Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Language of Hyperbole

I went to a bilingual school. I work in a bilingual school. I know, from first-hand experience, that there are pluses and minuses to both bilingual and monolingual education. That's ok. But I can't help getting a little irked when I hear people that clearly know next-to-nothing about bilingualism start blaming it for the breakdown of American society. I know, I'm just weird that way.

Enter Barry Farber, another WND Court Jew and, apparently, Pat Buchannan impersonator. Barry wants to let you know that English is important. But not just important-- really, really important:

...The English language is the only glue holding America together.

Really? You don't think things like a shared economy, values, government, help even a little? Wow, that's a pretty dim view of American unity coming from a supposed patriot.

Strong? Startling? Yes, and also true. People in Alaska care about people in Florida. If there were a terrible hurricane in Key West, that would lead the news in Alaska. Now put that American map on top of Europe. If there were a terrible earthquake in Turkey, the people in Norway, being quite decent people, wouldn't say, "Don't bother me with that!" But there wouldn't be that same sense of "our people." You've got six major languages and 18 minor ones separating Norway from Turkey.

Ah yes. This must be why not a day goes by that good folks in Alabama and Hawaii don't take a minute to check in on our language-neighbors in Belize, Liberia and Micronesia.

Among America's major blessings is one unifying language – a blessing compounded by the happy fact that our particular language is also the universally acknowledged "international" language.

Um, no. It is not THE international language, it is is ONE of several. And right now, yes, it happens to be the most widely-spoken. However given that the economy of the US is stagnant while China, India, and even Russia seem to be on the rise, it seems foolish to discourage people from learning to speak some of those languages on the grounds that English will let you chat with folks in Fiji and Barbados. 100 years ago one of the most widely spoken international languages, particularly in Europe, was French. Now, not so much. Times change.

Those who would destroy America could do no better service to their goal than balkanizing America into a patchwork quilt of different languages.

Oh please. People balkanize themselves according to any criteria and using just about any excuse you give them. You might as well advocate banning baseball teams so Yankees and Red Sox fans will finally stop jabbering at each other.

They've succeeded in convincing too many Americans that you're somehow a hater, at least a little, with all that bluster about English.

It depends how you talk about it. If you rant about bilingualism being the downfall of American civilization, then, yeah, there seems to be a little hate there.

They cheer their success at leading well-meaning Americans to suppose that if so-called "English Only" legislation is passed, women on assembly lines will be dragged away in handcuffs if they're overheard speaking Spanish with one another. Try explaining to the hard-left that the law intends no such thing, that we're talking strictly about conducting public affairs in one consensus language only. Maria can continue to talk to Linda in Spanish, Hans to Fritz in German, Darko to Srechko in Serbian.

Barry, the issue isn't whether people are going to be sent to re-education camps, it's about the scope of such laws as well as the intent behind them. Whether Barry wants to admit it or not, there is a definite nativist streak in American politics these days, and it is coming out on such issues as immigration, "Culture War," and English. Some of the people who are carrying on about how English should be the only language are plainly anti-immigrant, and the language fight is part of that battle to forcibly Americanize people into an imaginary America of the 1950s.

Alabama, by the way, is lucky. They have driver's license exams in only 12 languages. I've heard that in Los Angeles you can choose from among 42 different languages! We've already had major traffic accidents because licensed drivers in America don't know what "Merge" means.

First, I don't believe you. Just because. But even if this were true, it demonstrates that we need stricter driving tests, not that there shouldn't be bilingual education or that America should be an official mono-lingual culture.

The so-called "bilingual education" programs have been pretty much revealed as employment scams for teachers who don't speak English too well; programs that wind up making the kids illiterate in two languages.

Spoken like a true ignorant moron. First of all, there are many different kinds of bilingual programs. While many public schools do have their classes taught by bilingual teachers, at my school, kids are taught by one teacher in one language, then by another in the other. Second, as I have discovered over the past few years, it is actually not very easy to become a teacher. In California, home of myself and the Tower of Babel you just referred to, it happens to be extremely hard. The only states that put more roadblocks in your way are four East Coast states that require you to get master's degrees. Now, in addition to all of that, you also have to have a separate certification, a BCLAD, in order to be allowed to be a bilingual teacher. This is also not easy to get. So believe me when I say this: Barry, you are talking out of your rear.

Second, assuming that there are probably some unqualified teachers in bilingual positions: again, this demonstrates that we need better teachers, better schools and better programs, NOT that bilingual education shouldn't exist. Does the fact that there are bad math teachers suggest that we should stop teaching math?

Also, the children of all immigrants are growing up speaking native, un-accented American English.

What I think Barry means is that if you just put immigrant children (or the children of immigrants) in English-only schools, they wind up speaking perfect English. Which, by the way, isn't true. It may happen, depending on circumstances and motivation. But probably not the norm. (Why would you even bother throwing out a ridiculous statement like "all?")

But what's actually more important in the context of this point is that there are years of long-term studies showing that students who come to school speaking one language who are allowed to keep learning that language IN ADDITION to English do better in school-- because not only can they continue communicating with their family members, stay connected with their home culture, etc... (which, among other things, helps them do better in school because their family is still involved in their education), they also THINK in that language! If you don't let Spanish-speaking kids learn in Spanish or Chinese-speaking kids learn in Chinese you are making them start all over again.

Another important argument for bilingual education is the fact that content transfers between languages. I spent three years of middle school learning geometry and trig in a language other than English. I had never had any English instruction in geometry until high school. However, as soon as I entered the classroom, I immediately understood what was going on. All I needed was vocabulary. Verbal reasoning, critical thinking, math, even reading and writing skills... all these things are helped, not hindered, by a bilingual environment... when the education is actually bilingual. (As opposed to kids speaking one language at home and another at school, which really just means that they are mono-lingual in two different contexts. Unless their parents are teaching them math or literature or science in their home languages at the same level they use at school, it's not actually bilingual education.) This is a point made in the very excellent documentary Speaking In Tongues, which I encourage everyone to see.

Those who say, "Let a hundred languages bloom!" think they're ablaze with brotherhood. They're ablaze with nothing of the kind. A country with one unifying language that lets itself slip away to two or more is ablaze with nothing but poor housekeeping.

Really? Wow, I bet such pretty well-functioning countries as Canada, Bolivia, the Phillipines, Israel and India (among others) would love to learn they've been doing it wrong. Incidentally, I wonder if Barry knows that Hawaii, Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico are officially bilingual. That must be why they're constantly on the verge of collapse.

By the way, among the almost 30 states where English is the ONLY official language? California and Alabama. Way to do that research, Barry.

Shakespeare may have turned the English language into cultural glory. Churchill turned that language into adrenalin arousing freedom's beleaguered and embattled forces to a civilization-saving victory. It may not seem as impressive. But English is now serving an even more important role. As glue.
Sure, Barry. Do us a favor and go eat some, ok?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

No Bias Here

Dennis is mad about people cheapening the Holocaust. The Holocaust, you say? Yes, the Holocaust.

Well gee, what is he mad about?

He's mad that left-wing Jews exploit the Holocaust for political purposes.

Really? Well, ok...
Of course, non-Jews on the left also compare conservatives to Nazis, and some non-Jews on the right will sometimes compare the left to Nazis, but there are three important differences.
Oh good, some even-handedness.
First, however many or few tea-party banners compare President Obama to Hitler (and such comparisons are as reprehensible as they are self-defeating), conservative public figures – such as politicians and prominent columnists – almost never compare liberals to Nazis, while public figures on the left often compare conservatives to Nazis.
Really? Which conservatives do you want to count, Dennis? I know, how about Rush Limbaugh? Kevin McCullough? Jonah Goldberg? Ann Coulter? Michael Steele? Ben Stein? Bill O'Moron? Glenn Beck? How many examples would you like?
Second, among liberal Jews, the percentage that believes that Americans on the right are just a step or two away from being Nazis seems to be greater than the proportion of liberal non-Jews who believe that.
Much as I hate to break out my usual Dennis refrain: "Based on what evidence (besides your imagination?)"

Seriously, Dennis, since when are you an expert on what left-wing "Shoah Cheapeners" really think? Have you been taking up mind-reading or something? How would you even have the ability to break down left-wing "Nazi paranoiacs" into Jews and non-Jews? Are you taking polls?
Third, when Jews on the left call conservative Americans Nazis, they mean it in its literal sense – they really do regard the conservatives they compare to Nazis as racists comparable to Nazi anti-Semites. On the other hand, when conservatives use the term, it is meant to signify non-democratic or dictatorial policies, regimes or individuals – e.g., Seinfeld's "soup Nazi" or Rush Limbaugh's "feminazis" – not as potential or likely mass murderers.
Uh huh... and who told you this, exactly?

Dennis says the left sees the right as "Nazi-like" because the left is extreme.
Leftist rhetoric routinely depicts opponents of the left in extreme terms. Opponents of race-based affirmative action are racists. Opponents of same-sex marriage are homophobes. Opponents of illegal immigration are xenophobes, racists and engaged in Nazism (that is the word that Cardinal Roger Mahony used to describe Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law.) And so on.
Ah yes, not at all like the paragons of centrism we get from conservative talk radio, protesters, or public figures media-whoring so people still remember them in three years. Please, do tell me more about those exciting death panels, Madam Palin.

This is where Dennis really goes off the deep end. He returns to his central idea that the reason left-wing exploitation of the Holocaust is so much worse than the right's is because the left really, really mean it:

When liberal Jewish columnist Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote recently that tea partiers had engaged a "small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht," he meant it...

Why would a New York Times columnist use the term when talking about American tea partiers?

Because when Rich and most other Jews on the left see right-wing non-Jews, they see swastikas.

Let's back up and re-think Dennis' premise: that Rich REALLY meant that the Tea Parties were Kristallnacht. So what, Rich thought that the Tea Partiers were literally about to start burning down synagogues? No? Then he didn't really mean it, did he?
And this past September, Grayson, referring to Congress not having passed health-care legislation, said on the floor of the House, "I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven't voted sooner to end this Holocaust in America." In Grayson's view, 12 percent of Americans not having health insurance constitutes a "Holocaust."
Again, let's apply the "really really?" test. Does Grayson, crazy nutbag that he is, really think that people suffering from chronic conditions without medical coverage is comparable to being gassed? No? Then again, I guess he didn't really mean it! By the way, you know who invokes the Holocaust in connection with a pet healthcare issues ALL THE TIME? I'll give you three guesses.

Over and over again... rather than concede the fairly obvious point that liberals, like conservatives, can be thoughtless jackasses who engage in really inappropriate hyperbole to further their political agenda, Dennis would rather pretend that conservative rhetoric is meaningless because it's "just hyperbole," while liberal rhetoric is apparently beyond hyperbole, it's actually a sign of... what, exactly? Mental illness? Skewed values? Anyway, it's quite the argument considering all the things people have called Obama over the past three years. I guess left-wingers actually thought Bush was the physical reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, while right-wingers just say Obama is Hitler-esque, Nazi-like, Communist, etc. because they think it's cute.

...Because that's much better, right?

Funny thing, I'd think that the best way to guard the memory of the Holocaust would be to monitor-- and complain-- whenever anyone uses it as a cheap political trick, not give your side a pass so you can beat up on the left and then pat yourself on the back for being the World's Best Jew. But I guess that's why I'm not WBJ.

Sigh. I've written about this crap before. Here's my take on mis-using the Holocaust. Personally, I'd be happy if all these idiots would fall into a lake. Of course, I'd also request that they take Dennis' sanctimonious, intellectually-dishonest butt with them.