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Monday, June 1, 2009

Is Spanish a threat to education and National Unity? Not necessarily “What Will America Stand For in 2050?” By Lawrence Harrison.

Very interesting but the problem is not is Spanish per se as a language!

The problem is the low educational level of native born Americans and immigrants of all varieties but particularly Hispanics.

This is why, I as a bilingual educator have always favored a mostly English medium education for all the children as in Prop 227 (“English for the Children”), which my wife and I strongly and very publically supported.

But neither she nor I are English-only advocates. We are not English and, I am not ashamed to say, English is an acquired language for both of us. We love English; English is the language of our true liberation. But we love our other languages as well and always will.

Spanish should be taught of course –it is a very popular AP subject material- as a foreign language or in special classes for native speakers because it is the most important language in the Americas –after English of course. But English competency, not Spanish competency, should be one of the major goals of any decent school in the USA.

Spanish is merely another arrow for your quiver but English is the bow. English is as my grandfather used to say, “the language of the banks and the long-range guns.” And also, I add the language of Milton, Shakespeare, Churchill, Washington, Lincoln and the Constitution.

Any freedom loving person should want to learn English, in my opinion.

I agree when the author says “Language is the conduit of culture.” This is certainly true. “As the tongue is so goes the heart,” is an old proverb. Another proverb says “A land without a language is a land without a soul.”

This is why I have dedicated my adult life to teaching immigrants English and Spanish to others, including all of my children (We speak both Spanish and English at home). We read to them in Spanish and English since they were small as well as introduced them to other culture languages as well.

I will add, however, that my wife and I resisted enrolling our children –all native speakers of Spanish- into bilingual programs of any kind.

We taught them Spanish at home and enrolled them in advanced Spanish when they got to high school where they studied AP Spanish and AP Spanish literature.

Knowing Spanish did not keep my children back; they were all AP Scholars in history, math and English. I believe our children’s true bilingualism helped them develop their minds and their control of English with its multitudinous Latin and Romance roots.

We wanted our children to have a well-rounded English-medium education for their core curriculum.

A strong high school and junior high curriculum will include some study of Latin as well as important foreign languages such as Chinese, Japanese, German, Italian, Arabic, Spanish or French.

I oppose, forcing anyone to study Spanish. I oppose any language equal co-official status with English in the USA (but I support the co-official status of other languages with English in the UN.)

English is our national language; but there is room for other languages as well according to the region and private desires of citizens.

One could argue that the right to read, write and speak one’s native language –Hebrew for example- is an essential part of the free exercise of religion and essential freedom of one’s private life.

Laurence Harrison says:

“Consider: There is no word in Spanish for "compromise" (compromiso means "commitment") “. It is true compromiso is a false cognate and is a much stronger word than the weaker “compromise”. But Spanish can express the concept of “compromise” (acuerdo mutuo o arreglo ) very clearly. So I beg to differ.

Laurence Harrison says. (there is no Spanish)

…. for "accountability," but that is not true. The translation of “accountability “ would be “responsable” or al director se le imputó la responsabilidad del accidente.” (the manager was held accountable for the accident).

Laurence Harrison also says that Spanish is weaker in verbs and so cannot express itself as clearly as English and its problem is

….” compounded by a verb structure that converts "I dropped (broke, forgot) something" into "it got dropped" ("broken," "forgotten").

This, is simply not so.

Spanish has a different grammar than English and fewer verbs but its verbs are much more highly inflected than in English and in combination with adverbs or prepositional phrases can express anything that English (or French) can.

I won’t argue that Spanish is more precise than English but Spanish by itself is not a problem for immigrants.

It is ridiculous for anyone to assert that dissent cannot be expressed in Spanish; the problem is , in Nicaragua Marxist-Leninists do not allow dissent.

No permiten desacuerdos o desconformidad o disenso (They do not permit dissent!).

The Spanish inquisition has nothing to do with it!

The Spanish Inquisition was abolished in 1834 and was virtually moribund by the 18th century. Read Henry Kamen’s Spanish Inquisition (1965).

The problem. dear brutos, is not in Spanish itself, the language of Cervantes, De la Cierva, Unamuno and Borges.

Spanish is an advanced, vital and cultivated language. The Spanish publishing industry translates more books every year –from all the major culture languages- than Arabic has in its entirely for the last one thousand years. Spanish is, I assure you’re a very effective medium of advanced modern and democratic communication. English is a great and wonderful language but it has no monopoly as an instrument of advanced communication.

The problem is many immigrants are poorly educated and semi-literate in Spanish as well as English and many speak a debased patois which is ni chica ni limonada as they say in Spanish (neither one thing nor the other or to use an English idiom neither fish nor fowl.).

The old model was ‘bilingual education” or NENLI (non-English native language instruction) so that students could become literate and educated in their “native languages”.

Of course, orthodox Bilingual Educational theory a la Krashen and co. was a utopian goal for two reasons:

1) The US could not possibly provide the teachers to give a good Spanish medium or bilingual education for all its immigrant students. Only a few students were taught consistently by highly qualified teachers certified in Spanish, English and in their subject area. We are obviously better equipped to teach structured English immersion for most schools and classes.

2) The students themselves, many of whom were born in the USA and lived surrounded by popular American culture (in English) tended to lose competency in Spanish year by year. Some grew up in native-speaking environments but many did not. Many were marginal heritage speakers who could understand elementary Spanish but who could not respond themselves. Many second generation Hispanics have little enthusiasm for improving their Spanish literacy. Some say “Chicano Spanish” is a new renaissance but I say it is the death shroud of both education and Spanish.

I support voluntarily and optional education in Spanish as a foreign language or in exceptional and voluntary circumstances in elite dual immersion schools (open to native English speakers as well as Spanish speakers or speakers of any language).

I agree entirely with Mr. Harrison when he says:

“And we should provide immigrants with easy-to-access educational services that facilitate acculturation, including English language, citizenship, and American values.”

But I disagree strongly when he says: “we should limit citizenship to the offspring of citizens.”

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution defines citizenship in the USA as follows: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” Anyone born in any of the 50 states, Guam, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (ELA) is a natural-born citizen. I think it would most unwise to create a permanent class of non-citizen helots in the USA who would then be unable to assimilate or Americanize or even serve in our nation’s armed services. It would be as fatal mistake as the Penal Laws were in Ireland. There political, linguistic and religious oppression created a vicious circle of hatred, unrest, deep resentment, alienation, rebellion and violence which was almost uncontrollable. Only by allowing equal education, freedom of religion, suffrage and rights to citizenship have they (the British and Irish) been able –after 700 years- to achieve a peaceful coexistence.

What we need to do in the USA is

1) Encourage the formation and stability of strong families –education begins at home.

2) Give immigrants, of all ages, every possible incentive and opportunity to learn English, the history of the USA, the principles of democracy and our Constitution.

3) Do all we can to educate, socialize and assimilate immigrant children to American society so that they can compete. Part of their ability to compete will be competence in languages other than English.

With all due respect,

RICHARD K. MUNRO, MA Spanish Literature

Richard ("Ricardo") MUNRO

Teacher of English, history and Spanish

Bilingual Certificate of Competence (BCLAD)

Adjunct Faculty (AP Reader) ETS

West High School (Kern HS District)

Home of the Vikings

1200 New Stine Rd

Bakersfield, CA 93309

(661) 832-2822

fax (661) 831-5606


Sent: Monday, June 01, 2009 1:13

The following article by my colleague, Lawrence Harrison at Tufts, merits reading and reflection.

What will America stand for in 2050? |

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