"Babel" in Schools
After Prop. 227
Issues in U.S. Language Policy
Canards n. 1. Ducks intended or used for food. 2. False, typically
slanderous, reports or characterizations.
Factual disputes are a feature of every policy debate. But they
loom especially large in the conflict over English Only. While language diversity
is hardly a new issue in U.S. history, it is a new issue to most living Americans.
So there's a vacuum of reliable information. This has created an environment
in which ethnic stereotypes, romantic myths, and folk wisdom can flourish.
Such a vacuum favors those who advance simplistic claims. For example:
Journalists have not helped the situation. Often they have gobbled up the
misrepresentations, both large and small, served up by English Only groups.
Once ingested into the media "food chain," such errors are recycled until
they become part of the conventional wisdom.
- that English has been the "common bond" of American nationhood
- that earlier immigrants were quick to learn English
- that bilingual accommodations discourage today's Hispanics and Asians
from doing so
- that diversity inevitably causes dissension
- that English Only restrictions will foster unity
To take a small but irritating example: the claim that 30 states
have adopted Official English legislation has been reprinted in scores of
popular articles. (Irritating to me at least, a former reporter who expects
some attempt at fact-checking.) In fact:
Several other species of canards were flushed out during the 1996 House debate on H.R. 123 and the
campaigns against bilingual education in California and Arizona:
- The organized English Only movement – which dates from 1983 – can claim
credit for inspiring such measures in 24 states.
- Three states – Nebraska, Illinois,
and Virginia – enacted Official English laws at earlier
- In 1978, Hawai`i adopted both English and Native
Hawaiian as its official languages – that is, official bilingualism, which
contradicts everything the English Only movement represents.
- Official English measures have been declared unconstitutional by state
courts in Alaska and Arizona, although Arizonans passed a less restrictive version in 2006.
- Louisiana – which U.S. English recently added
to the list – has no Official English policy whatsoever. To the contrary,
its constitution recognizes minority language rights (one of the few states
to do so). Yet Louisiana continues to be hailed as an English Only state in
the national press and the halls of Congress.
- Massachusetts, another state claimed by Official
English advocates on the basis of a casual (and uninformed) statement by a
state court in 1975, has never had such a law. Efforts to enact one have been
rejected several times by the state legislature since the late 1980s.
- A fair and accurate total of Official English states – 24 + 4 - 2
(Alaska and Hawaii) – is 26. For more details, see my language legislation page.
Washington Post Blames Bilingual Education for
Increasing LEP Population
Ron Unz, Ventriloquist
Ron Unz on Bilingual Education
Diane Ravitch on Bilingual Education
Official English Opinion Polls
"Babel" in the Schools
Bilingual Voting Rights
Language and National Identity
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