March 25, 2009

"English Lessons"

From my article "English Lessons" in the March 23, 2009 issue of The American Conservative:
I was visiting a typical Southern California public high school, one in which the student body is close to three-fourths Latino, when it dawned on me that virtually all the kids’ hallway conversations with friends were conducted in English. Indeed, most of the students spoke English without an accent. Well, to be pedantic, they had teen accents -- it’s practically impossible for a high school girl to roll her eyes and exclaim “That is so gay” without sounding a little like Moon Unit Zappa in Valley Girl -- but only a minority of the Hispanic students had Spanish accents.

Nor, I recalled, had I heard teachers lecturing in anything but English. I found out later that a couple of percent of all the classes were conducted in Spanish for the children of parents who requested it, but few parents did.

I realized then that I had barely heard any public discussion in half a decade about the once contentious topic of bilingual education. Yet, it had been promoted adamantly by America’s educational and political establishment from 1968, when Congress passed the first of five Bilingual Education Acts, through the 1990s.

I went home and read up on bilingual education. I quickly discovered the topic of educating “Limited English Proficient” (LEP) students is buried under a bureaucratic jargon that appears to consist of literal translations from some distant language unknown to Earthlings. For example, when an LEP child masters English, he becomes a Reclassified-Fluent English Proficient (R-FEP). His R-FEP status is tabulated at the federal Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited-English-Proficient Students (OELALEAALEPS).

Eventually, I discovered that bilingual education is by no means dead. Yet, it has clearly lost the momentum, the sense of inevitability, it long enjoyed.

That means that America may have dodged a bullet, a long-term threat to our national unity, because nothing divides a country more than multiple languages. In contrast, a shared language enables shared sentiments.

In the three decades when America’s great and good actively promoted Spanish in the public schools, giving official blessing to a second language, it seemed plausible that our country was inflicting upon itself something that could turn into another Quebec a generation or two down the road. Or worse, a Kosovo, which was plunged into war in the 1990s by decades of unassimilated illegal immigration from Albania into a Serbian part of the republic formerly known as Yugoslavia.

And, it struck me, the man who did more to head off the dangers posed by bilingual education is a friend of mine. In fact, he’s my boss: The American Conservative’s publisher Ron Unz.
Okay, I’m biased. But a decade after the 61-39 landslide victory of Ron’s initiative, Proposition 227, put bilingual education on the ropes in California, America’s forerunner state, it’s time to review how the seemingly predestined triumph of bilingualism was knocked off track.

The history of educational plans in America is notoriously littered with broken dreams. Unintended consequences predominate because the reigning dogma of the education industry—the intellectual equality of all students—is wrong. This obdurate refusal on the part of everybody who is anybody in the education business to admit publicly the manifold implications of some kids being smarter than others makes it difficult to get anything done in the real world.

Thus, for example, George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy got together in 2001 to pass the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandates that by the 2013-2014 school year, every student in America’s public schools score on reading and math tests at the “proficient” level (roughly, a B+). This, I can assure you, won’t happen.

Yet, the terrible irony about the decades wasted pushing bilingual education is that the conventional wisdom that no child need be left behind is much truer for young children learning English than for anything else in American education. That’s why the otherwise often zany NCLB has helped consolidate the progress initiated by Unz’s pro-English initiatives.

The most popular public rationale for bilingual education -- that the children of immigrants need to be taught in their native language so that they don’t fall behind academically while they spend many years learning English -- sounds plausible as long as you forget how remarkably good small children are at learning a new language.

Read the rest here.

34 comments:

Ivy said...

I've brought up the issue of a country having multiple languages. I have, of course, taken the exact same position as Steve: that language is the main impetus to engender unity; that multiple languages easily create multiple, disparate peoples. This just seemed commonsense to me.

I'll mention that the larger context was me supporting the notion that the entire world should quickly convert to having English as every country's primary language. This contention was far too novel; thus I changed gears and buttressed the above.

It's just ostensibly clear that language is the basic means of communication and communication fosters cohesion. A difference in language largely prevents various groups engaging with each other.

But commonsense is far too much to expect from the SWPL crowd, right?

Acilius said...

"OELALEAALEPS" Sounds like it should be two Hawaiian words (o'e lale'a) followed by a Greek one (aleps'.)

Henry Canaday said...

In other words, the ability of young children to learn to speak and understand new languages is the one area in which the Lefty assertion of the malleability of human nature is at least somewhat realistic. Therefore Lefties attempted to suppress the advantages of this fact, while inflicting the malleability assumption on other educational programs where it does not apply at all.

Sometimes I think that modern Lefty-ism is a kind of intellectual suicide bomber, attempting to blow itself up and take the rest of us with it, in an eternal tantrum against whatever policies the majority has put in place. A "Culture of Critique?"

ben tillman said...

I quickly discovered the topic of educating “Limited English Proficient” (LEP) students is buried under a bureaucratic jargon that appears to consist of literal translations from some distant language unknown to Earthlings.

In fact, the term “Limited English Proficient” itself is grossly ungrammatical; i.e., it's not English. "Limited" is not an adverb, nor is "English". These adjectives cannot modify an adverb.

To express the concept in English, the educrats need to try something like "limitedly English-proficient", which is still awfully awkward but at least signals that the speaker may speak English well enough to be involved in the process of teaching the language to others.

Peter said...

Oh, the law of unintended consequences. The fact that Mexican immigrants are rapidly learning English is just going to make effective resistance to immigration even more difficult. If your principal reason for being opposed to immigration is that you don't want foreigners speaking funny than this development should make you happy. If you're concerned about the long term effects on America of importing millions of lower IQ people from a more violent, less creative, less civic minded society, than this development might be a double edged sword. The reason people fail to notice the harm Italians and Irish have caused in the Northeast is because the immigrants all learned English and blended in, while subtly warping the culture in a new direction. If I were African-American I would be very worried - a lot of proponents of Mexican immigration really want to drown the blacks in a sea of Mexicans. Looks like we're getting close to that dream.

Anonymous said...

It shouldn't be a surprise. Mexican kids in America want to a part of American popular culture, which seems slick and cool compared to the Mexican popular culture of their parents, which seems cheap and lame in comparison. Unfortunately, American popular youth culture, while conducted in English, is toxic in all its own special ways. Though I'm still trying to puzzle out the deep-seated appeal of English singer Morrissey to a certain segment of Mexican American youth. It's pretty much the only cultural crossover between Anglo and Latino youth that's actually interesting. Any theories, Steve?

Ronduck said...

His R-FEP status is tabulated at the federal Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited-English-Proficient Students (OELALEAALEPS).

Steve, for a minute I thought you were making that name up, but no it really does exist. link

Incidentally, the Department of Education also has a page here showing how it is part of the our country's economic "recovery".

That means that America may have dodged a bullet, a long-term threat to our national unity, because nothing divides a country more than multiple languages.

Race can also divide a nation, otherwise Obama would not have been elected.

In contrast, a shared language enables shared sentiments.

See Detroit for an example of how a shared language worked out for them.

AllanF said...

And in typical irony the schools had absolutely nothing to do with english maintaining its universal dominance.

One word: TV

Dutch Boy said...

A shared language is no guarantee of national unity (ask the Serbs/Croatians/Islamo-Bosnians if their shared language has made them buddy up!).

Anonymous said...

Here is a mind bending factoid: Eventually the US will be the largest "Hispanic" Country in the world. Someday there will be more Hispanics in the US than Mexico. The funny thing is that by that time 95% of them will speak English.

Think of what that will mean for the rest of Latin America?

goldilocks said...

I'd always gotten the impression that the main thing driving the nail in the coffin of bilingual ed was the lack of sufficient Spanish-speaking teachers.

Either you'd have to "de-professionalize" classroom teaching (anathema to a lot of important interest groups!) or you'd have to quietly scrap the idea that kids have an inherent right to be instructed in their mother tongues.

Probably a good thing in the long run, as you say, but I don't quite buy that objective common sense had as much to do with it as one would hope. LOL.

Mark said...

With all my concerns over immigration, multilingualism is low on the list. I mean no disrespect to Unz when I say that the man most responsible for heading off that threat is not him, but Adam Smith. Hispanics in the US were never going to stick with Spanish because they are a dependent population, who come here mostly to work for us. We decide the King's English, and that language is English (if you know what I mean).

When you watch certain movies, like "1492" (the Columbus one with Gereard Depardieu) or "The New World," you're told that European settlers never bothered to learn the native's languages because of laziness or hatred. Nah. They didn't bother because they were certain in their superiority. It didn't take more than 5 seconds for them to figure that out, and their occasional need for help from the natives didn't change that.

Just like college students have to grovel at the feat of their professors speaking the language of PC, in the US it is Hispanics who have to grovel, and we tell them the language to grovel in.

When you get a population that bothers to hang on to it's old language what that tells you is that they think they are superior to us, not inferior. I bet there are a far higher percentage of 3rd generation Chinese who speak Mandarin than 3rd generation Mexicans who speak Spanish.

TO the extent that multilingualism is a problem, it mostly is a problem caused by current, not past, immigration levels.

John Seiler said...

In the mid-1980s, I attended a political conference at a major hotel in Washington, D.C. At one point, I wandered away from the proceedings into another are of the hotel, where the bilingual educators were holding a big conference of their own. You could tell they had a lot of money -- our tax money. Bilingual ed teachers get a hefty bonus for their work. As with other government schooling schemes, bilingual ed is all about the money, not the kids.

Agron said...

Mr Sailer, you are wrong to say that tensions that rose in Kosovo were the result of "illegal" immigraton from Albania. There was some of that, but by far the most important reason that Kosovo became nearly %90 ethnic Albanian was because of the much higher Albanian birthrate. For much of the 20th century, this was about 5 or 6 children. The idea that hordes of albanians descended from the Albanian Alps is discredited Serb propaganda.
The Albanians have their own unique language and culture which were not addressed or respected, and have been the majority in Kosovo for at least a century and a half (though certainly not as dominant as the present day). This is why the Serb army in 1912 was dismayed to find so many albanians living in "Old Serbia".
The point is, maybe in some situations having 2 or 3 official languages is preferable in order to avoid tension and violence. If this respect had existed in Kosovo, I doubt that it would be independent today.

kurt9 said...

Of course few hispanic parents are going to be interested in "bi-lingual" education. Parents have a vested interest in ensuring the best future for their kids, and this includes learning the language of trade. You will be amazed at how quickly people learn the language of trade once the bureaucracy is stripped out of education.

Paymaster Gets Paid said...

Steve Sailer knows full well that Ron Unz worked to end bilingual education in America because Unz understood that it was putting too much pressure on the white majority and it risked causing a overt backlash against the Mexican invasion.

Steve knows that Unz's motivations were hypercynical and not patriotic in the least. Unz reformulated the strategy for the Mexican invasion to increase its chances of success. Unz had zero interest in deterring the invasion itself.

Unz has stated as much on the record. I believe Steve has quoted Unz on this topic more than once in the past.

michael farris said...

AFAIK the idea of 'illegal immigration' didn't exist when Serbs were abandoning Kosovo for relatively more prosperous Northern Serbia and ethnic Albanians took their place. And in Yugoslavia (lit: South Slavia) the non-Slavic Albanians were explicitly treated as third class unwanted intruders. For all the Serb propoganda to the contrary (and despite the fact that Albanians are tied with Gypsies as least-desired-neighbors in Europe in the final analysis Serbs didn't want to live in Kosovo and Albanians did and do and so Kosovo is theirs now.

"the larger context was me supporting the notion that the entire world should quickly convert to having English as every country's primary language"

What on earth makes you think that's a good idea?
You want to make immigration from everywhere all the easier?
Because you can't imagine any other languages having any inherent worth?
Because you take a monetary-concerns-trump-all-others approach to language policy?
I would think that the US is currently lab exhibit #1 for the idea that monetary concerns should not trump all others.

pfcjiangshi said...

a common language is useful but its importance shouldn't be exaggerated. china's multiplicity of spoken chinese languages/dialects hasn't destroyed it yet, and only 86% speak any variant of chinese. by contrast, 82% of americans speak english as a first language and 95% of americans speak english "well" or "very well" (as of 2000).

so there's no need to get all misty-eyed just b/c a few more kids are now speaking english.

as they are, current ESL requirements are sometimes ridiculous.

http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/articles/2009/03/05/news/local/754d93a7a005ccb3862575700009cc99.txt

i'm not saying i would have picked this particular fight, but it's pretty stupid to suspend a top 10 student who has A's in english comp for not taking an english assessment test made for new speakers.

jody said...

this is exactly how i said it was, steve. i've dated a couple third generation mexican-american women. you haven't, and neither has anybody that posts on this blog, because the comments here are always wildly out of touch.

it doesn't make any sense to keep calling these people "latinos" when they're clearly just english speaking mestizos and american indians.

there's nothing "latino" or "hispanic" about the fully integrated grandchildren of mexican border jumpers. they are monolingual speakers of a germanic language, they watch football, they listen to rap. integration has destroyed anything that was "latino" about them.

Wanderer said...

The old notion, occasionally floated around on Isteve.com and this blog, is that of marriage-pool-as-social-motivator. Basically that a primary concern of any person will be the nature of the marriage-pool/breeding-pool for their children, that is to say the genetic composition of their direct descendants. [Grandchildren only share 1/4 of any individual's genes; so the genetic "quality" of your spouse and of the parents of your child's spouse are much more important towards the "quality" of the grandchild than your own genes, by a 3-1 ratio]. No one wants their children and grandchildren to breed down and have their descendants lose out. This concept is a decent explanation for class / caste / (sub)culture(s) / arranged-marriage-cultures / and similar social dynamics throughout history and the present.

As Peter, kurt9, and an anon hinted at (timestamps should be enabled in the comment section for easier reference), post-1965ers learning fluent English serves to attach themselves to the rest of society, thereby greatly increasing the potential pool of mates for them or their children. This is a great boon for most of them -- since the bulk of, e.g, Hispanic immigrants are from the lower ends of society in their home-countries, such that even getting close to par in the USA breeding-pool is a major step up.

This explains the relative unpopularity of bilingual education among Hispanics and the observed fact (from Steve's article) of young Hispanic fluency.

The unanswered question is why right-wing whites would be so opposed to "bilingualism". If every post-1965er were to perfectly assimilate tomorrow, the prospective marriage pool for whiteAmerican children born this year would consist one-third or so of post-1965ers. --> In the simplest terms, the future men of the USA would look and think nothing like the men on our money all the quicker.

stari_momak said...

As Cheech Marin once sang

Mexican-Americans
Go to Summer School
And take Spanish
And get a 'B'

Others have pointed out the lack of perfect correlation between political and linguistic divisions, I'll add the example of Yiddish -- i.e. German written in Hebrew. No enmity there!

There will be no real separatism in the Southwest, however, simply because Mexicans or their English speaking progeny will both dominate politically and be able to skim off tax money from Anglos.

On the other hand, I would bet we are really seeing a shrinking English language frontier in South Texas and South Florida.

ben tillman said...

Grandchildren only share 1/4 of any individual's genes.

It's time this nonsense was put to a stop. They have inherited 1/4 of each grandparent's genes, including, on average, 1/4 of any of the grandparent's genes at loci at which there is variation within the relevant population. And that's all you can say about the degree of relatedness.

Nonetheless, grandchildren share more than 99% of each grandparent's genes.

Wanderer said...

Ben Tillman, I've read your comment 5 times and cannot for the life of me understand it. Could you please rephrase it [i.e. dumb it down] for the confused people among us (like me)?

Nevertheless I think the original point stands, despite my [apparently] faulty phrasing of it.

Reg Cæsar said...

The point is, maybe in some situations having 2 or 3 official languages is preferable... --Agron

The preferable number of official languages is zero. Official English has done no good for Canada or South Africa. Lack of official English has done no harm to Great Britain, the United States, Australia or New Zealand.

Monoglot countries (Japan, Denmark, Brazil,Italy, Somalia) need an "official" language like Vermont needs handgun licensing. Similarly, in polyglot lands officializing does about as much good as, well, handgun licensing... in the District of Columbia and Chicago.

pfcjiangshi said...

Ben Tillman, I've read your comment 5 times and cannot for the life of me understand it. Could you please rephrase it [i.e. dumb it down] for the confused people among us (like me)?

the key wording here is "inherit" vs "share". every human being shares 99% of their genes w/ other humans. we share somewhere around 96% of genes w/ chimps. so where the original quote said, "Grandchildren only share 1/4 of any individual's genes," that was incorrect.

if you had said: "Grandchildren only inherit 1/4 of any grandparent's genes" it would have been correct.

btw, i noticed the pic your link leads to and i've corrected it for you: not the aged white male's country anymore.

and my response is this.

Dutch Boy said...

Peter said:
"The reason people fail to notice the harm Italians and Irish have caused in the Northeast is because the immigrants all learned English and blended in, while subtly warping the culture in a new direction."
I hate to break it to you Peter but the Irish already spoke English (now they just speak it with the abominable Northeastern accents in which one 'paaks ones caa.'

ben tillman said...

Here you go, Wanderer:

Grandparents and grandchildren share FAR more than 25% of their genes (since all humans share more than 99% of their genes), but there is no way to determine the exact degree of sharing without examining the genome of each.

Sorry to take it out on you, but I see it in the MSM all the time, and it's simply not accurate.

However, I certainly agree with your statement that people have a substantial interest in "the genetic composition of their direct descendants". And most of your other points make sense as well.

Craig Craig said...

There will be no real separatism in the Southwest, however, simply because Mexicans or their English speaking progeny will both dominate politically and be able to skim off tax money from Anglos.

You need to get a clue and go read some economic blogs. The K Denninger website has a strong track record and he is now saying USA is headed for bankruptcy. There will be no more "skim" from a fat and sassy American taxpayer. The new American taxpayer is going to be broke, angry, hungry, rail thin and in no mood for any "skim".

The End Game Approaches

Expect the unexpected. The status quo and our familiar, normal, everyday society is about to get flushed. Weird and unusual phenomena like Japan's elderly crime wave is coming to the USA.

David said...

Ok, Jody - we'll call them mestizos then. Tomato, toMAHto.

Btw, when they're listening to rap, what do they call themselves? "Esse"? Do they consider themselves black? White? I thought so.

Anonymous said...

"Btw, when they're listening to rap, what do they call themselves?"

Answer: culturally impoverished.

阿牛 said...

I don't know why anyone's surprised -- this was always the objective of bi-lingual education, to get everyone proficient in English. At least in Texas. I can't say much about CA. But I've always found the position against bi-lingual education to be a strawman argument.

Banned Tuesday-Thursday said...

"Though I'm still trying to puzzle out the deep-seated appeal of English singer Morrissey to a certain segment of Mexican American youth. It's pretty much the only cultural crossover between Anglo and Latino youth that's actually interesting."

There's another interesting place where the Europeans and the Indians mix culturally and socially in SoCal, and it's the rockabilly scene. Go to the Blessing of the Cars for instance, and you'll see a bunch of strong, thick-forearmed, tattooed men of both races, enjoying the festivities, no rancor, no discord. And they really do seem very similar in mien.

The variations among the Latinos - how I hate that meaningless term - should be noted. Their youth aren't uniform, and for every guy from Calle Diez y Ocho tagging your garage, there's another whose oldest brother is into the Voodoo Glow Skulls or System of a Down. The cholos slugging it out with the blacks up near Highland Park - who are the ones Steve's readers often picture when they speak of Mexicans, I imagine - are far less of a genetic "threat" at the moment than those racial brethren of theirs who dig Morrissey and go to Sweet and Tender Hooligans shows. That's the type your deracinated white kids will blend with this generation.

Incidentally, the thuggish ones really can't stand SWPL whites. I remember one Mexican chick of the hood variety telling me how much she and all her friends loved the Jack Ass guys and their crazy white boy antics ("They ain't fake,"), but thought that PC posterchild Ashton Kutcher was a worthless punk.

Anonymous said...

About half of Ireland was Irish Gaelic speaking in the 1840s, though the language had been in delcline for a long time. After a series of famines, by the 1860s, that percentage was drastically diminished, especially for those regions where Irish was the only only language.
Educated Irish and those near Dublin were English speaking, but many of the immigrants from the west of Ireland, who came to America before 1870, spoke little or no English and there was a Gaelic speaking culture in the U.S. There was a town in the west, I believe in North Dakota, settled by Irish railroad workers that was Irish speaking.
http://books.google.com/books?id=6nljz5N8JlUC&pg=PA297&lpg=PA297&dq=gaelic+ireland+famine+percentage+speaking+gaelic+in+1845&source=bl&ots=ZroynM7OjN&sig=aSID5uhrH1LL8TDXT4x5_36qlJ4&hl=en&ei=qZrNSdiPOpmJmQe_yY2fCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result#PPA299,M1

Anonymous said...

When predicting tendencies towards racial intermarriage, or even highschool age mating activities, you have to consider IQ. I shouldn't have to point it out in this milieu, but remember, when there is choice in the matter, couples are almost always within 5 points of each other in IQ, as are best friends. Obviously if the IQ is exceptionally high, that person may have to compromise. While I'd been sure that there was some correlation, I was surprised to find it is that close.
So while there will be intermarriage between "hispanics" (whatever race they may be) and whites, it will not involve more than a limited minority, just as there will never be a large of number of blacks and whites marrying each other (or doing whatever they do these days to express some sort of commitment.) It just is not going to happen. The fact that almost 40% of all Asian Indians are married to, or dated whites or east Asians (tho this may be going out of fashion now), tells me all I need to know about their intelligence level. It means there is parity or superiority in that area, on the part of Indians--at least those who came to America--with the white population. And as we all know, this means AVERAGES. We are all aware of exceptions.