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Trump’s Commitment To Emphasizing English

October 12, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

If one were to consider the things that kept the vast domains and provinces of the Roman Empire together for so long, any number of things might spring to mind. The legions, roads, coinage, a system of uniform laws.
Yet even as the Romans and Latins themselves thought of themselves as citizens of a vast empire, the Romans were indeed a polyglot of Britons, Celts, Goths, Jews, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Macedonians — just to name a few.
But they all spoke Latin. Yes, the bane of elementary school students and college freshmen alike, with its declensions and Yoda-like organization of words. After all, as those who have benefited from a classical education will reminds others: quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur.
Yet beyond the Kaiser’s wanny-widdy-wiki and the ability to actually enjoy Martial’s epigrams, the lingua franca of the past fails to inspire us moderns in quite the same way for some reason. Latin, after all, is a dead language everywhere but the Vatican. The Institute for Works of Religion, also known as the Vatican Bank, has an ATM with instructions in Latin — without the hopeful side-effect of dispensing denarii!
So it is with great interest that I learn that 10 percent of American public school students are learning English as a second language — a feat that perhaps our forefathers understood implicitly as a part of becoming good and faithful Americans, but one that seems to grip headlines today.
For those counting, that’s a full 4.8 million children — most present here legally, others under more questionable circumstances — who are struggling to learn the lingua franca of our own time with fewer resources than ever before.
Yet it should be noted that recently, new guidelines are being issued by the Trump administration to help these young boys and girls learn English and assimilate more freely into both American culture and the American economy. Yes, that Trump administration which the media supposedly tell me is getting ready to round up every brown person regardless of citizenship status and toss them over the wall by means of catapult, where they will land in Guatemala or Greece or wherever one’s public education leads one to point at a map and scream bloody murder at the very prospect of repatriation.
Of course, it’s not as bad as all that. Nor does the Trump administration have the slightest inclination to realize the fears and hyperbole of the extreme left.
What the new guidelines are designed to do is supplement ESL and EL curricula by means of the ESSA Title III (alphabet soup) under the 1964 Civil Rights Act Title VI (more clear, but still alphabet soup) and the Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974 (EEOA). Translated from bureaucrat into English, that means we have to teach these students English — and we have to do it right the first time.
The reason why is quite simple. High school graduation rates in the United States stand at about 82.3 percent. If English is your second language? Those numbers drop to just 62.6 percent — practically a death sentence in an information-based economy that is quickly automating with little room for manual or unskilled labor.
From a strict policy perspective, both sets of graduation rates are entirely unacceptable. Yet as a means of assimilating young Americans into their new home as legal and law-abiding immigrants? The advantages of learning English apart from being abandoned to one’s fate and becoming a steward of the state should be self-evident. We want English-speaking immigrants, without question, and the sooner they learn, the better off they are and the better we are as a nation.
Yet there are other social considerations to be weighed as well. Oftentimes, we talk about the lack of a common language when it comes to ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints. How much harder is this conversation when the language itself presents a barrier to even an introduction to the exchange?
Too many Americans are offended by the idea of “press 1 for English” culture, yet that is absolutely not because there is any racial or ethnic animus. Far from it. Rather, there is something about the American mindset that is almost embarrassingly effusive in its welcome for the immigrant, one that instinctively knows the disadvantages others are placed under when American values, ideas, sports, culture — and yes, language — are not communicated clearly.
Americans see the barrier of language and want it dissolved as quickly and expeditiously as possible, not out of any sense of nationalist pride or globalist demure, but rather out of plain old patriotism. We love being Americans; the sooner others can enjoy access to our advantages the better, and there is no better start than learning the common tongue.
How else does one truly appreciate American humor? How else does one teach a trade, talk about how the local sports teams are doing, discuss the beauty of Cervantes or Goethe in their mother tongues to an American who has never enjoyed the experience, explain why cricket is superior to baseball, describe the amazing taste of Szechuan cuisine versus mere “Chinese food” — or simply be able to rib your friends when American soccer just doesn’t measure up to “the beautiful game” in Estadio Azteca?
Americans love nothing more than to assimilate immigrants into the virtues of American culture. Not all of it is beautiful and good, but on the balance there is no stronger, more free, and more prosperous country to do business, worship, or raise a family.
Those values are linked together with a mother tongue — and much as our Roman forebears used Latin to bind the whole, so too do we as Americans plunder the King’s English and use it as the language of culture, commerce, and information for a 21st-century economy.
For the 4.8 million children who are adapting to their new home, the Trump administration has wisely and prudently made the choice to accelerate the speed of assimilation. The sooner we can converse, the sooner we can get back to doing the good Americans do every day. The dividends, like any wise investment, will come 20 years later. Tempora labuntur, omnia mutantur.

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This week, Doug and Ann A. write to thank me for my articles thus far, and remark on what wonderful writers we have here at The Wanderer. Personally, I would like to think it is because we have wonderful and discriminating readers who have declaratively excellent tastes in writing — but that might be a bit too self-congratulatory for all of us here concerned. Or perhaps not.
Nevertheless, as one of the few remaining bastions of an authentic and unvarnished Catholic perspective, we are certainly distinct and apart from the world around us, which cannot be a bad thing indeed.

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Of course, I am succeeding (but not replacing) the inestimable Mr. James K. Fitzpatrick for the First Teachers column. Please feel free to send any correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Rd., Kents Store, VA 23084 — or if it is easier, simply send me an e-mail with First Teachers in the subject line to: svk2cr@virginia.edu.

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