How sad it is to watch the otherwise moderate Bob Dole pander to the ugliest element of the Republican Party with policy proposals based on distortions and fictitious crises.
The spectacle came a few days ago in a speech to an American Legion convention in Indianapolis. Dole criticized the much-derided National History Standards for focusing too much on what is wrong with the country and not enough on what is right. He accused the academics who formulated the standards of attempting to ”disparage America.”
In this, Dole is correct. What academics tried to foist on us last year as the basic elements for teaching history is no more than a list of politically correct grievances that barely mentions the greatness of this nation’s democratic foundations.
But Dole also brought in to this argument what does not belong: He came out for eliminating bilingual education and for making English the official language.
The radical Republicans Dole needs in the primaries think bilingual education is a liberal plot to undermine America’s linguistic unity. Dole wants them to believe he shares these worries. ”We must stop the practice of multilingual education as a means of instilling ethnic pride or as a therapy for low self-esteem or out of elitist guilt over a culture built on the traditions of the West,” Dole said.
Actually, the main purpose of bilingual education (I have never heard of ”multilingual education”) is quite simple: While immigrant children learn English, they learn other subjects in their native languages, so they do not fall behind. Once they learn English, they join regular English-language classes.
Someone willing to make the point can surely find a school district where bilingual education coexists with history taught in ways twisted by the demands of political correctness. But these are two different issues. Bilingual education is an apolitical teaching strategy designed to keep school kids who do not speak English from falling behind. Arguing whether it is effective is surely legitimate, but it is the height of political cynicism to chase after conservative votes by equating bilingual instruction with the worst educational excesses of the left.
Dole did something similar when he pronounced himself in favor of making English the official language. ”We need the glue of language to help hold us together,” he said.
But English is in no danger of coming unglued. The children of immigrants are going to learn English sooner or later, no matter what. And their parents are fully cognizant that knowing English is essential for success. What purpose, then, does Official English serve? Just one: It gives people a superficially reasonable way to vent their anger at immigrants, and – it must be said – particularly at Hispanic immigrants.
You’ll find no better example of how far language paranoia can go than the case of the Amarillo, Texas, judge who ordered a Mexican-American woman to speak English to her 5-year-old daughter at home. State district judge Samuel C. Kiser, ruling in a custody dispute, said that speaking Spanish to the little girl was child abuse.
The judge is apparently unaware that 5-year-olds learn new languages as if by osmosis. In a year or two, this girl will speak English better than Spanish. But his ignorance is less important than the fact that his ruling has brought English-only mandates from the arena of public policy to the intimacy of a family’s home.
The far right, so concerned about government intrusion in private affairs, ought to think about that for a while.