Friday, December 09, 2005

English only means you better not even think out loud any other way

People who claim they are in favor of everyone learning English (and that is not a bad idea, so long as it is accomplished with respect and help for people who haven't learned it yet) are in fact intolerant when it comes to people even speaking another language.

Just ask Zach.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Most of the time, 16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally." But Zach is also fluent in his dad's native language, Spanish -- and that's what got him suspended from school.

"It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like, 'Me prestas un dolar?' ['Will you lend me a dollar?'] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I'm like, 'No problema.'

But that conversation turned out to be a big problem for the staff at the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood. A teacher who overheard the two boys sent Zach to the office, where Principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and leave the school.

Watts, whom students describe as a disciplinarian, said she can't discuss the case. But in a written "discipline referral" explaining her decision to suspend Zach for 1 1/2 days, she noted: "This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school."

Since then, the suspension of Zach Rubio has become the talk of the town in both English and Spanish newspapers and radio shows. The school district has officially rescinded his punishment and said that speaking a foreign language is not grounds for suspension.

This shows how far over the line these people can get. Zach 1. speaks English perfectly well, 2. was not in class, and 3. was responding to a question he was asked in the language it was asked in.

It's bad enough when adults insist that classes be taught only in English (so that, for example, we will one day have adult citizens voting in elections who understand nothing of American history or government because it was taught to them in a language they don't understand), but now it is to the point where a child is punished for even speaking a TWO WORDS of Spanish on campus OUTSIDE OF CLASS TIME.

In the context of an increasingly global economy (and Spanish is one of only four languages in the world for which the proportion of people in the world who are speakers increases each year rather than decreases-- the others are English, Mandarin and Arabic), it is becoming abundantly clear that the people who run (and profit from) international trade in the future will mostly not be Americans, but people from countries where speaking two languages (as Zach does) is considered a virtue and not something to be attacked and punished for.

Aside from this, one has to wonder if a generalized 'Espanolophobia' might be at work here. I've never heard of, for example, two French speaking exchange students, or two students speaking German or Chinese or Hebrew at school being singled out for punishment. But this is not the first time I have heard of students getting in some kind of trouble (though not suspended) for speaking Spanish in school. I know that in my high school (many years ago, to be sure) there were a group of students from Vietnam who conversed between themselves in Vietnamese. No one batted an eyelid about that. But even then, it was discouraged for students to speak Spanish on campus. Why is Spanish discouraged even above all other non-English languages?


Amy said...

That's so stupid! I have a friend who married a non-native English speaker (also a friend, now) and they are raising their son with both English and Spanish. In fact, Dad is learning Spanish too.

By the way, my friend is a very eloquent speaker. She didn't speak English until high school.

I think it's the height of intelligence to know multiple languages. I wish I knew more than the "bad words".

dorsano said...

In Minneapolis and Saint Paul we have French, Spainish and German immersion schools.

English speaking kids in elementary grades learn everything, including math and science in the target language.

They're encouraged not to speak English at school :) which is of course impossible to enforce.

We have a number of companies with great benefits that pay great wages for people fluent in any of those languages.

3M is trying to increase its presence in the German speaking parts of the EU.

Eli Blake said...


I guess that those Americans who are managers in the new global economy will largely be from Minnesota.


Sounds like your friend's son is going to be set for the twenty-first century as well.

shrimplate said...

Oy vey.

Anonymous said...

My Spanish is really rusty, but isn't "no problema" actually Spanglish? I believe the proper Spanish response would be "sin problema". The school's response here is way over the top.

Eli Blake said...

indy voter:

No, in fact 'no problema' is correct. 'Sin' means 'without.' It is true that 'no probelma' is somewhat of a shortened sentence, (from Es no prolema, meaning 'it is not a problem,') but one that everyone will understand.