(@LA.COM)
July 12, 1998
English, Mostly
As often happens, a couple of news items caught my eye over the past week, which has led to my ramblings here.

I feel the need to warn those easily offended that we may be delving in to some rather politically incorrect areas, especially concerning language and the like.

News item number one:  L.A. school superintendent Ruben Zacarias is outraged over new test scores showing area students ranked in the bottom third nationally on a standardized test.  Zacarias blames the fact that the test doesnít take in to account the vast numbers of L.A. students who donít speak fluent English.

News item number two:  Hundreds of L.A. area teachers sign a "civil disobedience" pledge, saying they will continue to provide bilingual education to kids, in defiance of the stateís new Prop. 227, which does away with most of the bilingual education programs in the state.

Where to begin?

These news stories made me confront my own views about language, and, on another level, race here in the City of Angeles, as we approach the turn of the century.

Picture this scene.  An American is in France, hungry for both food and knowledge.  He/she demands food, and an education.  He/she doesnít speak a word of French.  Am I wrong to think the French would laugh, point, and generally ignore the American?

But change the roles to a Spanish speaker here in America, and a lawsuit would be filed.  Does anybody have a problem with that (as Bill Maher might say)?

See, I think America is the true land of opportunity.  I know there is nothing you canít do in this country if you put your mind to it.

I think along with that, though, there are a few rules.

Obey the laws of the land is more than a rule, itís, well, a law.  Work hard.  Try to contribute to society.  (These are guidelines, not really rules.)  And hey, could you learn a little bit of the language?  I mean, seeing as how youíd like the U.S. to help you and all, what with the free primary education, and other benefits accorded American citizens.

Really, isnít English the language of America?  Then why do so many people get up in arms when we, as a society, ask them to help out and learn it?

The bilingual education teachers, I can understand.  They worked hard to get bilingual certification, and they get paid at a higher rate than monolingual teachers.  (Far be it from this column to cynically suggest that these teachers favor bilingual education programs because they get paid more for teaching in them.  You can draw that conclusion for yourself.)

But when you look at the first news story above, you might think itís time to start "rewarding" teachers who can increase their students proficiency in English!  I just donít see how teaching kids in a non-English language helps.

There are several things I feel I need to point out.  Iím not a reactionary.  Iím quite liberal, almost to the point of embarrassment.  I am not at all against immigration.  The vast majority of us are immigrants.  Some of us are lucky enough to speak the language.  Shouldnít all of us aspire to?

If you want to be a part of Americaís future, help out.  Speak some English.  Really, it wonít kill you, and youíll discover something in common with a whole country out there.

Shouldnít we be finding things in common, things which bring us together?  The old "melting pot" theory has fallen into disfavor in these politically correct times.  But thereís no sense making soup without spices.  (Ooh, analogy change!)  Bring your unique cultural flavor to the soup that is America.  But donít forget each ingredient has a primary responsibility:  making the soup taste as good as possible.  (Um, call the Analogy Police, this oneís gotten out of hand.)

Iím not in favor of "English Only."  I donít want to erase anyoneís cultural heritage.  Iím all in favor of uniqueness and respect for different cultures.  But hey, would learning English really be that terrible a price to pay for all the benefits it brings?  I mean, that whole being able to communicate with every other American, and, in the future, with most of the world via the Internet (where English is the de facto standard) ... is that really so bad?

Hey, Iím jealous of people who speak more than one language.  Theyíve mastered something I donít think I could, at this point in my life.  I donít think itís wrong to ask that American citizens know basic English in addition to whatever cool language they can bring to the party.

Bilingual Education teachers -- sorry, we took a vote, and you lost.  You may not agree with it, but thatís too bad.  What kind of example are you setting for your students when you set yourselves up as "above the law?"

As I said before, some of these ideas may cause discomfort in those unwilling to reconsider their own deeply held beliefs.  Iíd love to hear from you.  Dialog, discussion, conversation -- great.  Donít send flame mail.  But if you have a deeply felt view on this, let me know what you think.  In English, please.  Unfortunately, thatís the only language I speak.
 


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Colin Campbell - jenolen@earthlink.net
Last updated July 12, 1998