Sen. Bob Dole’s suggestions that “fluency in English should be a central educational goal of every state” — and that multilingual education should be abandoned, not employed “as a means of instilling ethnic pride or as therapy for low self-esteem” have been met with cries of outrage. Instead of addressing the substance of the senator’s speech, Dole’s critics insist on focusing on the GOP frontrunner’s alleged motive — pandering to the “far right.”
Actually, the subject itself is well worth attention. As Boston-based scholar Abigail Thernstrom notes, Dole — on this issue — speaks for most Americans: “Stop anyone on the street and they’ll agree with Dole. This is what ordinary Americans believe.”
And with good reason. America’s success and prosperity have always turned on the determination of immigrants to assimilate into a common culture with common values and, yes, a common language. “Indeed, language,” says Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, “is the facilitator in the assimilation process. It helps you become American.”
In this nation of immigrants, assimilation has never meant the abandonment of ethnic, religious or even racial identity. The United States encourages and celebrates ethnic pride. But a national policy that doesn’t focus on the long-term success of the melting pot concept virtually dooms America as a civilization.
Dole’s speech, in short, represents an effort to combat cultural deterioration, to forestall a process that would lead to an America composed of a patchwork of separate groups — each speaking its own language, each animated by its own norms and values. Bilingualism, in its current mode, leads to multiculturalism. And multiculturalism is a pathway to separatism.
Notwithstanding the charges leveled against him, Dole’s quest to emphasize the importance of a common language has nothing to do with immigrant-bashing. Nor, needless to say, is there a line in his speech that can fairly be interpreted as an argument for exclusion.
To the contrary, he insists that “English is the language in which we still speak to each other across the frontiers of culture and race. . . . [Ensuring] that all our citizens are fluent in English is a welcoming act of inclusion.”
The majority leader also calls for making language classes readily accessible to new immigrants of all ages — as long as their purpose is to teach English. Sad to say, this element in Dole’s speech has received little notice.
Dole dared to defy a cardinal principle of political correctness by calling for an end to “multi-lingual” education. Bilingual education is currently offered in some 145 different languages. Rosalie Porter, an expert on bilingual education, who chairs the Washington-based Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ) supports Dole, noting that there is “no evidence that proves teaching children in their native language helps them to learn either their school subjects or English better” — notwithstanding the claims of the advocates. Indeed, Porter argues that bilingual education will actually hold many children back and deprive them of opportunities they might have enjoyed if they had learned English early and well.
In 1968, the first bilingual education law was enacted by Congress. Its stated purpose was to enable any child unfamiliar with English to learn the language for school purposes. Unfortunately, as Chavez writes in the August Readers Digest, bilingualism metamorphosed into a costly bureaucracy — often defined by a “far-reaching political agenda.” The nature of this agenda? According to Chavez, proponents of bilingualism endeavor to keep children in programs far longer than is necessary and often despite their parents’ wishes.
For many Americans, Dole’s stance on this issue is uncomplicated and devoid of controversy. As to his motives, while it’s his critics on the left who’ve been making the most noise, Dole needs to be concerned about suspicions among GOP conservatives regarding his sincerity. To put it bluntly, many on the right wonder whether or not Sen. Dole means what he says. Some ask where the majority leader has been when this and related battles were far more difficult to fight. Why didn’t he raise the question during his many years as a leader in the Senate? Others express concern over how he’ll conduct himself if he succeeds in securing the Oval Office.
In short, it’s the so-called “far right” that Dole needs to comfort. The senator appeared to recognize this reality in his speech to the Christian Coalition this past weekend. But the majority leader needs to do more — a lot more — in this realm.