Saturday, May 20, 2006

Senate panders to ignorance

Not long ago, the US Senate approved a bill to make English the official national language. I've always thought the concept is stupid, largely because people are going to speak whatever they want.

But the following line from a response over at Aging Hipster encouraged me to explore this issue in a lot more depth, so here goes:

You cannot bring weakness and illiteracy into the country and ask for all kinds of privileges.

Excuse me? There's so much HOMEGROWN illiteracy # needing serious correction that English-only bills like this are a complete waste of valuable lawmakers' time. Instead of pandering to base prejudices, let's see Congress pass bills funding our existing educational system to the level it needs, rather than patting itself on the back for confusing and contradictory legislation like NCLB while gutting and ridiculing the public schools.

One important element of that has to be investment in teaching multiple foreign languages in US schools, starting at a young age, when science shows it's most effective. MANY nations (not just Canada, as Hipster notes) have multiple languages in everyday use; most of the European schools routinely teach three or four tongues. When you live no more than a few road hours from several other countries, doing so is simply common sense.

With air travel, the same is true of the US today. We need to get our heads out of the sand and realize that insistence on English only (and many other policies) simply brands us as parochial ignoramuses and limits our ability to understand what's going on in the world at large.

Many of the people who come here as illiterates do so because they're coming from a situation of abysmal poverty that doesn't ALLOW them to get education. If we want uneducated poor people to stop coming here, we need to invest in stamping out ignorance and poverty everywhere. Our government could help there, but it consistently underfunds international aid and fails to pay its share of the budgets for global bodies like the UN that, despite their problems, are trying to improve conditions elsewhere.

The second example of recent pandering is even worse. While that proposal is largely ineffectual, the Senate Judiciary Committee's recent passage of a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is simply bigoted and contrary to the basic principles that make America great -- tolerance, respect for others, and the whole concept of opportunity for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

As typical of almost everything under this administration, it passed as a party line 10-8 vote, and a glance at the committee's makeup shows why. Several members are notorious for bizarre ideologies fueled by their twisted versions of Christian dogma. Three of them opposed the anti-torture bill last year: Coburn, Cornyn, and Sessions, and Brownback is well known as the anti-evolution flunky. These people do NOT deserve the power they have.

As some of my half-dozen or so readers know, I'm from Massachusetts -- and proud to be a citizen of the ONLY state to so far legalize gay marriage. But we still have wingnuts who think it's ok to rescind civil rights once people have received them; they've been trying to get an similar constitutional amendment on the ballot. It's temporarily in limbo -- the state Constitutional Convention scheduled to debate it earlier this month was postponed until July -- and I hope it dies the ignominious death it deserves.

As someone once said, you do NOT make civil liberties subject to vote. When that happens, anything deemed unpopular could come under the gun and potentially be banned simply because it IS unpopular.

In this case, the concept is itself ridiculous also because gays have been marrying for a couple years now and guess what effect it has had on the institution of marriage overall -- NONE. Personally, I think it encourages marriage even among straight couples, but couldn't point you to data. Regardless, it should be left as state law because the state should be encouraging (but not forcing) committed, loving, responsible relationships of any kind, given all of the factors in today's society that promote discord and animosity.


# I'm only addressing the illiteracy side of this statement because labeling such folks as "weak" is both incredibly prejudicial and inaccurate. Physically, many of them are quite healthy -- they often work at manual labor here and were strong enough to GET here, often under dangerous conditions. Many literate Americans couldn't survive the deplorable conditions in their homelands, and some of us don't know what real work means without our technology to do half of it....

Thanks to Silly Humans for the tips.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont know why i missed that line in my comments section. i dont agree with it.

Cornyn is probably the biggest dud in the Senate, a shameless rubberstamp for Bush.

The "guestworker" fraud is one of the biggest hoaxes ever perped upon the people- bring in cheap foreign labor and allow them no votingrights. What a sham.

5/21/2006 3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/21/2006 3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points all Jay, my feeling is that english should be a goal for our ESL kids- I teach and love them in a publicschool daily- we should be teachingspanish at elementary level- with English serving as the unifier. Thanks for reading, big guy. i am going you a link.

5/21/2006 3:53 PM  
Blogger Clyo said...

Hi Jay-

Language bashing is part of that American arrogance which the Bush administration (and the Republican Congress) personifies by saying we don't have to accommodate anyone, learn anything or expand beyond our own narrow framework of perception.

Instead of trying to counter all these demeaning arguments within their own narrow (and inherently biased) framework, progressives must change the framing of every issue.

As George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson of the Rockridge Institute write in their intro to The Framing of Immigration :

"Framing is at the center of the recent immigration debate.

Simply framing it as about “immigration” has shaped its politics, defining what count as “problems” and constraining the debate to a narrow set of issues. The language is telling.

The linguistic framing is remarkable: frames for illegal immigrant, illegal alien, illegals, undocumented workers, undocumented immigrants, guest workers, temporary workers, amnesty, and border security.

These linguistic expressions are anything but neutral. Each framing defines the problem in its own way, and hence constrains the solutions needed to address that problem.

The purpose of this paper is twofold.

First, we will analyze the framing used in the public debate.

Second, we suggest some alternative framing to highlight important concerns left out of the current debate.

Our point is to show that the relevant issues go far beyond what is being discussed, and that acceptance of the current framing impoverishes the discussion."

(end of excerpt)

For instance, to frame anyone as "an alien" is dehumanizing and we should not use that term for Mexicans or migrants or anyone born on this planet. We are all humans, not aliens. Continuing to use this insulting term in our arguments against the dehumanization of migrant workers only plays to the opposition by validating their charged term.

In any event, check it out if you haven't.


5/29/2006 1:28 AM  
Blogger MichaelBains said...

Hey now, Jay

Great mixing of the two examples of how we use our somewhat rational fear of change to utterly ignore known factors of cultural evolution.

What makes me so frustrated and, at times, nearly hopeless, re our species, is that we do have the skills and knowledge to adjust our laws to be more inclusionary and responsible but, as you pointed out clearly in the first Issue, we don't have the force of "public will" to sufficiently fund and expand our Educators abilities to do the job we demand ever more of them in doing.

If "I have a dream", it's that America does move towards higher rewards for educators and local Police forces (more states are already req'ing Assoc degrees for new applicants) and shifting money out of Military projects which don't show much promise for Civil, non military applications.

The only way I see to get there is through grass roots forcing of our Legal Peers to Review the Evidence, as well as their own gut feelings. When the evidence outweighs the reaction, then leaders have got to Lead, and explain to their constituents why things aren't as simple as we want them to be.

5/29/2006 7:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home