of words and roots from other languages.

To restrict the teaching of one language based on English's own purity or superiority is an act that rings of hypocrisy as well as both historical and modern ignorance.
Once again, the editorial attacks a point that no one made. Including a random accusation of hypocrisy is a nice touch.

For Gingrich to claim that Spanish is "the language of the ghetto," shows his supreme ignorance of reality. As of 1999, Spanish had more native speakers than English by almost 10 million people.
The only way that this could possibly be true is considering the entire world. But Newt isn't addressing policy for the entire world, he's addressing policy for America. In America, most people speak English. People who can't speak English in America are unable to interact with most Americans. In this case, they are essentially consigned to a "ghetto" of those with whom they can communicate.

The problem isn't that people can speak Spanish, it's that they can't speak English. If you want to succeed in Mexico, you need to speak Spanish; if you want to succeed in America, you need to speak English.
While it is true that many Spanish-speaking immigrants are clamoring to come into America, educating them in their own language certainly is no crime. It certainly seems unfair to require a newly arrived individual to learn the language in a single day and then be thrust into a classroom in which the only language spoken seems utterly alien. Even for Americans striving to learn Spanish or other languages, the classes are initially taught in English, to make learning easier for us.
Once again, legal immigrants are required to be proficient in English.

Teaching a student in his or her native language while they attempt to learn English only serves to make the education system stronger. It provides for the needs of students who would otherwise fall behind and would, as Gingrich believes, be destined to live in the ghetto. However, unlike Gingrich seems to believe, this inequality stems not from true inequality, but from unequal opportunities.
The editorial provides no evidence to support bilingual education, and no such evidence exists. Since California banned bilingual education in 1996, education has improved. A majority of Hispanic parents favored this proposal. The best way to learn a language is by immersion.

As Thomas Sowell documents in Inside American Education, minorities have often been put in bilingual education programs that were not even in their native languages. This includes black Americans whose native language is English.

The Herald editorial page has no use for evidence, reason, and truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny Allan. You and the Herald editor should get along...if not ideologically at least stylistically. You two do just about the same things. You can't answer your critics, which means you can't or aren't prepared to defend your comments and accusations. Basically the same thing as the Herald. You two should hang out more. Might get you out of the house.