Monday, May 14, 2007

She turned me into a newt

But I got better.

Here's a fake media uproar: Newt Gingrich recently declared that bilingual education keeps its students in a ghetto and expressed concern over official multilingual policies in, for example, drivers' licenses and ballots.

On the first point, Newt knows what he's talking about, certainly far more than the ignorant talking heads who attempted to criticize him. The only problem is that Newt is pretty late to the anti-bilingual party. Bilingual education - as a means for integrating non-speakers of English into American society - is a three-plus-decade failure. Everyone in education has known this for a long time. Furthermore, bilingual education in is controlled, not by non-anglophone students or parents, but by a small ideological activist lobby that wants to keep immigrant children ghettoized and has made no secret of it. How they managed to "capture" politicians into going along with them is another chapter in the story of special-interest group politics shortcircuiting democratic politics.

The political movement against bilingual education started over a decade ago, with great subsequent success in most states. Immigrant parents are overwhelmingly opposed to bilingual education. The anti-bi-ed movement succeeded in placing the question on ballots in all the states where that was possible. The only states where these initiatives ran into trouble were Colorado and Arizona, where many non-immigrant voters wanted bilingual education to continue to ghettoize immigrant children and prevent them from integrating into American society. Get it? Only the media, suffocating with myopic white guilt - the curse of postmodern liberalism - is unable to.

On the broader point of multilingualism, Newt is on shakier ground. For anyone older than mid-teens, learning a new language well is hard. Furthermore, the real issue isn't bi- or trilingualism, but having mono-lingual ghettos, where the monolingua in question is not English - which is probably what Newt meant to criticize. As long as American citizens have a common access to English, they can function well both politically and economically. For immigrants not to have English is to hobble them (viz. the Colorado and Arizona voters who understood this point better than the chattering classes). Otherwise, bilingual, trilingual - the more, the merrier. Bring it on.

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