People can function perfectly in parts of NoVa and never speak a word of English or have any contact with the larger culture. I don’t think that’s a problem. – NoVAH

New topic is introduced, raising these questions, and more.

Does the USA need an official language?

 

Does it need a national language, even if it is not proclaimed “official”?

 

Is the traditional melting pot where the school kid grew up to rapidly identify herself as “American” first even though her parents came from some other country a part of our culture worth reinforcing?  By whom?

Thanx to NoVAH for the inspiration.  I will comment with my own tentative answers.

36 Responses

  1. My views:

    We don’t need an official language. France and Austria have them and their legislatures actually have to spend time deciding whether to let in “new” words.

    We do need English as the unofficial national language, the language of aspiration. It may be the only truly unifying thread in American culture that enables all of us to talk to each other.

    Melting pot rather than Balkanization is worth reinforcing. It should not be the federal role, but a local one, the burden shared by various community efforts, including the demands of the public school system. I do not suggest the federal government has no role: I think citizenship cannot be obtained without English literacy. Is that correct?

    Like

    • I think Mark’s argument implies an obligation that I don’t think it there. this gets beyond primary education, but if I go to law school/medical school and I obligated to practice? i took a slot that somebody else could have used to greater societal benefit.

      “undermined public respect for one of the nation’s most vital institutions, the neighborhood school, and for one of society’s most crucial professions: teaching”

      this dovetails into Brook’s most recent column. we’re not good followers anymore.
      apparently, we don’t respect our betters

      update:

      “It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.”

      I don’t know what to make of this. part of me says “guilty as charged.” other part says isn’t so charitable.

      Like

    • Mark:

      I think citizenship cannot be obtained without English literacy. Is that correct?

      I don’t know if anyone has answered this yet, but I asked a colleague of mine who became a US citizen about 2 years ago. He said that English literacy was not a requirement. In fact, he said that at his induction ceremony (is that what it is called?) there were translators.

      Like

  2. “Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.”

    The rebuttal to Brooks on why no one respects institutions and leaders anymore is Jerry Sandusky, and the associated actions taken or not taken by Penn State and it’s leadership with regards to him.

    The behavior demonstrated by the organization in response to him over a period of time is endemic.

    Like

  3. See also church, Catholic.

    Like

  4. “Does it need a national language, even if it is not proclaimed “official”?”

    The only observation I would make on this is that all official government proceedings should be conducted in English. This has actually been a problem.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/alejandrina-cabrera-san-luis-arizona-city-council_n_1277402.html

    Like

  5. English will always be the defacto national language. You need to know it to go beyond a certain level of success. I always joke that the shift leader on the construction site is the guy who know enough English to talk to the superintendent and then tell his crew what to do that day. At the fast food chains in my neighborhood the only English speaker is usually just the cashier, which is why no teenagers work fast food in my fairly affluent area.

    We have so many pockets of subcultures that imposing some sort of top-down restriction is doomed. If you are deep enough into a ethnic enclave that the store signs are no longer in English you are on their turf and just need to go with the flow.

    My wife is an elementary school ESOL teacher and she usually gets her students mainstreamed out of the program in 2-3 years. Her hardest burden is dealing with parents who aren’t literate in their native language. It makes it harder to push the students to read and study outside of school.

    Her other huge hurdle is convincing administrators when the student has a learning disability other than the language barrier. They tend to ignore it until it becomes much more apparent and by then it is often too late to remediate it effectively.

    Like

  6. I personally think Brooks has that whole “good followers” piece assbackwards. Followers are inspired by great leadership. He spends too much time in the political arena and not enough time in the world the rest of us live in. Just in my own personal life and local community we have all sorts of inspirational and well recognized leaders with devout followers and worker bees. We lost a local leader this week and the outpouring of praise and regret was astronomical for such a small city. She was a very unlikely leader but was just one of those people that everyone loved and she could wring a charitable act or money out of the most stingy “Scrooge” you’ve ever met.

    Regarding the monuments, that was just weird in my opinion. I was in DC about six years ago and was moved by all the monuments. The artistic and intrinsic vision of any given monument will not be shared by everyone. And personally, I don’t think the political arena, as influenced as it is by special interests, promotes the kind of leadership at the national level that we as Americans still crave.

    On topic, being from CA with such a large Hispanic and Asian population I love the melting pot aspect of our environment. I do think it’s vital for younger generations to assimilate in order to reap the full benefits of citizenship.

    Like

  7. do’h — sorry mark. i didn’t realize you’d created a new thread specifically on the assimilation issue.

    Like

  8. I’m going to put it here even though it overlaps with the school voucher discussion, but Louisiana has a new extensive voucher system for which religious schools are allowed to participate in. Just as long as they are not Islamic religious schools.

    Rep. Kenneth Havard, R-Jackson, objected to including the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans in a list of schools approved by the education department to accept as many as 38 voucher students. Havard said he wouldn’t support any spending plan that “will fund Islamic teaching.”

    “I won’t go back home and explain to my people that I supported this,” he said.

    “It’ll be the Church of Scientology next year,” said Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin.

    Carter, R-Baton Rouge, said the Islamic school withdrew its request to participate in the voucher program.

    “They’re not interested. The system works,” he said.

    That last statement is telling as to what the true intent was. I wonder how quickly the Islamic school leaders realized they were not going to be treated separate but equally.

    Like

  9. “lmsinca, on June 14, 2012 at 8:49 am said:

    I personally think Brooks has that whole “good followers” piece assbackwards.”

    it’s not completely ass backwards in that it is harder for political leaders to make deals than it was a while back. What I object to is this:

    “Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.”

    The distrust is due to the failure of the leaders and the institutions themselves. It’s no accident it starts in the 1960’s with Vietnam and the Great Society (and by that I mean the inability of the War on Poverty to actually eliminate poverty. The institutions over-promised) and then goes through Watergate through the present.

    http://www.people-press.org/2010/04/18/public-trust-in-government-1958-2010/

    It’s not vanity. It’s an accurate perception of reality. Hence the reversals during Reagan and Clinton.

    Like

  10. By the way, I thought this was your strongest argument on the last thread.

    “yellojkt, on June 14, 2012 at 4:48 am said:

    Part of the other purpose for universal education is the unifying of the American concept by giving all children, particularly those of immigrants, a common educational reference point. Assimilation into American culture happens in less than a generation. The sort of ethnic strife which has paralyzed parts of the world becomes greatly muted in the melting pot/mixing bowl of the public school systems. Balkanizing it into separate vouchered enclaves is ultimately counter-productive.”

    Like

  11. I’ll ask the Meta-question, why do we assume peoe need to be led?

    Like

  12. ” The sort of ethnic strife which has paralyzed parts of the world becomes greatly muted in the melting pot/mixing bowl of the public school systems. ”

    I think we just have identity politics instead.

    Like

  13. I’m late to the party on this, but this is by no means unusual in our history. In fact it’s often been the regular state of affairs in the parts of the country with large immigrant populations. what’s the big deal?

    Like

  14. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is one of my favorites precisely because of its decentralized layout.

    IIRC, the King statue is actually taller than the statue of Jefferson on the direct opposite side of the basin. And the outdoor exposed nature of it gives it a great glow in the varying light. Here are some of my photos of the King memorial taken a week or so after its opening.

    I don’t want to ascribe motives to why Brooks finds it so banal but I suspect he doesn’t find FDR and King as men as inspiring as Jefferson and Lincoln.

    Like

  15. That Brooks column is completely word salad and I can’t make heads or tails out of it except for some sense of “Kids these days!” fogey-ish outrage. Brooks has essentially two columns, partisan water-carrying and platitudinous blather. That column falls well on the latter end of the scale.

    Charles Pierce mocks Brooks’s columns on a weekly basis and the one for that column was particularly good.

    We don’t follow well enough any more, because we’re in our trailers, watching the tube and screwing without the permission of our betters. We should trust our institutions like we did in 1925, when black people were being lynched with impunity, and the entire financial system was being cored out without anyone noticing. That certainly worked out well. And people trusted institutions in 1955 because the institutions were, by and large, working for them — the G.I. Bill, the Interstate Highway System — in ways they could see and feel in their own lives. And, if Brooks can look at what was done to this country between 2000 and 2008 and conclude that our biggest problem is that we all think we’re too smart for our own good, and not that the country was stolen out from under most of its primary owners, he’s the biggest bag of hammers in journalism. Also, “followership” is not a word, goddammit.

    Brooks is a man of northeastern patrician stock and gets very nervous when the natives start getting uppity.

    Like

  16. “yellojkt, on June 14, 2012 at 9:34 am said:

    I don’t want to ascribe motives to why Brooks finds it so banal but I suspect he doesn’t find FDR and King as men as inspiring as Jefferson and Lincoln.”

    He actually argues the contrary. He says that the monuments don’t do them justice because the current aesthetic and zeitgeist discourage the entire idea of great leaders.

    Like

  17. By the way, I thought this was your strongest argument on the last thread.

    Thanks. I like to think I have a good idea one in a while.

    Like

  18. Does the USA need an official language? No, I think that we have done alright for the last couple centuries without one.

    Does it need a national language, even if it is not proclaimed “official”? Yes. English to become assimilated and to become “American”.

    Is the traditional melting pot where the school kid grew up to rapidly identify herself as “American” first even though her parents came from some other country a part of our culture worth reinforcing? Good heavens yes. It is what makes us the country we are.

    By whom? All of us Americans! One of my challenges as PTA VP for my kids elementary school is to get the majority of parents, who are not white, to become involved in the school. Having worked on this for a while, it comes down to personal connections with those commuities. If we are not able to minimally communicate, it makes it all the more difficult for everybody. Language aside, there are other more difficult aspects such as the retaining of old country’s culture and/or unwillingness to adapt new culture or difficulty figuring out what the new culture is (given the communication barriers). So it is inherent upon those who come here to learn english. That is relatively easy for the kids and they seem to think of themselves as Americans moreso than their parents. It is inherent upon us to get to know these people and communities and show them how to be “American”. What does that mean? Hard to define. I think one of the things that people worry about is that if you embrace being an American, you erase you old heritage, which is simply not necessarily the case. This needs to be emphasized…

    Like

  19. He says that the monuments don’t do them justice because the current aesthetic and zeitgeist discourage the entire idea of great leaders.

    He kind of damns them with faint praise. King has a “complex nature” and FDR is “a jaunty cavalier” and a “crafty wielder of supreme power” as opposed to Jefferson and Lincoln who both “used power in the service of higher ideas.”

    I think one of the things that people worry about is that if you embrace being an American, you erase you old heritage, which is simply not necessarily the case.

    The one event I sometimes go to at my wife’s school is International Night where all the students come in native garb and bring samples of their traditional food. It is delicious.

    Like

  20. I’m late to the party on this, but this is by no means unusual in our history. In fact it’s often been the regular state of affairs in the parts of the country with large immigrant populations. what’s the big deal?

    Co-sign.

    Like

  21. Co-sign

    Believe it or not, in 90%+ white Utah. One of the truly good things about the Mormon Church is that it embraces the “otherness” of its converts as long as they follow Church teachings in matters of faith. I regularly eat in what are considered mainstream restaurants in SLC where English is definitely the second language, but it’s considered a function rather than a flaw.

    Like

  22. Mark,

    There is definitely an English proficiency test for naturalization, albeit not very demanding. You can get an exemption if you are 50/20 — 50 years old, residing in the US for 20+ years.

    Like

    • Mike:

      Maybe my colleague qualified under another exemption. He speaks fluently, so perhaps officials have the discretion to skip the test? In any event, he was clear that he did not have to take a test.

      Like

  23. Instead of guessing how many teeth the horse has, you could actually count them. The Immigration Service webpage has the actual requirements.

    I’ve known a few people that have taken the naturalization test. They have to know a lot more American history and civics than say the average high school student.

    Like

  24. Mike,
    I missed that you linked to the same place. My bad.

    Like

  25. Scott:

    The naturalization officials probably have some leeway in determining English proficiency, particularly if you are naturalizing from a country where English is the primary language (UK, Oz). Perhaps that is what happened with your colleague.

    Yello:

    No worries. I have the USCIS website bookmarked because we deal with foreign postdocs/students and I’m always forgetting about the requirements for J-1 versus H-1B visas.

    Like

    • Mike:

      Perhaps that is what happened with your colleague.

      Probably. He’s Indian, but went to university here and speaks fluently, so maybe he unknowingly got a waiver. But he did specifically say that when he took the test (not the induction ceremony, as I said earlier) there were translators there for other people. Seems odd since English is required, but maybe he misunderstood what was going on. (On the other hand, maybe what INS does isn’t always what it is supposed to do!)

      Like

  26. breaking: 1:15 presser on obama immigration plan. thought i just heard work permits for kids brought in by their parents.

    “Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. The officials who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it in advance of the official announcement.”

    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_OBAMA_IMMIGRATION?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

    Like

  27. Scott:

    The proficiency test is pretty minimal for someone fluent in English. Your colleague might have taken it unknowingly (talk to the CIS officer, read a sentence, write a sentence). Translators may be there for the more specific terminology used in the civics exam. Words like “Constitution” and “Amendment” don’t come up all that often in daily conversation, except at law offices and ATiM.

    Like

  28. I have to make a mild technical note. There were interpreters at the ceremony, who may have also been translators. Interpretation is oral to oral; translation is written to written.

    The current wave of Latino immigrants have largely followed the same trends as previous waves. First generation, old country. Second generation, feet in two places. Third generation, hard to tell a difference. It is the American way and something that makes us strong.

    I’ve had two experiences with Latinas in my home. Well, three, but let’s exclude my wife for the moment. Inora was my sons’ first caretaker and a sweet lady. For all the classes she attended, she never gained any proficiency in English. She can function here, but will always be limited. Maria was our boys’ second caretaker and has worked hard and learned English. Maria is much younger than Inora. Pretty sharp, too.

    BB

    Like

Be kind, show respect, and all will be right with the world.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: