Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Press 1 for English - you do know what a 1 looks like, right?

In a gathering at Powder Springs, Georgia, this week, Barack Obama responded to a question in the audience regarding the number of high school drop outs and his (present) position on bilingualism.
The "English-first" debate seems to be far from over. While out of the headlines in recent months, it's still a topic of debate for those who believe that the U.S. should pass legislation declaring English as the national language to those who don't see the need for a national language at all. It's interesting to note that the United States is one of the few nations, if not the only nation, that does not have an official national language.

Many Europeans, as Obama points out in his reply to a question regarding bi-lingual education, speak more than one language. A great number of Europeans are multi-linguistic. Not so for the majority of Americans, who speak only English, or a great number of Mexican illegals who speak only Spanish. It is because of the catering of a large number of businesses to the non-English speaking Hispanic population that has created such an uproar throughout the nation, with many Americans growing increasingly frustrated with business machines and automated telephone systems with a "Press 1 for English" menu at the beginning of the menu features.

You know, I don't understand when people are going around worrying about, "We need to have English- only." They want to pass a law, "We want English-only."

Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English -- they'll learn English -- you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], "Merci beaucoup." Right?

You know, no, I'm serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get ajob. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they're 5, or 6, or 7 than when they're 46, like me.

Admittedly, Obama has a point. Our education system should be geared, in my opinion, to ensuring that there is a variety of secondary and tertiary language curriculum available as an option for students who wish to pursue a more international means of communicating. And while I personally see Obama as an elitist over other issues, and perhaps even a bit so in his approach and reasoning behind his desire to see American children learning foreign language skills, it isn't for the reasons stated by Andrew Leonard at Salon:

There's nothing particularly exceptional about Obama's position, unless you are an English-only partisan cowering in fear of your cultural identity being swamped by funny-looking people from strange lands. Or one of the similarly insecure patriots who believe any criticism of the U.S. is a sign of "blame-America-first" treachery. And I suppose the whole comment about "going to Europe" opens Obama up to more charges of elitism, and disconnection from the lives of those who, right now, can't afford to even think about going to Europe.

My problem with Obama's views lies in other areas, and they are all directly related to the way that we conduct public education today, and for those who think this is going to be a partisan take on public education from a conservative standpoint, think again. What I'm going to say is going to be broad sweeping and will cover what I see wrong with public education be it under the administrations of the Democrats or the Republicans, and I will say up front I was never and still am not a supporter of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" faux pas.

America's public education system today is the victim of two things: corporate textbook and testing and political correctness. I'm not going to dive into the statistical data supporting this, as this is an opinion piece, but it is out there to support what I'm saying. Those of you with children in school know what I'm talking about. Students are being taught a curriculum that is designed to teach them what they need to know in order to pass standardized tests that are required by the state for them to advance from one grade level to the next. They are spoon fed this information to ensure that it stays in their memories long enough in order for them to take their tests and move on to learning the material that will be required for them to pass the next level of testing, an endless cycle of spoon feeding and testing that begins at the kindergarten level and extends on through college.

Gone are the days of children learning at a young age the art of critical thinking. Indeed, it is a rare thing today to find students in whom this now rare trait continues to exist, generally amongst the intellectual rebels classified by school psychologists as "the classic underachiever (I fell into that category myself)."

Despite Senator Obama's contention that our problem with the education system is that we aren't geared to bi-lingual education, a much more deep rooted problem exists: our education system isn't geared to education.

And requiring, by law, that students who don't belong in a classroom and have no desire or interest in staying there, simply because it keeps funding coming into the school system for the body count on a daily basis, doesn't help matters in the least. It creates, often, a classroom setting where those who can and wish to learn can not because of the interference of those who would be better served in some sort of vocational program and not being forced to drag down others simply for the sake of "no child left behind."

Senator Obama's approach doesn't work, and it doesn't make sense, when the system itself can not do the job that it is supposed to do in the first place. The first focus needs to be ensuring that little Johnny and Peggy Sue can comprehend what they are reading and writing in the first place, as well as being able to come up with an answer of "10" when adding 8 + 2. Instead, they're being taught such concepts as why that it's not a bad thing for Heather to have two mommies, when such decisions and morality is the responsibility of the parent to instill, not public education.

This is the thinking of Senator Obama's "nanny state" mindset. "Government knows better." Obviously, it doesn't, unless the goal of government is to create generation after generation of a population that can be controlled and programmed on a whim, and the way to achieve this is the breakdown of true education of the youth of the nation.

Once and Always, an American Fighting Man


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