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.
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.
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).