Judge to Immigrant Mothers: Learn English or Lose Your Kids

This is utterly disgusting. From the LA Times:

A judge hearing child abuse and neglect cases in Tennessee has given an unusual instruction to some immigrant mothers who have come before him: Learn English, or else.

Most recently, it was an 18-year-old woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, who had been reported to the Department of Children’s Services for failing to immunize her toddler and show up for appointments. At a hearing last month to monitor the mother’s custody of the child, Wilson County Judge Barry Tatum instructed the woman to learn English and to use birth control, the Lebanon Democrat newspaper reported.

Last October, Tatum gave a similar order to a Mexican woman who had been cited for neglect of her 11-year-old daughter, said a lawyer who is representing the woman in her appeal. Setting a court date six months away, the judge told the woman she should be able to speak English at a fourth-grade level by that meeting. If she failed, he warned, he would begin the process of termination of parental rights.

Full story.

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97 Responses to Judge to Immigrant Mothers: Learn English or Lose Your Kids

  1. Pingback: Govind's Stochastic Comments » Live Abroad, Don’t Speak Their Language, Lose Your Kids?

  2. 2
    Michael says:

    Jesus. Speaking as a non-Spanish speaker living in Puerto Rico, this hits close to home.

    What a colossal asshat.

  3. 3
    Assamite says:

    “Family values”, indeed.

  4. 4
    Steve Talbert says:

    Ay, Carumba!!

    Actually, it brings up an interesting point. Is someone endangering a child if you can’t understand how to provide medical help to them? Is that similar to a person legally blind driving a child to school? Or having a child in the car while you are driving drunk? People get tickets for not putting kids in child seats.

    I think it’s unfortunate that more people in the US don’t learn another language other than english,,, but with so many immigrants from everwhere,,, we would always have people who can’t understand each other.

    In Los Angeles, some cities with large Asian populations make it manditory that store names and addresses be in english so the police and fire dept will know whats what – even if the other sign is in whatever language.

  5. 5
    Zed Pobre says:

    Actually, the issue of language is a very interesting one: I don’t know anything about Wilson County, but if it’s an area with no Spanish language support whatsoever, and the mother cannot afford a translator, the judge may be reasoning (and possibly, even reasoning correctly), that the child is significantly at risk because the mother cannot follow instructions on how to care for her. Note that this is in the context of having failed to have the child immunized. The crime here isn’t in not speaking the language — it’s in not speaking the language and not taking any other steps to be able to function in the local society.

    What is utterly disgusting, frankly terrifying, and nobody seems to have noticed is the instruction by the judge for her to use birth control. I’m trying to come up with a situation so extreme that it would warrant a government eugenics program and utterly failing. The woman could be a repeated child molester, and I still wouldn’t support the right of a judge to order something like that.

  6. We can assume that a fairly serious set of events had to have taken place in order for these women to have to have had to appear before a judge Let’s face it, gang – these sound like families with problems with red flags rightly raised. For the mothers to learn English would likely be a good step towards solving their overall problems.

    That being said, tying English education to child custody is a frightening prospect with horrifying implications, particularly, as “Michael” above and Atrios pointed out, if the standard were to be applied to American expatriats overseas.

    My wife is T hai. We have been together close to 20 years, much of which I have spent in T hailand raising our children (who are dual US/T hai citizens). I studied T hai in college for two years. I ran a successful T hai business for years with T hai employees and customers. I lived far from any other Americans. Unfortunately, try as I might, I have never been able to learn T hai. (I performed abysmally in language in college…). This has been a major source of frustration for me throughout my life.

    At the same time, however, this has no bearing whatsoever on the level of care and attention I have been able to provide for my children. Indeed, had I been a deaf-mute, I believe I would have been as loving and caring a parent.

  7. 7
    Cameron says:

    “The crime here isn’t in not speaking the language ““ it’s in not speaking the language and not taking any other steps to be able to function in the local society.”? Not being able to function within the local society is illegal? Not immunizing your kid is illegal?

    Seriously, there are people who speak the dominant language of the culture within which they live who choose to not immunize their children for a wide range of reasons (some based in science, some in faith, some in crackpottery)

  8. 8
    Naa-Dei Nikoi says:

    The decision itself is immoral and really will do that child much more harm than the good the judge imagines. Sick.

    However, I will note that you *can* become pretty fluent in a foreign language in six months, even as an adult, BUT not on the terms that the judge has outlined. I’ve done it before but it was possible because I was utterly surrounded by friendly and helpful people who spoke nearly no English, I really, really wanted to, I had extra help, I was literate in English and had access to books and tapes, and I had no distractions in the way of a job or a family to take care of. None of which are the case here.

    Just about the only people I have seen who go to another country and *refuse* to learn to speak the language out of disregard for the inhabitants are white English Britons. I haven’t seen enough Americans settle abroad to make any judgement. I have noticed too that the very people who do freely refuse to learn are the same people who project the same motivation (contempt for native culture) onto non-English-speaking immigrants.

    In general, you will only learn as much of a language as you NEED to get around your daily life. which depending on your circumstances, can be amazingly little. To get beyond that, a few things need to be there. Time: if you’re working round the clock, you don’t have a lot of it. Potential: if it really would bring enough benefits to justify the effort. If you’re a businessman looking to be able to communicate directly with contact in a country, learning the language makes a lot of sense. If you’re an illiterate unskilled labourer, learning more than you need to won’t directly contribute to your being better off. Whether resources are practially available: my extra language classes were free to me and at a convenient time. I doubt there are many free ESL classes running, especially not at times to suit someone working her fingers to the bone to stay afloat. And social integration — whether there’s anything you *want* to *say* to anyone speaking that language. Nice neighbours – fast learning. Hostile or at least uncaring ones – you keep to yourself and to people you’ve already something in common with and learn slowly.

    If anyone in that town is serious about integration, then this is deeply, madly counterproductive.

    Dei.

  9. 9
    Sally says:

    I wonder what kind of ESL programs are available in Wilson County. I’d be willing to bet they’re not great. And you know, if the county doesn’t offer services to Spanish speakers, it would be more fair, and ultimately cheaper, to start providing those services, rather than taking away the children of monolingual Spanish speakers. It costs a lot of money to raise kids in foster care. It costs a lot of money to incarcerate them after they age out of foster care. A staggering percentage of former wards of the state end up in the criminal justice system within a few years.

    I firmly believe that people who live in the U.S. are better off if they know English. I think most non-English-speaking Americans would agree. But there are significant barriers to learning English for many immigrants. We’re better off addressing those barriers, rather than using people’s kids as leverage to get them to behave the way we want them to. And the notion that this kid would be better off in the system is, frankly, a little mind-boggling to me.

    And yeah, the birth control thing is really troubling. Is it even Constitutional, on privacy and religious freedom grounds, to require someone to use birth control?

  10. 10
    mythago says:

    Not so much. Either the judge was trying to Make A Statement, safely assured that his decision would be overturned on appeal, or he’s bucking for his next re-election.

    I will note that you *can* become pretty fluent in a foreign language in six months

    *Some* people can become pretty fluent in *some* foreign languages in six months.

  11. 11
    Aaron says:

    Certainly, some people learn language better than others. (I even know somebody who can read ancient Sumerian.) But part of the problem is not so much aptitude, as it is teaching method. The methodology of teaching language in most public schools is abysmal, and creates in many kids the mindset that “I can’t do this”. I got A’s in my 12th grade French class, which shocked me given my self-appraisal of my performance, and can only make me ponder how poorly the rest of the class was doing…. And that was in Canada, where you would think that there would be an emphasis on good teaching technique for French language skills.

    Getting back to the judge’s ruling, though, isn’t this actually quite similar to what some other nations do? Ask a lawyer who has tried to resolve an international custody dispute involving Germany how receptive the German courts are to the notion that a child be reared by a non-German speaking parent or (shudder) in country other than Germany. (Example)

  12. 12
    Sally says:

    Sure. Germany also denies citizenship to people whose families have lived in the country for generations. Lots of countries do things that I find offensive. That doesn’t mean the U.S. should do them, too.

  13. 13
    mn says:

    Crikey! Isn’t there a better way to promote English learning among immigrants to the US than this? Same for the birth control “instruction”… by a judge?

    And yes, there are lousy court decisions and lousy anti-immigrant policies in Europe, but that German-American child custody dispute seems to be a different matter. For one thing, German courts awarded custody to the mother and US courts to the father, so it would seem it’s more of a dispute on whose laws should apply.

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  15. 14
    jusfishn says:

    If this was a first offense — the judge was wrong. He should have advised with conditions.

    Is there a law that says a child MUST be vacinated???

    Is there more to this story??

  16. 15
    FoolishOwl says:

    A few years ago, they banned bilingual education in California. You have to wonder how someone’s supposed to learn English without some instruction in a language they know.

    It’s all about reinforcing racism. That judge who required the use of birth control showed how sexism is often linked to racism — it’s not the first time I’ve heard of such a sentence for a non-white woman.

  17. 16
    JC says:

    It may not be gods own truth, but there is a possibility that this 18-yr old woman does not speak spanish. From what I have read, there are a lot of indiginous folks from Oaxaca way who dont speak spanish, but speak local tribal languages.

    The judge is still way over the line here. An order to use contraceptives and learn english? Someone sounds bigoted

  18. 17
    FoolishOwl says:

    I think the law, in California anyway, is that a child must be vaccinated to be allowed into public school.

  19. 18
    S Ty says:

    Sounds like Wilson County Judge Barry Tatum is someone who’s life needs a little examining.

  20. 19
    oodja says:

    What a huge crock. My mother-in-law spoke absolutely no English when she arrived here from Greece in the late sixties, and yet nevertheless she managed to get the appropriate medical care for herself and the three children she gave birth to and reared before reaching anything even close to a 4th-grade level of English. She’s fluent in the language now, but to this day my father-in-law still isn’t even close, and yet he has been able to be a law-abiding, tax-paying, functioning member of American society for the past thirty years who was more than able to provide for his family.

    This is fear of a brown country, pure and simple.

  21. 20
    freddie says:

    There are many arguements one hears about requiring English for citizenship in the U.S., but the simple fact is that there is no law presently on the books that makes English the national, standard language of the country.

  22. 21
    Sally says:

    Actually, you’re right, JC. The mother speaks Mextica, not Spanish.

    Incidentally, the judge later claimed that he wouldn’t follow through on the threat to terminate parental rights if she didn’t use birth control. In fact, he acknowledges that he overstepped his bounds:

    Tatum said he was well aware of legal guidelines but felt the order was needed nonetheless.
    “I don’t have the authority to say she can’t have her child because of a the language or birth control, sure, but I felt like I was giving her an opportunity, as a relatively new arrival to the U.S., to take steps necessary to see that her child gets all the benefits of citizenship in our country,”? Tatum said.

    I guess that threatening to take away someone’s kid is, in fact, a way to “give her an opportunity.” And there was nothing in his ruling to suggest he didn’t mean it. The order said:

    If at the next hearing [the mother] is not able to communicate with the court and remains inarticulate in English, the court will direct that a hearing be set on the pending petition for termination of parental rights.

    That doesn’t sound like “giving her an opportunity” to me. “Giving her an opportunity” would involve compiling a list of ESL programs, finding funds to pay for her to attend one, and arranging transportation and childcare so she could do so.

  23. 22
    Sally says:

    And now I’m confused. What is Mextica? It doesn’t come up on a google search. Does she speak a dialect of Spanish? What gives?

  24. 23
    oodja says:

    I’m pretty sure the article meant to say “Mixteca”, one of the indigenous languages of the Oaxaca region.

    Crack team of fact-checkers over at that paper…

  25. 24
    Dan S. says:

    The full text of the article points out something I had suspected: that there has been a recent (over the decade) influx of immigrants – “more than 1,200 foreign-born agricultural and manufacturing workers” – into what had previously been a rather homogeneous area. These rulings and related garbage are a predictable (but no less disgusting) result. One quote that says it all:

    Though the judge’s order may have been a mistake, “the general sentiment is, if people are going to be in this country, we all have a moral obligation to learn to speak the language,” said Bob Bright, 61, who runs an insurance agency in Lebanon.

    “I know if I was in Mexico I would make an effort to learn Hispanic.” (emphasis added)

    Uh-huh.

    One also wonders if Mr. Bright can speak – what would it be, Cherokee? After all, if you’re going to be in this country . . .

    Hopefully solutions will be worked out to help this population, some of whom, as the article points out and posters had suggested, only speak Mixteco and can’t really read in any language.

    One of the judge’s comments, from his written orders, is rather strange:
    “If the mother is able to learn English, she will be able to speak with her daughter for the first time in a substantive manner and will show her that she loves her and is willing to do anything necessary to connect with her.”
    Huh? I mean, it’s possible the child primarily speaks Spanish or English. . . . but very odd.

    Glenda Williams, 57, a clerk at Cuz’s Antique Center, said some shopkeepers have gone out of their way to accommodate the new immigrants by studying Spanish. Williams is not one of them. “I’m not taking a class, and I don’t plan to,” Williams said. “If you come through that door and you don’t speak English, I’m sorry. If you love it that much here, you take the time to take” an English class.

    Lots of free/cost English classes offered at a variety of times (with child-care arrangements) over in Lebanon, eh, Glenda? Love makes anything possible, I guess . . .
    (Perhaps there are. One can hope.)

    I do wish that the judge had six months to learn to speak Mixteco at a 4th grade level while working and caring for children, with limited support, as a condition for retaining his job. That would be fun.

    Note also that the “mother asked the court to arrange counseling, and the judge denied that request, instead giving the women a deadline for basic mastery of English.” I don’t care if he has been known to pay personal visits to prisoners in jail and to join troubled teens in picking up trash as part of their community service.” C’mon, Judge Tatum. Six months. Fourth grade fluency in Mixteco. Or else.

    -Dan S.

  26. 25
    Urban says:

    The freedom of speech clause protects those individuals. We don’t have an official language in this country. If the whole country decides to speak German instead of English tomorrow, we can do it. The judge should know better.

  27. 26
    Dan S. says:

    >I’m pretty sure the article meant to say “Mixteca”, one of the indigenous languages of the >Oaxaca region

    I meant to too . . .shows what happens when I read blogs while sick. Serves me right.

    -Dan S.

  28. 27
    oodja says:

    And to answer your other question Sally there are many enclaves of indigneous Mexicans who speak little or no Spanish at all. For example, the Aztec language Nahuatl is still the first language of about a million Mexicans who live in villages scattered between Mexico City and Puebla. I spent a summer studying Nahuatl in Cholula, and we took a couple of field trips to places where speaking Spanish wouldn’t get you the time of day.

  29. 28
    Sally says:

    Oh, I know there are Mexicans who don’t speak Spanish. I just thought it was odd that she was supposed to speak “dialect” (why isn’t it a language? I guess it doesn’t have an army) that appeared not to exist.

    I read the L.A. Times article (I’d read other, shorter articles on the case), and it does actually sound like there’s a real problem. You don’t want to have entire communities that are so linguistically isolated that their kids don’t attend school or get basic medical care. It’s just that they need to come up with better, less-punative ways to deal with that issue.

  30. 29
    oodja says:

    You’re right, Sally, it shouldn’t be called a dialect. Mixtec (or Mixteco or Lengua Mixteca, whatever you want to call it) is a language in its own right.

    The problem of “linguistically isolated” enclaves is that they will always exist so long as we open our borders to immigrants. Non-English speaking people have settled in our country for centuries. They will inevitably have children who are functionally bilingual, and in turn they will raise a third generation for whom English will be the primary language. This is how assimilation has always worked in America – in fact, the “three generation” rule is near-universal, even in the case of the most stubborn cultures and traditionally conservative languages – so I don’t see why we have to artificially force the process to score points with the nativists and xenophobes, especially now that we have the technological wherewithal to provide near-instantaneous translation.

  31. 30
    mythago says:

    Tatum said he was well aware of legal guidelines but felt the order was needed nonetheless

    So, again, he either made a ruling he knew was blatantly unconstitutional and untenable, to make a point; or, he is lying and really thought he could get away with this. Anyone talked to the ethics committee of the Tennessee Bar yet?

  32. 31
    Sally says:

    I don’t entirely buy the three-generation hypothesis: it obscures some pretty significant distinctions in immigrant adaptation processes. It’s true that the second generation was usually bilingual, but there are big differences in whether the second generation was literate, or went to high school, or whether members the third generation went to college. I know a fair amount about U.S. immigration history, actually, and I don’t think it’s xenophobic to suggest that it’s a problem when communities don’t enroll their kids in school. And it’s probably more of a problem for racialized immigrant groups, which have to struggle to claim such rights of citizenship as the right to educate their kids.

    At any rate, in the post-industrial era, unlike in the last great wave of immigration, having a basic education is an absolute prerequisite to getting a decent job. So maybe it will sort itself out in three generations, but in the meantime, the kids of today will be condemned to low-wage, insecure jobs, unless their parents send them to school.

  33. 32
    SPG says:

    This is ridiculous. Everybody agrees that it is easier to live with certain skills, changing the oil in a car, being handy with power tools, knowing algebra, but it is also obvioius that you can survive and even prosper without them. What about the basics? Should you not be allowed to be a parent if you’re handicapped in any way? What if the judge ordered a deaf mother to figure out how to hear his bombast in six months or lose her child?

  34. 33
    Sarah says:

    Dear Liberal Avenger:

    Nothing personal, but the term deaf-mute is way, way out of style. Try deaf or hard-of-hearing. Like saying “Negro” basically…

    See the National Association of the Deaf’s “what’s wrong with these terms: deaf-mute, deaf and dumb, hearing impaired” (which they also dislike!)

    From a non-Deaf person currently living with that culture/language and learning as well…

    -Sarah

  35. 34
    concerned citizen says:

    “failing to immunize her toddler ”

    WTF. That is not a crime. My kids aren’t immunized and I will not give them that poison.

  36. 35
    Padre Mickey says:

    I am an Episcopal priest serving as a missionary in Panamá, and while my español is improving, I can’t say that I am really fluent yet. Both of my children are adults living in the U.S., but I can’t imagine the government of Panam’a threatening to take my children away because I don’t speak espanñol at a fourth grade level. Everyday I thank God that I no longer live in the United States of America.

  37. 36
    trey says:

    I can’t imagine the uproar I would have had if German officials told me they were going to take my daughter because I had not learned German well enough. I can not believe this man even THOUGHT of saying something so absurd.

    I hope this judge is reprimanded. EVEN if legally the parents’ rights would be upheld in the end, the anguish the parents would go through even thinking they could lose a child because they didn’t speak the language.

    It’s one thing to think everyone living in this country “must” learn English (I’d like to see the man who was quoted above dare learn ‘hispanic’), but to think their family’s should be ripped apart because they didn’t or couldn’t? Is this right wing family values?

  38. 37
    trey says:

    oh, and this mother was there for ‘failing to immunize her child’?

    There are thousands of non-immigrant parents in this country who refuse to immunize their children (for philosophical, religious and other reasons), is this judge prepared to take all their children away?

    Poor woman.

  39. 38
    ema says:

    Getting back to the judge’s ruling, though, isn’t this actually quite similar to what some other nations do? Ask a lawyer who has tried to resolve an international custody dispute involving Germany how receptive the German courts are to the notion that a child be reared by a non-German speaking parent or (shudder) in country other than Germany. (Example)

    Aaron,

    While I’m not too keen on German immigration law, I happen to know the details of the case quoted in the article. The decisions of the German court had nothing to do with the child being reared by a non-German speaking parent/a country other than Germany. They had to do with kidnapping the child, and murdering one of the child’s grandparents.

    And on topic. The judge has no business telling the woman what language she should speak and if she should/should not use contraception. However, based on my experience, if you live in the US it is most useful, and beneficial, to have at least a basic command of the English language.

  40. 39
    ronin says:

    Several commenters pointed out that some parents do not immunize their kids for their own reasons. If pushed, they would probably raise an unholy stink, perhaps a lawsuit, etc. Authorities know better than to deal with opinionated middle- and upper-middle class parents who know their rights and aren’t afraid to challenge the system, in fact think that is their due. The poor, ill-educated parent who is outside of the system is another story. We know what’s good for her kid and aren’t afraid to use power to enforce it .

    It’s OK if You’re Middle Class!

    And having said that, this parent probably needs help; it would be more effective to offer her real help to solve her problems rather than impossible ultimatums.

  41. 40
    lewis_stoole says:

    birth control???
    he must not have heard that the new code word is abstinance…

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  44. 41
    Barbara says:

    I had a couple of reactions:

    The woman is probably from a culture that immunizes only with some serious public health intervention. So far as I can tell, toddlers are never required to be immunize until they enter a day care or other formal educational program. In fact, the rate of non-immunization among toddler children of immigrants is high everywhere in the country, and it is one of the reasons that the rate of measles has escalated. I help in a church daycare and when the issue was broached with our Spanish speaking congregation they reacted by starting their own daycare. We wanted to know to figure out what to tell parents of children under 18 mos, the age at which one normally receives the MMR. So I am truly stumped as to why this would even be an issue at this point. I would like to know why it is that she is even in front of this judge — there must be more to this story.

    My second reaction is, how are they communicating with her now — do they have a translator? Why isn’t the translator telling her, in Mixteca or the language that she understands, what the judge expects, and just setting up an appointment for her and making sure she gets there. Social workers do this all the time — it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than sending a child through the foster care system, even in a small community like Wilson County.

    My third reaction is, how is a non-English speaker supposed to find and access available ESL programs without assistance?

    This is weird all the way around, and just ordering her to learn English or else is likely futile and counterproductive if she truly has no other issues than this one with her children.

  45. 42
    theperegrine says:

    I realize it puts me in the minority, but I’m for requiring immigrants to learn English. In these cases, it would be better for the children if their parents spoke English…they’ll probably end up going to American schools, and ESL classes are a waste of time and resources. The sooner they’re exposed to English, the easier it will be for them to learn it.

    Also, as punishments go, this is fairly light. Would you rather be forced to learn a language or, say, pick up trash on the highway?

    The part where he requires the women to use birth control…that’s where I think he crosses the line.

  46. 43
    Crys T says:

    What I want to know is what exactly is a “fourth-grade level” of English? Does this mean the level of language that a fourth-grade child would normally have?

    If so, and we assume that a fourth-grader is about 9 years, old, well, most children by that age have mostly acquired their mother tongue well before 9. So isn’t the judge then demanding native-like proficiency in a ridiculously short time?

    Unless the “fouth-grade” reference is to something else that I’m unaware of, isn’t there any way a halfway decent lawyer could consult with someone in the field of language acquisition and prove that the judge had no fucking idea what he was blathering on about with his requirement, that it is both unreasonable and impossible to demand native-like proficiency in the time allowed, and therefore that the judgement needs to be tossed out?

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  48. 44
    Crys T says:

    “I realize it puts me in the minority, but I’m for requiring immigrants to learn English.”

    What makes you assume that they don’t WANT to learn English? Have you any idea of how hard it is to learn a language when you are effectively shut out the culture it’s spoken in? How hard it is when not only does no one from that culture ever speak to you, you have no idea how to find classes to help you? How about if you’re illiterate in your own language? How easy do you think it would be to learn a new language then? What if you don’t have the money to pay for classes? Or if you can’t afford what it costs to travel to and from those classes?

    If you’re in a dominant group and you want people who have far less than you to learn your language, you’re going to have to work to make it possible for them to do so.

    ” and ESL classes are a waste of time and resources. ”

    Without ESL classes, exactly how do you propse that they learn English in the first place? And a “waste of time and resources” for WHOM exactly?

    “Would you rather be forced to learn a language or, say, pick up trash on the highway?”

    Me personally, learn a language. Because I’m a privileged, college-educated middle-class person who has loved languages for as long as I can remember. But if I were in the situation where I was *forced* to do it as a punishment, and I had very little money (not to mention time), and was generally treated as a bloodsucking parasite by society at large, I’m pretty sure I’d go for the trash on the highway.

    You act as if this is all so easy, which leads me to suspect that you’ve never had to learn another language. And I don’t mean taking tokenistic “foreign language” classes at school. I mean really going in headfirst into a culture where you can’t understand the first fucking thing of what’s going on and having to cope on an everyday basis. And again, I don’t mean going off in a very privileged middle-class way to live abroad briefly. I mean in a situation where you are seen in the same way immigrants might be.

    If you ever had, you might be a lot more sympathetic.

  49. 45
    Q Grrl says:

    And the judge’s response to the fathers for their “lack” of responsibility is….. ???

    My mother was born in this country but did not even begin to speak English until she was six. And I’m pretty sure that she wasn’t immunized either, as she predates the science. She turned out just honkey-dorey.

  50. 46
    Julian Elson says:

    I assume Mythago (who has a fancy law degree and all, whereas I have a high school diploma) is right in her interpretation of this as a ploy — but isn’t it odd how deliberately doing a bad job as a judge (in terms of following the law) makes it MORE likely that you keep it? It seems to me that there’s something wrong with the election system here.

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  52. 47
    Barbara says:

    the peregrine, the punishment isn’t learning English. The punishment is losing her child for not learning English. You are also underestimating the barriers that these women may face in trying to learn English no matter how much they would like to.

    I happen to live in a county that was, beginning approximately 15 years, beset by an influx of Spanish speaking children into the public school system. It became quickly apparent that the problem wasn’t teaching elementary school students English in the context of learning other subjects, it was the fact that children were entering the school system at the age of 9 or 10 or even 13 or 14 for the first time anywhere — with no basic literacy or math skills in any language — with parents for whom the notion of “compulsory attendance” at school was as foreign to them as backbreaking farm labor is to you or me.

    We have alot of ESL classes but there are never enough (they are not a waste of time, every au pair I’ve ever hired has found them valuable, whatever level they started at), but they require time and money, not something in abundant supply for migrant farm workers, not to mention finding a babysitter for the child.

  53. 48
    theperegrine says:

    By my statement ‘ESL classes are a waste of time and resources, I was referring to ESL classes in the public school system. At the moment we’re developing ‘separate but equal’ curriculum for children of immigrants, with little emphasis on weening them from Spanish, since that would be culturally insensitive. A Spanish-speaking child can graduate without learning to speak English. This system is absolutely a waste of time and resources; every class requires two teachers.

    The quality of education received in Spanish-speaking classes is generally lower, and why not? How many of these kids are likely to go on to the Ivy league?

    To do well in this society, you must speak fluent English. The younger the child, the easier it is for them to learn languages. If the parent speaks English, that’s a leg up.

  54. 49
    Q Grrl says:

    ” How many of these kids are likely to go on to the Ivy league? ”

    You’re really not serious with this are you? WTF?

    My neighbors all speak English perfectly well. They happen to be poor and black though. How many of them are likely to go on to the Ivy league? …. and what does this tell us about *them* if they don’t? Whatever.

  55. 50
    theperegrine says:

    Oh, and I have learned languages. I wouldn’t be comfortable living in a society where I didn’t know the language…believe me, I’d learn.

    I don’t think it’s fair to put it all down to racism. There are educators working on methods and systems of teaching English rapidly, but they’re meeting resistance from defenders of the status quo.

    And I realize this will be incendiary, but some of the resentment towards Spanish-speaking immigrants stems from an attitude that is prevalent in Spanish-speaking communities, especially in border states…that they can come here, live here, take advantage of the economy, but never actually have to become American. Many, many Spanish-speaking immigrants have no interest in becoming American…they’re just here to exploit American resources, and wouldn’t be here if they felt they had a choice. They resist learning to speak English and avoid mainstream American society.

    Even as a liberal, I’ve wondered why any of my tax money should go towards food stamps, health care and other services for visitors who dislike me and my culture. And before you ask, yes, I have lived in and around Spanish-speaking communities…I know of what I speak.

  56. 51
    theperegrine says:

    QGirl

    Get a grip. I’m saying that educators don’t, and won’t, strive as hard to educate Spanish-speaking children.

    All children in the school system should have access to the same education. No ‘separate but equal’.

  57. 52
    Q Grrl says:

    “Get a grip.”

    Excuse me? Don’t ever talk to me that way again.

    My experiences are that in areas that are heavily populated by either African-Americans or Hispanics, the State (not the educator) doesn’t back the “education” with adequate funding. It has nothing to do with language barriers. But I can see how language barriers play into xenophobic ideologies.

  58. 53
    Barbara says:

    the peregrine, as much as I understand your attitude (though I don’t share it), perhaps you should look at it from an alternative perspective: I will not say all people, because I am not convinced it’s true, but many U.S. citizens benefit from the presence and economic contributions of immigrants — as much as they are taking “advantage” of us, we are also taking advantage of them. This is a big and complicated subject, but to say that the benefit flows in one direction only is really, really wrong.

    Recently, the former governor of an adjacent state went on radio and lambasted the workers at the McDonald’s he had recently visited for their poor English skills. He had your basic view: If they come here they ought to speak English, instead of, I should be lucky that anybody in this incredibly expensive metropolitan area is willing to work at such a poorly paid job to serve a schmuck like me. That’s my attitude, anyway. When I go into restaurants, I try to gauge the likelihood that the waiter is an immigrant, and I wonder where he lives, and how in God’s name he gets by.

    I wonder where you live. Where I live, so-called “bilingual” education wasn’t even an option on the table, even though, at one point anyway, fully 60% of the school population was native in Spanish not English.

  59. 54
    theperegrine says:

    QGirl,

    Get a grip.

    Not everything can be solved by throwing more money at it. Schools are overextended enough without having to accommodate separate classes for Spanish-speaking children. Sure, we could build new facilities, hire new teachers, etc…but wouldn’t it be better to conserve those resources if we could?

  60. 55
    Ampersand says:

    And I realize this will be incendiary, but some of the resentment towards Spanish-speaking immigrants stems from an attitude that is prevalent in Spanish-speaking communities, especially in border states…that they can come here, live here, take advantage of the economy, but never actually have to become American. Many, many Spanish-speaking immigrants have no interest in becoming American…they’re just here to exploit American resources, and wouldn’t be here if they felt they had a choice. They resist learning to speak English and avoid mainstream American society.

    Of course, these same arguments were used to justify resentment of Jews a century ago.

    My take on all this is, even if it were true, so what? If people don’t want to have an interest in becoming American, they have that right.

    Even as a liberal, I’ve wondered why any of my tax money should go towards food stamps, health care and other services for visitors who dislike me and my culture. And before you ask, yes, I have lived in and around Spanish-speaking communities…I know of what I speak.

    So are you saying that eligibility for food stamps and other aid should be contingent on whether or not people like you and your culture? If not, then why do you bring this up?

    Taken as a whole, immigrants bring enormous economic benefits to the entire country. Immigrants and their children keep the economy vital, do jobs that most Americans are unwilling to do, and pay taxes which help support the entire system and make things like Social Security possible.

    Even if an immigrant is currently being supported by some form of income-transfer program, eventually they or their family will work and pay taxes – and even if they don’t, their children will. Note that immigrants on welfare or food stamps are actually no different from non-immigrants on welfare or food stamps, in this regard.

  61. 56
    theperegrine says:

    Barbara,

    I’m aware of how we benefit from immigrant labor…how does that affect my argument in any way?

    In order to do better than a career in landscaping or hotel service, the children will have to speak English. The question should be how best to accomplish this, not whether it should be accomplished. It certainly shouldn’t be whether we direct immigrant children into a course of public education that will discourage them from moving up the economic ladder.

    In any event…I’d rather be directed to learn Serbo-Croatian than have to pay a fine or do community service. I don’t see how this was cruel or unusual punishment.

  62. 57
    Q Grrl says:

    Thanks for listening to my request.

    If you view it as “throwing” money around, I don’t think there is enough common ground upon which we do agree. I’m not particularly concerned about money being stretched in what you term a useless form; not as long as we’re “throwing” money around in Iraq. I’d rather adequately educate one brown-skinned baby then I would either bomb her or starve her. But I suppose in your eyes that makes me entirely unreasonable.

    Have you ever considered that feminism strives to create new paradigms, rather than to work within the broken patriarchal system?

  63. 58
    Barbara says:

    Learning English isn’t the punishment, as I said. It’s more like “learn English or else — pick up garbage or lose your kid.” Losing the kid is the punishment. Learning English is the task at hand.

    You said: “they’re just here to exploit American resources, and wouldn’t be here if they felt they had a choice.” My response was to that particular gem. As if they are only ones doing the exploiting. They aren’t. So, yes, it does go to your argument.

    Do you think all of the expats overseeing American operations in China are resented because they have no intention of ingratiating themselves into the local society?

    Many immigrants avoid mainstream American society because they are utterly clueless about our customs and mores. Many immigrants (including those who came 100 years ago) thought, somehow, that they weren’t coming here permanently. That they would go home so such mainstreaming was unnecessary. My sister manages a landscaping business, and indeed, many of her workers spend the entire off-season in their home countries, and some do go back permanently.

  64. 59
    theperegrine says:

    Amperstand,

    In my opinion, eligibility for government services should hinge on whether or not you are, or are trying to become, a contributing member of the polity.

    And as for your reference to anti-semitism, I have no idea what you’re talking about. All of the Jewish immigrants I know, or know of, *wanted* to become Americans. Same with the Irish, the Italians…

  65. 60
    Ampersand says:

    In any event…I’d rather be directed to learn Serbo-Croatian than have to pay a fine or do community service. I don’t see how this was cruel or unusual punishment.

    No one here has claimed “cruel or unusual punishment”; you are the first poster on this thread to refer to that legal concept. It’s just a red herring on your part.

    I’m caught speeding and the judge says to me, “take a course on driver safety or I’ll have the bailiff drag you outside and shoot you in the fucking head,” that’s not cruel and unusual punishment. I have not, after all, been “punished” in the strict legal sense.

    However, it is a cruel and malevolent thing for the judge to say; it’s irresponsible; and it’s objectionable. The fact that taking a course on driver safety isn’t that big a deal mitigates none of the objections to a judge saying such a thing; to suggest that the mildness of the remedy is relevant is to completely miss the point.

    For many parents, the threat of arbitrary loss of custody is not much less serious than the threat of arbitrary execution.

  66. 61
    Q Grrl says:

    “I don’t see how this was cruel or unusual punishment. ”

    Because only the mothers were singled out… and until I see proof that the children did not have active father’s in their lives, I maintain that this is unusual punishment b/c of the overt sexism. Further, should we take black children away from their mothers if the mothers don’t assimilate their children into white culture — b/c I’m sure an argument could be made that these mothers are “hurting” their children’s futures.

  67. 62
    theperegrine says:

    Barbara-

    It’s the same with any sentence. ‘Perform the sentence or something worse will happen to you.’ If you don’t show up for community service, you will be fined. If you don’t pay the fine, you will be jailed.

    The woman’s punishment is learning English. If she doesn’t learn English, then a worse consequence will follow.

  68. 63
    Crys T says:

    “‘ESL classes are a waste of time and resources, I was referring to ESL classes in the public school system. At the moment we’re developing ‘separate but equal’ curriculum for children of immigrants, with little emphasis on weening them from Spanish, since that would be culturally insensitive.”

    Why should any child from a Spanish-speaking background be “weaned” from Spanish???? This is seeing language-learning as a zero-sum game: like any bit of one language learned pushes an equally sized bit of the other language out of the child’s head. Bilingualism doesn’t work that way. In fact, though researchers have tried, they have not yet found an upper limit to the number of languages any one person can successfully learn.

    If “ESL classes” (by which I’m assuming you mean bilingual education) don’t work in the US, it’s because the general public have such a shitty (and uninformed) attitude to them that they aren’t receiving proper funding or implementation. There’s nothing like doing something you don’t want to half-assed for “proof” that it “just doesn’t work”.

    “A Spanish-speaking child can graduate without learning to speak English. This system is absolutely a waste of time and resources; every class requires two teachers.”

    Firstly, I really doubt that anyone can get a diploma without speaking English in the US, though if you care to point me towards sources, I’d be interested in reading more. Secondly, I’d like to point out that many, many countries around the world seem to manage effective bilingual teaching just fine. How is that in the US, with all the money and resources you have, you can’t seem to make it work? Because there is such hostility towards it by the dominant group, of course.

    Also, monolinguals tend to assume that everyone else sees language in the same way as they do, which is just not true. They also assume that learning the less-powerful language in some way prevents children from learning the dominant one. Again, simply untrue. In Catalunya, there is bilingual Spanish/Catalan education, not only do Catalan-speaking youngsters do better in Catalan than Spanish-speakers, they also do better in Spanish than Spanish-speakers. Yes, you find a lot of people complaining that learning Catalan is a “waste of time” and it will “hold Catalan children back” in the wider world, but the facts speak differently. And if the US could get it together to running halfway decent bilingual education, it would be different there, too. You need to learn how to *exploit* the resources you have there, including the linguistic ones, rather than trying to beat them out of children.

    “The quality of education received in Spanish-speaking classes is generally lower”

    And why should that be? Because Latinos are so generally undervalued in the US, is my theory. That’s nothing to do with the basic concept of bilingual education.

    “and why not? How many of these kids are likely to go on to the Ivy league?”

    I don’t know quite what you’re driving at here. Are you being sarcastic?

    “To do well in this society, you must speak fluent English. The younger the child, the easier it is for them to learn languages. If the parent speaks English, that’s a leg up.”

    You know, I don’t really know where to start with this one. This reminds me of a Welsh-speaking guy who once said that when he was small, because his English was so weak, his teachers were telling his parents (both Welsh-speakers) that they should speak English at home. That is ignorant on so many levels, not the least of which that of how we actually learn languages. We learn what we NEED to learn, so if there really are Spanish-speakers in the US who aren’t learning English, it’s because they’re being shut out of the culture to such a degree that they aren’t being given the chance to learn.

    And, btw, the Welsh-speaker in the anecdote above now has an English-language vocabulary at least as extensive as that of most native English-speakers. So *when* you start learning is not the absolute determinant of *how well* you will learn. Much of the propaganda surrounding bilingual education is much more about monolinguals’ fear of anything they don’t understand than it is about language acquisition or bilingualism.

    This is all reminding me of Eddie Izzard: “Two languages in one head?!!!?!? No one can live at that speed!!!”

    “Oh, and I have learned languages. I wouldn’t be comfortable living in a society where I didn’t know the language…believe me, I’d learn.”

    Without the money for classes? And what if there were no classes available? And you weren’t accepted in the society? You’re making it out to be easy, when it’s very, very hard.

    “that they can come here, live here, take advantage of the economy, but never actually have to become American.”

    Why should they feel “American” when they are constantly being shat on for being “foreigners” and “wetbacks”? Would that make YOU feel as if you had a stake in the American identity? And what has
    “being American” got to do with speaking English? I can go to France to live and learn French without “being French”, can’t I? Also, why can’t “being American” include speaking Spanish (or other languages, for that matter)? Are you sure that resentment isn’t more about monolinguals’ fear of the different than it is Latinos’ “rejection” of “being American”? What you are describing sounds much more to me like Anglos’ concepts of what might be happening than anything else.

    “They resist learning to speak English and avoid mainstream American society.”

    And of course, American mainstream society welcomes them with open arms, doesn’t it?

    “And before you ask, yes, I have lived in and around Spanish-speaking communities…I know of what I speak.”

    And I, because I can function in Spanish, can relate to them on a personal level and actually know what they say when YOU aren’t around. I know the English Only people have got quite a propaganda machine going, but there are ways of hearing the other side, if you’re bothered to look for them.

    What language(s) did you learn and under what circumstances? How fluent and proficient did you get? Were you actually living in the culture? All these things are important.

  69. 64
    theperegrine says:

    I’m caught speeding and the judge says to me, “take a course on driver safety or I’ll have the bailiff drag you outside and shoot you in the fucking head,”? that’s not cruel and unusual punishment. I have not, after all, been “punished”? in the strict legal sense.

    Yes, it would be.

    And if ‘cruel and unusual’ isn’t the basis for your objection, then on what legal grounds are you objecting to this ruling?

  70. 65
    Barbara says:

    the peregrine, you are wrong about all Jewish etc. immigrants wanting to become American. The Irish, in particular, were virtually driven out of their country by famine — they didn’t want to become American, though they benefited politically by the good fortune of already knowing English when they got here (many, anyway). Jews were likewise driven out of many European communities by political circumstance. How do you think all those ethnic churches came about in Northeastern cities? It wasn’t because worshipers wanted to be part of a unified and homogenous society — that came later, specifically, after WWII and the advent of suburbanization, when hyphenated ethnicity was rejected.

    Nearly every first generation of immigrants resists assimilation. Their children assimilate. Certainly, that’s what has happened where I live, which is Arlington, Virginia, so you know what I am talking about.

    Many immigrants thought for many years that they would go back, but distance and money and the reality of having to survive made them change their aspirations, and their children, of course, have no memories of the old country or the old way of life. The world is a much smaller place, so times have changed, and it is more possible to keep one’s heart in two places at once, and to visit relatives, but still, I’m guessing that generational patterns will hold.

  71. 66
    Ampersand says:

    It’s the same with any sentence. ‘Perform the sentence or something worse will happen to you.’ If you don’t show up for community service, you will be fined. If you don’t pay the fine, you will be jailed.

    The woman’s punishment is learning English. If she doesn’t learn English, then a worse consequence will follow.

    Please try to actually address the argument. No one here is failing to understand the logic you outline above. However, we are saying (among other things) that the particular threatened “consequence” in this case is so huge and unfair that to threaten it constitutes an injustice. If you don’t address that point, then you’re not actually responding to the arguments you’re reading here.

    What if the judge had threatened to have her legs cut off if she refused to learn English – would you be arguing that that “consequence” was acceptable? If not, then on what basis would you say it wasn’t legitimate for the judge to suggest that consequence for failing to learn English?

  72. 67
    Q Grrl says:

    I remember the “waves” of Korean immigrants into my elementary school in the 70′s. No one was overly concerned that they couldn’t speak English — it was just assumed that they would be kicking our asses in math and science in a few years…

    [insert rolly-eyes]

    Most of the people in my state (NC) don’t even go on to college themselves, so Peregrine I don’t know why you’re assuming that non-native speakers are going to rise above the class/race system that keeps them in menial jobs. Even the *gasp* white folks around here don’t fair so well work wise.

    But then again, why is work your litmus test of a successful life?

  73. 68
    theperegrine says:

    Amperstand,

    Barbara doesn’t understand the logic I outlined above…she says that learning English wasn’t the punishment, and I disagree.

    Nor do I agree with you when you say that it is so huge and unfair that it consitutes an injustice. It may be more difficult for her to find and obtain free ESL training, since she speaks a native dialect, but not impossible.

    The only condition under which I would find this consequence to be ‘huge’ would be if she were unable to read or write. Six months is not enough time to become literate and learn a new language. But learning English would only increase this woman’s earning potential and her quality of life, to say nothing of the benefits for her children….so how awful could that really be for her?

  74. 69
    Ampersand says:

    In an earlier post, Peregrine wrote:

    Also, as punishments go, this is fairly light. Would you rather be forced to learn a language or, say, pick up trash on the highway?

    So, at that point, Peregrine was taking a judge’s ruling:

    A:{learn English} or else B:{lost custody of your children}

    And calling “A,” and not “B,” the punishment.

    I suggested a hypothetical counterexample, in which the judge ruled:

    A:{learn English} or else B:{get shot in the head}

    Now, Peregrine suddenly changes her (his?) position, claiming that “B” is a punishment and it’s cruel and unusual.

    Peregrine: Please decide on a single logical analysis of the judge’s ruling, and stick to it. Either “B” is part of the punishment – in which case people can legitimately object to the threat of losing custody as a cruel and unusual punishment – or it is not, in which case you have no basis on which to object to a judge saying “learn English or I’ll have you shot to death.”

    You can’t claim it both ways. Not if you want to make any logical sense, anyway.

  75. 70
    Barbara says:

    Note that learning English is a mandate, which, if not obeyed, will result in certain consequences. Thus, Barbara disagrees with your logic. To Barbara “learning English” is the equivalent of “obey the law” (as decreed by the judge, learning English is the personal law that this woman needs to follow) and the price for not obeying the judge is the loss of her children. Obeying the law is not normally classified as a punishment (though obeying some laws must seem like punishment to some people). However, I don’t need to play games regarding semantics, because I happen to agree with Ampersand’s reasoning as well — losing one’s child as a consequence for not learning English is unjustified, given the many less drastic alternatives available. Including mandating the vaccination and getting it over with and making her report to a social worker every so often as needed to make sure she understands the cultural expectations of her new residence. I doubt if Wilson County is willing to become the full-time custodian of every child in its jurisdiction whose mother can’t speak English.

  76. 71
    theperegrine says:

    Amperstand,

    Your logic is poor, but I understand what you’re trying to say. To be clear, this judge ordered the mother of an 11 year old child who had been accused of parental neglect to learn English or lose custody…the woman who failed to immunize her infant was not threatened with loss of custody according to the article.

    What are the specifics of that case? How was this child ‘neglected’? Why was the woman being monitored? Were there other allegations of abuse?

  77. 72
    Barbara says:

    There were two cases. I was confused by this as well. But there are two women, one the mother of a toddler and the other a mother of an 11 year old. And yes, if you read my first comment, I believe that there must clearly be “something else” going on in these cases, or else they never would have been in front of a judge to begin with. I am guessing that someone reported suspicion of neglect — as in, perhaps, not sending the 11 year old to school on a regular basis. I don’t know about the toddler case, but I assume there’s a neglect issue there as well, but it’s very hard to know — what some people see as neglect, others see as parental rights.

  78. 73
    theperegrine says:

    The article provides the best argument against the ruling I’ve seen so far, which is that lifestyle recommendations made by family court judges should be directly connected to the offending behavior.

    But in principle, learning English in America is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    Gotta go, folks. It’s been swell.

  79. 74
    Crys T says:

    Well, I see Peregrine has bowed out….and after I went and looked up links, as well! Ah well…….

    Just in case anyone else is interested in the topic, here’s some stuff (sorry I don’t know how to do the links all nifty-neato-like):

    Ten Common Fallacies about Bilingual Education
    http://www.kidsource.com/education/ten.fallacy.biling.ed.html

    Bilingual Education, the Acquisition of English, and the Retention and Loss of Spanish*, by Stephen Krashen
    http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JWCRAWFORD/Krashen7.htm

    Myths about Language Diversity and Literacy in the United States. ERIC Digest.
    http://www.ericdigests.org/1998-1/myths.htm

    I’ve only had the chance to skim this next one, but it seems pretty sound (apart from seeing the linguistic situations in Canada & Belgium as somehow “balkanised” and therefore “undesirable” anyway):
    BALKANIZATION, BILINGUALISM, AND COMPARISONS OF LANGUAGE SITUATIONS AT HOME AND ABROAD, John E. Petrovic
    http://brj.asu.edu/articlesv2/petrovic.html

    There’s lots more, obviously, but unless anyone really is interested, I’ll stop taking up more space!

  80. 75
    Q Grrl says:

    “(sorry I don’t know how to do the links all nifty-neato-like):”

    Ah hell Crys… don’t you know that means you shouldn’t be posting on the internet? I hope you don’t have any small children in your vicinity.

  81. 76
    Crys T says:

    I’m maintaining a dignified silence on that one, Q.

  82. 77
    Ampersand says:

    If you’re interested, here’s a step-by-step guide to how to make links, which I wrote for Tim Wise a while ago.

  83. 78
    Sally says:

    And as for your reference to anti-semitism, I have no idea what you’re talking about. All of the Jewish immigrants I know, or know of, *wanted* to become Americans. Same with the Irish, the Italians…

    Chiming in late here, but this actually is my area of expertise, and you’re wrong. You’re particularly wrong about Italians: before 1924, when Italian immigration was severely curtailed, most Italian migrants to America did not want to or intend to become American. Most probably intended to return to Italy once they’d made some money, and a significant percentage actually did go back to Italy. (Among Southern Italians, the return rate was about 60%, if I recall correctly. I’m pretty sure I’ve got stats by ethnic group at home in you’re interested. I can get them tonight.) The Irish and Jews were the groups least likely to go back. That was true of the Irish because the Irish economy was such a mess that there was no way for them to make a living and of the Jews because they had almost all left illegally and because they were so profoundly persecuted at home that there wasn’t a lot of incentive to return. But in many ways the Irish and Jews were atypical, not typical late 19th and early 20th century immigrant groups. If you look at Italians, Poles, Czechs, etc., you get a very different picture. It’s a big myth to think that most immigrants to America were just dying to stay. It’s also a mistake to think that current European immigrants are dying to stay in America: the recent mass return migration to Ireland has shown that’s wrong.

    And of course, 19th and early 20th century immigrants and ethnics faced constant accusations that they refused to assimilate, that they refused to raise their children as Americans, that they were disloyal “hyphenated Americans” rather than loyal “100% Americans.” There were massive campaigns to coerce immigrants to give up their foreign languages and customs. There were food programs designed to get Italians to stop using olive oil and start using butter. There were attempts to outlaw foreign-language instruction in public or parochial schools, since many mid-Western states had German-language schools that served the German-speaking community. Bilingual education is not a new issue: it’s just that in the 19th and early 20th centuries the language in question was, for the most part, German, not Spanish.

    I can give you a reading list about this if you’re interested.

  84. 79
    Crys T says:

    This is also coming in really late, but Sally’s excellent post has made me remember an important point: that English, contrary to what the English Only crowd would have us believe, has not been an absolutely monolithic presence in the United States. In fact, it’s only relatively recent that it’s had the overwhelming dominance that is does today.

    Of course, the real languages of the US are the Native American ones, which have been spoken there for millenia. But even if we’re discussing post-1492 languages, or even European colonial languages, English for a long time was one of many. And in those places where Spanish is most used, such as Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Southern California, etc., it is far from an “immigrant language” or a recent arrival: it was the first colonial language spoken there, long before English-speakers came on the scene. If you look at the names of those states, it’s plain to see that most of them are actually Spanish words, and that’s because it was the Spanish who colonised them.

    Spanish-speakers aren’t “moving in” to “swamp” the “real Americans” living there: Spanish-speakers have been there as long as there has been European influence in the Americas, and it’s the English-speakers who are the newcomers.

    I always feel uncomfortable pointing that out, because I don’t like the whole idea of colonies and Empires in the first place. But it does get up my nose to hear English-Only types ignorantly going on about Latinos as if “they” are some foreign invasion, bringing in some virus of a language when in fact Latinos were in all these places before Anglos.

  85. 80
    mythago says:

    Crys, the true irony there is living in California, where people in towns named, say, San Diego, Sacramento, Los Angeles, etc. complain about “those” Spanish-speakers. Uh, hello?

    The current wave of immigration is pretty much the same as it was for the Irish, the Eastern European Jews, the Germans, etc.

  86. 81
    Barbara says:

    My mother’s family attended German language churches until they were phased out after WWII. One of her grandfathers was a journalist for a German language newspaper. Before WWI, a significant percentage of people spoke German and sympathized with Germany, but after WWI, knowledge of German declined dramatically, and one of my great aunts told me that they stopped teaching German in many schools. One of my grandfathers, I am pretty sure, was not drafted because technically, he was Austrian.

    Right now, in my school district, a teacher has proposed to teach Italian at the high school level (he already teaches Spanish) and this has brought about some controversy to the effect of — Chinese, Russian or Arabic would be more useful. But a professor of Italian defended the teaching of Italian on the grounds that had Italian immigration come now instead of one hundred years ago, Italians would never have been forced to give up their language and customs as they were, in order to enforce assimiliation. It would have been taught the way Spanish is now (at least where I live).

  87. 82
    emma says:

    Crys T-
    Thank you for the wonderful links!
    One fact became very obvious to me when I learned a second language at the age of 16 as a high school foreign exchange student. When I already had a firm foundation in an academic area in English, it was far easier for me to transfer those skills into the new language. That seems to complement the educational theories that an immigrant student will do better if she can transfer academic skills from her native tongue. In that case, bilingual education would probably be more educationally sound than “sink or swim” type English only education. I agree that learning the primary language of a country is crucial–but if my gist of the educational theory (that jibes well with my own experience) is correct, the best way to learn English is to keep literate in your first language.

  88. 83
    Crys T says:

    Mythago: I wonder how many of those people actually realise just how many place names are actually Spanish, and just exactly why that should be.

    Barbara: Yeah, didn’t there used to be quite a large number of German-speaking communities in parts of the US? In fact, unless I’m mistaken, “Pennsylvania Dutch” is actually a German dialect.

    Emma: ” if my gist of the educational theory (that jibes well with my own experience) is correct, the best way to learn English is to keep literate in your first language.”

    Yeah, my experience says the same thing. I think it was in the Krashen article where it says that reading is a skill apart from language per se, so once you’ve learned to read in one language, you’ve learned to read full stop. And it’s true: even when I was learning Arabic (which unfortunately I had to drop before I got very far), which has such a radically different writing system, actually learning to read the characters was the easy part.

  89. 84
    Crys T says:

    Oops–forgot to add: Thanks Amp for link-making! Now we only have to see if I can actually manage to do it………..

  90. 85
    jarns says:

    their is no justification for what that judge has done. how did this become a discussion. i would think it would be obvious to anyone the fallacy in his actions. oy

  91. Pingback: bitter-girl.com :: phoenix from the flames

  92. 86
    zuzu says:

    I’m always amazed at the places with even modest immigrant populations that don’t have social services providers who speak, at the very least, Spanish. I mean, Spanish! We’re not asking for, oh, Swahili or Pashto or Serbo-Croatian.

    The one that blew my mind was when my brother, a white kid from New Jersey and Connecticut who took Spanish in high school, became the translator in the restaurant kitchen he worked in outside San Fransisco.

  93. 87
    Jimmy Ho says:

    I just saw this encouraging news item on the Southen Poverty Law Center’s website. They are taking on the case of the mother from Oaxaca:

    Tennessee attorney Jerry Gonzalez, the mother’s attorney here, said the Center’s involvement provides a major boost to the case.

    “She now has three attorneys representing her, plus the resources of a nationally recognized civil rights group,” Gonzalez said. “The Center’s attorneys are experts in this field. We will do everything humanly possible to protect her rights.”
    (…)
    Brownstein called the ruling a bigoted response to the immigrant community in Lebanon and the rest of the country.

    “If the millions of immigrants who built this great nation over the generations had been required to learn English or lose their children,” she said, “we’d have a country full of motherless children. It’s nothing short of an outrage.” (…)

    (Sorry in advance if you already posted an update; I may have missed it.)

  94. 88
    A. R. Gaylord says:

    Would it temper your opinions to know that the child has hardley ever known this mother? has hardley any memories of the mother at all? That the language or dielect the mother speaks is hardley known or spoken anywhere and while the child only speaks English the mother wants to insist that she only speak the mother’s language? That among the means of the mother used to communicate with the child is to twist her ears or strike her? That the primary concern of the Court is to the best interest of the child – not the mother?

  95. 89
    Ampersand says:

    If you could link to a legitimate source which establishes all of those facts, that would certainly be useful, and might change how I thought about this case.

    However, let’s remember that some of what you bring up are distinct from the language question. If she abuses the child physically, the proper response isn’t to order her to learn English.

  96. 90
    Charone says:

    I found this blog in a Google search while I was looking for posts to link to. I’ve seen this subject come up a lot and wanted to write about it on my own blog. Everyone here has said such intelligent things, I’m very impressed.

  97. 91
    Jimmy Ho says:

    Since this thread surfaced again, here is some more news on the case from the SPLC.