English Plus Movement

U.S. denizens should speak at least two languages, English being one of them.  Language, and ignorance of it, is powerful.  It helps people to understand not only another’s perspective, but also another’s culture.  As discrimination is often rooted in ignorance, understanding and communication are the scalpels that remove it.

In class, we were assigned to read Making a Difference by Martha Minnow.  I wish I could paraphrase everything she said, but that would make this way too long.  Here is  one of  my favorite arguments:

Harold A. Herzog, Jr. did a study on mice.  He found that the labels that these mice were given determined their fate.  Experimental mice got the best deal: a whole panel of people were dedicated to these mice, ensuring their fair treatment – like, uncomplicated mazes with plenty of cheddar cheese at the end.  However, should an experimental mouse escape, it then became a pest and would be exterminated accordingly – this lab was fond of using sticky paper as it was toxin free, lest the “good” mice got accidently poisoned.  There was also another set of mice labeled “snake food”, their fates linked to death from the get go.  In all 3 instances, all sets of mice were the same; nothing changed but their labels, and yet that was all that mattered.  That label dictated either their life or their death.  “He concludes that the roles and labels humans assign to animals ‘deeply influence our sense of what is ethical.’”

In other words, labels make it ok to discriminate; after all, “they” are not “us.”   English Language Learners do not belong in a classroom with English speakers (why? because “they” won’t understand what’s going on).  That’s why “they” have their own English Language Learner classrooms while “we” are in our English only classrooms.  After a year, “they” can join “us”, but only if “they” comply with our English only rules.

What if, however, “we” didn’t label “them”? “We” didn’t exclude “them”?  What if, instead of sending kids who don’t speak the same language out, “they” stay in the class and the class as a whole learns in both languages?  All kids would learn together, both from the teacher and from each other.  There wouldn’t be an “us” vs. “them” mentality. Without that label of English  Language Learner, those kids are suddenly seen as just that: kids.

The best time for people to learn any language is at that young age, in elementary school.  Some states have started foreign language immersion programs,  Arizona of course not being one of them. AZ is really good at doing the opposite of 1. What makes sense and 2. What is good for our kids.

Arizona Revised Statute § 15-752.

This English immersion law makes the teaching of any foreign language illegal in public schools**.  It promotes the labeling of kids as either English speakers or English Language Learners,  which consequently promotes the stigma that is attached to those labels.   What stigma, you ask?  Besides blatant  hate speech, which happens all too often, there are cultural racisms that go almost unnoticed:   “One such form of discrete racism is cultural racism. Cultural racism is a way of thinking, speaking and responding that becomes so pervasive in the mainstream culture that it is almost invisible to the masses in the mainstream culture. It is all too easy for individuals to disassociate themselves from being a part of, or perpetuating, such beliefs and actions (Kendall, 1996).”  Once again, Arizona has embraced this discreet racism, perpetuated through labels.

Arizona Revised Statute § 15-112

This law prohibits studies that focuses on a particular ethnic group, with the exceptions of Native Americans, and history of either the holocaust, mass genocides or historical oppressions.  In other words, American kids will learn about American history – and since American history is primarily patriarchal, that is what kids get to learn about: old white  men and how they  1. conquered the New World. 2. liberated the slaves and 3. saved the Jews .  No longer is there any emphasis on black history, or  Latino history, or Chinese history, or Indian history, etc.  No longer do kids get to learn about famous non-white people who improved our world.  The only time kids become acquianted with a different historical culture is if that history is infamous.  AZ’s education system completely omits the inspiring stories that exist but are prohibited from being taught.   It is no wonder so many kids are unmotivated to get a higher education.  The state has deliberately removed many sources of inspirational role models that minorities can identify with.  A child, white or not, must be taught that he or she has the possiblity of greatness.  What miniority children lack is the same awareness that white children enjoy. Without role models, or inspiration, it makes the struggle just that much harder.

Beyond discrimination: American’s are stuck in this idea that we are the center of the universe, or of at least the world.  According to a 2007 census report, 80.3 percent of people in U.S. speak English only.  Of the 19.7 percent of people who spoke another language, only a little over 11 percent spoke at least 2 languages (including English). My point: Americas, despite being a nation of immigrants, have forgotten that we live in an ever growing global community where little things like communication  are essential to success.

**There is a way to get around AZ’s English Only law, but only if every parent of every student signs a waiver to consent of learning another language every year.  I have heard of at least one school that does this (Santa Fe Elementary School).

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"What is to give light must endure burning." - Vikto E. Frankl
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13 Responses to English Plus Movement

  1. roblewis92 says:

    I think it would unjust to force an entire class of English speaking students to damage their studies by learning another language to accommodate a non-English speaking student. If everyone is forced to learn to speak the language of the non-English speaking child, then that also makes child the “Other”. It highlights that child as the focus of scorn by parents and students for burdening them, which is probably something the child would want to avoid.

    What is wrong about children learning about the exploits of “patriarchal” white men? White men founded America, wrote the Constitution, passed the Bill of Rights, passed the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 14th, 15th, 19th Amendments, liberated death camps, founded the world’s greatest universities, created countless vaccines and inventions, developed and systematized scientific and philosophical discoveries, etc. The law does not prohibit learning about great non-white people who have improved the world. It only forbids classes that push exclusivist ethnic solidarity like Chicano Studies.

    Minority children are probably much more likely to be unmotivated by their lack of having a cohesive family structure or parents that make a decent living. I think that children can be taught that they can be great outside of indoctrinating them with tales of oppression and victims. Maybe a child would be more unmotivated if they learned the history of oppression and the many great people who weren’t able to break the oppression.

  2. roblewis92 says:

    *Take out “Bill of Rights”. I got a little redundant there.

  3. elason13 says:

    Learning another language through foreign language programs do not have thorough research backed results, positive or negative. It is simply too new and something that interested experts of only recently began to study. Having said that, those who do speak multiple languages are more successful: they have more oppurtunities to be successful. Please review Forbes website linked above. Therefore, I am not sure by what you mean when you say English speaking students would damage their studies by learning another language. Please explain.

    I think you do have a valid point about the child still being labeled as an other, as the English students would perhaps recent this child for forcing them to “damage their studies”. I think that is an issue of people fearing change. I would agree that, at first, egocentric Americans would resent having their children learn a fellow student’s language. However, after the passing of time and this practice becomes a norm, and the benefits of foreign language immersion programs can be seen, I believe that it will be the preferred way to learn. I think Americans hate anything that forces them to do anything: forced to by car, and now health, insurance, forced to pay taxes, forced to go through background checks to own a gun, etc. As far as education, though, I think we need to do something. The U.S. is far far behind much of the world, so I think forcing students to do more is the only real students. Having said that, if a parent truly did not want their child to learn, then perhaps the wiaver process could be reversed, allowing the parent to opt out instead of requiring parents to opt in.

    Nothing is wrong about learning American history, based primarily white men. The problem resides in teach students ONLY about white men. Minority kids need just as much inspiration as their fellow students, and they are getting very little in comparison. All I am advocating is to bring back Black history month or Chicano studies, or let the teachers get creative for once! Diversity in AZ is amazing and students can learn SO much from just listening to each other and their backgrounds.

    “Minority children are probably much more likely to be unmotivated by their lack of having a cohesive family structure or parents that make a decent living.” – as to this comment, I think it is incredibly sterotypical and narrow-minded. Perhaps if you knew the minority’s culture and/or language, you would understand how ignorant this comment is.

    • theginja says:

      “I think Americans hate anything that forces them to do anything ..” Whoa, look out Americans hate coercion … those loonies!

      “The U.S. is far far behind much of the world.” … I am going to jump out on a limb here and say you have not traveled the world too much. Perhaps some of Europe and/or Mexico if you’re like most Americans (I could be making a big mistake, but I have a strong inclination). I’m not trying to be adversarial here, but when these sorts of statements are made I wonder where they are coming from. I’ve been lucky enough to spend significant time all over the world, some pleasure, some business. Trust me, America sure has its issues, but we are not “far far behind MUCH of the world” in almost any aspect. I am only going to go out on a limb and assume you’re talking about education in this context. On average the United States is ranked between 15 and 20th overal in the world. “Much of the world” is well below that line. The U.S. is also one of the few countries that does not cherry pick its students for reporting (Here’s looking at you far east). Meaning, we provide an accurate cross-section of our education system, as is often the case other countries provide only “selected” students. And when it comes to research and our highest achieving students, we are still at the top of the world. Overall the vast majority of our students fall within 1/2 the standard deviation of international performance. We are also one of the largest, we do not have the luxury of a small homogeneous population like Finland. We truly are a “melting pot” or “salad bowl” or whatever analogy they are using nowadays.

      I am in no way defending our TERRIBLY broken education system. But, sometimes we need to ring in our sensationalist mentality.

  4. newbieblogster13 says:

    I might get some hate for this but I actually don’t see the problem with the classes where kids are separated and helped to get caught up with kids who are more fluent with English. I speak with experience because when I was in grade school, I went through classes with one of the best teachers to help me get caught up in English. I already learned my first language at home and my family didn’t have much focus on English as they spoke very little at the time. Having those classes really helped me understand English so I may better communicate with my predominantly white classmates and I got to learn a second language which is understood in a lot of the world. As I stated earlier, I had a great instructor and my brother and I were the only people in it so we got a lot of alone time. Kind of like a private class and we caught on the language very quickly.

    I understand your point that it would be great have the whole class learn another language and so the “they” child(ren) are not excluded and I think that would be a marvelous thing as well, but the U.S. is a “melting pot” country and there are just so many diversities. Take a class where there may be 3 or 4 kids that speak another language, then what language are the school going to teach to accommodate them? It’s true that learning languages is easiest as a kid but that would be a bit much to try and teach 3 or 4 languages. Also, some kids already have a hard time trying to focus on all the subjects they are thrown into during grade school and many have a hard time grasping English itself. Trying to force kids who may have no current interest in another language could overwhelm them and possibly botch their current language. I’m going to use myself as an example. Back when I was in those separate classes, I kept mixing up my current language,Cantonese, with English because the sentence structures are different and I kept trying to use the sentence structure for Cantonese when I was learning English and It was just awful, but I had an instructor to pretty much teach me personally so I could learn. Having whole classes to try and learn 2 different languages at the same time without any personal time from teachers may confuse the kids to integrate both languages as I did. I still do sometimes because I don’t realize it and I would write or speak it without noticing. Perhaps there will be a day grade schools can add more languages to their criteria but they first need more funding so kids may have a more private learning experience as I did.

    • elason13 says:

      I appreciate your perspective because I never thought about it that way. One on one time with a teacher is important no matter what a student is learning. I don’t have all the answers on how a foreign immersion system could work, but I don’t think that means that it isn’t worth doing. From my point of view, I would have loved the opportunity to learn about you and your languange and culture. To prove my point, I don’t even know where in the world people who speak cantonese live… well, at least not without googling it first. Don’t you think that students should have the same opportunity to learn another language just like you did?

      • ryrooney says:

        I think students should definitely have the opportunity to learn another language! Learning a second language, no matter the language, is extremely helpful for learning development but also later on in life in the job market. With that said, I just don’t think submerging a child into a whole new culture and language is a great idea. Maybe little by little foreign language speaking children could come into the class. For example, everyday Wednesday and Friday these kids would sit with other children and do school work. I think that is a middle ground that you and I could agree on, seeing that that way children wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and the mixing of cultures would grow steadily instead of clashing.

        The not knowing where in the world people who speak Cantonese live is most likely a education flop because in the US children are not taught about different languages around the world. So it’s not your fault but you not knowing that does prove your point!

  5. ryrooney says:

    I find it interesting that you think everyone, no matter of a language barrier, should be in the same class. I think this idea is great until it comes to children’s grades falling because they do not understand the material because of the language barrier. Having a child who speaks German in a class full of children who speaks English is a good way to integrate cultures. Being in a class with kids that speak English would help the German speaking child acclimate quicker and it would expose English speaking kids to a different culture, hopefully bringing the two together.

    But that brings me to a second question which is what happens when the foreign language speaking child gets made fun of because he is different? We all know just how cruel kids can be now a days, I couldn’t even imagine being laughed at and made fun of because I was different. How would a translator even explain to the child that he is being made fun of because he is different. How would that impede his learning process? Also, would it be fair to subject an entire class to learning at a slow pace because a few students don’t know the language and are going to slow them down? I do not think many parents would hop on board that idea because in reality it is impeding on everyone else’s learning.

    And not everyone who doesn’t speak English gets sent to another class to learn. My cousin was deaf when he was born and all throughout school and was in class with everybody else. It was really hard for him to learn and he needed tutors almost all throughout high school because his parents didn’t want him to have special help. So knowing his experience, I don’t know if it would be a good idea to put children through that.

    • elason13 says:

      I understand that there are concerns of feasability. I mean, seriously, how would this even work? I suppose a number of systems could be devised, but I think the most practicle way would be for certain schools to specialize in different languages. Students would choose the school,ie language, they wanted to go to. The German student could go to a German school, where students learn in half German and half English. Or your cousin would be able to go to school where half of the curriculum was taught in sign language, allowing your cousin to be able to talk to his or her classmates. These programs would start from kindergarden, early enough to ensure students wouldnt fall behind due to lack of understanding.

      As to your second point… I don’t think that fear of the unknown or of being bullied should stop progress. I am certain that in the first segregaed schools black children were ridiculed for no other reason than their race. That rightly didn’t stop progress. Eventually that perceived difference was overcome in all but the least diverse populations.

      • roblewis92 says:

        ” I suppose a number of systems could be devised, but I think the most practicle way would be for certain schools to specialize in different languages. Students would choose the school,ie language, they wanted to go to. The German student could go to a German school, where students learn in half German and half English.”

        Doesn’t that basically concede your argument? If children who can’t speak English are sent to another classroom, then they are “the Other”. If children who can’t speak English are sent to another school, then we have found a solution?

      • ryrooney says:

        I like the idea of having a German school in the US where children from Germany can go and learn half English and still be connected to their germanic roots, but I don’t see that ever happening in the US. People expect “foreigners” to assimilate to the US culture so putting in the tax payers dollars to create a school built for foreign speaking children would be very hard. But I like the idea.

        I understand where you are coming from on your second point but I think it is still a problem that should be taken into consideration. Especially, with the abundance of social media and cyberbullying.

  6. elason13 says:

    I don’t think I making my point very clear mostly because I am assuming that you already know what the established process of existing foreign language immersion programs are, which is my mistake. In this system, non-English and English speakers both learn together, in the same classroom. Half the day is taught in English (say, social studies, reading and writing, and science) and the other half of the day is taught in another language (say math and the arts). So ALL schools would definitetly teach English for half of the day. For the second half of the day, different schools could specialize in 1 or 2 languages.

    As far as my idea of feasiblity on a mass scale, I think that specialization would allow for expert teachers and processes to be created and maintained. If you really wanted your child to learn English/German combo, but your school near you only taught English/Spanish combo, your child would qualify for a variance. If an immigrant who already spoke Chinese came in, they would most likly want to go to the English/Chinese school, although they would also have the freedom to chose from the English/German or English/Spanish, etc, schools. I don’t view it as students being “sent” anywhere. It’s more like students have the freedom to decide of which school that they will collectively learn 2 languages together.

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