Tuesday, July 18, 2006
I've had two otherwise reasonable people argue with me recently, saying that English should be the official language of the USA, and that everyone who lives here "should" learn English. Apparently, not learning English is "un-American," and we "waste" tax dollars on teachers who teach in other languages (I've yet to find proof of this).
What I find un-American is this attempt to undermine the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. The most basic part of speech, before you even get to the words, is which language you are using. So not only does our Consitution guarantee you the right to say obnoxious or offensive things, it allows you to say them in any language you choose. AND - the government cannot dictate which language you say things in, just as it can't dictate what words you say. So this attempt to dictate which language people speak to each other is little more than thought control, which is expressly forbidden in the Constitution. These folks who think they are being so very "American" in their assertion are in fact attempting to undermine the founding document of our government. They themselves are thus un-American.
As for tax dollars, I'd like to know how my friends would pay to make sure everyone in this country spoke English. Are they willing to drag folks to classes against their will? How would these classes be paid for? What standard should we hold people too when we test them? Should those born in this country be assumed to speak English and thus not be tested? (I've encountered many who think they are fluent in English because they were born here and yet don't know good grammar from a hole in the wall -- should these people be taught too at taxpayer expense?) If someone takes these classes and these tests and fails, what punishment should be meted out? How do we pay for the bureaucracy necessary for all this?
Apparently English just somehow, magically, is the language of this country. When I asked where that was written down, either in the Constitution or in some other legal document, I got a blank stare and and the assertion that it just is true. I was told that in France, people must learn French, and it's the same in other countries. Even if that is true, which I doubt, why should America become more like France? Should we violate our own Consitution to become more like a country where you are guilty until proven innocent? The freedoms guaranteed to Americans are what make this country great, and they are what draw immigrants here, including every single one of our ancestors, barring those of Native American descent.
I think mostly people just don't want to be inconvenienced. I have a Russian landlady who struggles with English, and I've had my frustrating moments trying to communicate with her. But guess what? The Constitution doesn't protect you from frustration. It doesn't protect you from being offended. In fact, it very specifically allows people to be offensive and frustrating. That's freedom, people. It's messy. It means we all don't think the same, look the same, talk the same, and act the same.
Welcome to the messy, polyglot economic powerhouse that is America. Welcome to every shade of skin from whitest white to darkest black. Welcome to every language, every creed, every orientation. The US Consitution is a document outlining a country based on the principle of freedom. This is what it looks like. This is what it sounds like.