Friday, December 09, 2005

On the English-Only Movement

Janus Online links to this story of a bilingual Kansas City kid who was suspended for speaking Spanish in the hallway at his school. English-only was not a policy of the school, and it appears he only offended his bigoted Principal, Jennifer Watts. So the school district rescinded the suspension after the boy's father, who immigrated legally and became a U.S. citizen, demanded to be shown the written policy.

Isn't taking a second language still a requirement of graduation? I wonder if the Principal would suspend students for practicing their French in the hallways. Of course not, because the French aren't dirty immigrant wetbacks who take all our shit jobs, smell up the neighborhoods with their weird foreign cooking, and talk about you right in front of your face in their incomprehensible monkey chatter. And you know that's what the bigots think...people only speak foreign languages so the can say rude things about you.

My son's elementary school offers free Spanish classes in the morning, and I'm going to sign him up for next year. Knowing a second language is a valuable skill that I wish more of us would retain. I took Spanish and German (and a little Italian) in school, and I remember almost nothing. (Actually, I probably know more than I realize).

Even if English were the official language of the U.S., there would still be a market for speaking other languages. Guests do come do our country, as well as new legal immigrants. The Germans almost universally speak English well because they learn it early in school, and practice it on any English-speaker they come across. When I went to Germany in high school, I would try to practice the language. But as soon as they knew I was American, they would start speaking English. My sister-in-law, who went more recently, had the same experience.

And there's just no way we're going to be able to close the border. Even if we were to have a "Guest Worker" program and seriously reduce the amount of illegal immigration, there will still be people who speak English poorly. Why do we fear change and a need to punish people for being different?

That is the root of conservatism: a fear of change and a need to punish people for being different, disturbing comfort levels, not being the way people were when the conservative was growing up.

I, myself, used to think that there was nothing inherently wrong with having English-only on things like voting ballots. But then I started paying closer attention to what I was voting on, and I discovered that I -- with my comparatively exceptional facility with the English language and high literacy -- have great difficulty understanding those freaking measures. New citizens to the U.S. aren't required to be as fluent as I am. Hell, native-born citizens aren't required to be as fluent as I am. In fact, there's not even a requirement of literacy at all to be eligible to vote.

But don't we want informed citizens voting? Don't we want a government that responds to the needs of its citizenry? If a region has a population that is more fluent in another language, what's wrong with responding to the needs of the population? Shouldn't we understand the reality of education, literacy, and fluency in this country and make our voting as clear as possible?

A nation that truly values a democratic republic would understand that and act accordingly. But we are rapidly returning to a plutocracy and aristocracy in which only a narrow privileged class are welcome or able to participate in government. English-only is a part of that exclusionary, xenophobic vision of America.

Progressive Women's Blog Ring
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