Foreign Languages

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Complain that your child’s grade school or high school (or university) does not teach or require foreign languages, and you will likely be fed the following excuses:

"Everyone speaks English now, so you don’t need to know a foreign language."

"Kids have a hard enough time learning English."

"We need to teach kids what they need to know to survive."

These excuses are exactly that. The educational establishment, based on the false justifications for sloth given above, is systematically short-changing our youth, our nation, and our culture.

The notion that foreign languages are only for the Chosen, like Al Gore, who will not go on to work in factories, but will labor at herding the masses toward to their government-appointed Manifest Destiny, is false and insulting.

The "thinking" behind this idea is that those children whom the educational establishment has labeled as "not bright enough" (by the tender age of six) do not need a foreign language to live a life of drudgery. These children must be taught how to cook, tie their shoes, and spell; nothing more.

Hogwash. Parents, stand up for your children.

As many Americans beyond the age of 50 are well aware — and as Time magazine recently reported — learning Latin improves a child’s proficiency in English. Some school districts mandate Latin in order to improve test scores in English.

It is bad enough that children are systematically deprived of a good education in the name of bureaucrats who go by the name of "educators," and have rarely studied anything more than "educational theories" and other fads, and who insist on being referred to as "Doctor," or listing "MA" after their name.

It is worse if you consider the ramifications for human knowledge in the academic disciplines.

In schools which pride themselves on teaching "tolerance" and "diversity," there are "English Departments" (not Literature Departments), and rare is the student who has so much as heard of novels written in other languages, let alone read them. I single out "English" Departments because they are generally the departments which are the most strident in their attacks on all things Western.

"World literature" is taught while William Shakespeare and Anthony Trollope go unread. It is rank hypocrisy to call such a place an "English" department. Are they diagraming sentences? (Shakespeare, by the way, is the pen name of Edward DeVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford; see Joseph Sobran’s book Alias Shakespeare for an excellent exposition).

Were more Americans fluent in foreign languages, one wonders whether the "English" departments at American universities would look like they do today.

Great Dutch novelist? Multatuli, nom de plume of Eduard Douwes Dekker. His book Max Havelaar, or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, is the story of a young civil servant who takes on his government (how dare he!) in a stinging indictment of Dutch colonialism in Java (Indonesia). The book is largely autobiographical, and highly praised by D.H. Lawrence. What, you mean that civil unrest in Indonesia and East Timor has been front page news, and the American media still hasn’t heard of Multatuli?

Great German writer? Goethe. Two of his works — The Sorrows of Young Werther and Faust — are cited by Philip Wayne, translator of the Penguin edition, as placing Goethe in the ranks of Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare.

Great Italian novelist? Alessandro Manzoni. His book I Promessi Sposi (in English, The Betrothed) is not only a great historical novel (better than Sir Walter Scott’s novels), but made a significant impact on the development of the modern Italian language. Bruce Penman writes in the introduction to his translation that "If Dickens had written only one novel, and there had been no Fielding or Thackeray; if his novel had foreshadowed the theme of a successful national liberation movement and had had a profound, lasting and beneficial effect on the English language; then we would have a book that would stand out in our literature in the same way that The Betrothed does in Italy."

High praise. Penman also notes that Verdi composed a Requiem for the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death.

Turning from literature to economics, the situation is not much different.

The Ludwig von Mises Institute, promoting the publication of an English translation of Richard von Strigl’s Capital and Production , states that "Strigl is not very well known, even among specialists. This is due to the tragic consequences of war and its heightening of language barriers."

To elaborate: the "great achievements" called World Wars One and Two (if you doubt that they are regarded in some circles as great achievements, note that they are high on the resumes of Wilson and FDR), taught the masses of the English-speaking world to hate Germans and their language. Without whipping the crowds into a frenzy of hate for "the Hun," "Jerry," or "the Krauts," Wilson and FDR could not have convinced American men to go willingly to their deaths. As Murray N. Rothbard notes in a chapter in The Costs of War, during World War One, native WASP women in my own home town of Erie, Pennsylvania, ran a "block mother" program to make sure that immigrant families were "all-American." Sauerkraut was called "liberty cabbage."

(Note: As you might guess from my name, I am of German ethnicity. My ancestral nationality is Austrian, to be precise. I take no offense at the preceding terms, so do not whine that I am writing as a victim. I am not. The terms are provided merely as proof of how the federal government sought to have Americans look at Germans. For the sake of comparing reality with propaganda, sit down and watch the original version of All Quiet on the Western Front, or read the book. Then peruse books of American propaganda posters from the First World War. You be the judge).

World War Two is to blame for the destruction of hundreds of years worth of German books. German books published before 1790 are even more rare than English books of the same period, the reason being that every major German city — its libraries included — was bombed flat by the Allies.

If you are attempting to research the foundations of chemistry, physics, economics, or mathematics, good luck. The books you need may have been incinerated by American and British bombs.

The Mises Institute describes "Strigl’s important contribution to Austrian capital theory" as the link between "Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk’s production theory and Mises’s business cycle theory." Strigl "gives a pathbreaking account of the role of consumers’ goods within the structure of production."

Jörg Guido Hülsmann’s introduction, also included in the Mises Institute’s promotions, describes the importance of Strigl’s work as follows: "In Capital and Production, Strigl seeks to come to grips with the causes and possible cures for the Great Depression that plagued the Western world in the aftermath of 1929. Although many other Austrian economists of the time were engaged in similar projects, Strigl’s work stands out for its analysis of time-consuming roundabout production processes and of their relevance for the Great Depression. This is what makes the book relevant again at the beginning of the twenty-first century, at a moment of history marked by the most extraordinary global bull market the world has ever experienced."

Despite these facts, the book is only available in English now, in the year 2001. It was originally published in Vienna in 1934 (i.e., during "peacetime," that lovely time-out between governmental attempts to make the world "safe" by mass killing and destruction). Had Strigl’s work been available and studied since its publication, perhaps the world would be better off. Perhaps there would be less persons willing to succumb to the idea that the Internet would magically lead mankind into a period of all profits and no losses.

Of course, we can never know the answer to such a counterfactual, but the point is clear: the lack of persons speaking and reading German has contributed to the intellectual impoverishment of the English-speaking world. Original ideas, about economics, philosophy, and every other discipline known to man, are never shared, never used, and never contribute to the betterment of man’s life on earth. There is a similar impoverishment which results from the ignorance of French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages ad infinitum.

In Switzerland, those children born into German-speaking families learn English at age 7, and French at age 10.

What is our excuse? To quit before starting, as most schools do, is sheer mediocrity. Aristotle writes that "Man is a rational animal." Schools today focus too much on the animal. Rather than actually educate children to be well-rounded persons, American schools strive to turn out safe-sex machines who are obedient to their political and corporate masters, i.e., uncultured animals who cannot think for themselves, but who are very useful.

This is not to encourage unthinking civil disobedience, or a disregard for honest work. This is merely to point out that to be human is to be more than an obedient serf. Without an education, children are cut off from imagination and the life of the mind, and their ability to see beyond the here and now becomes severely limited.

If you are aware of a school or teacher who is actually on the ball, wonderful. Recognize, however, that such a school or person is the exception that proves the rule. You may know of a wonderful teacher or school; you very likely do not know of entire school districts of utterly great schools or entire school districts of top-notch teachers. It is sad, but it is the reality.

By and large, the American educational system needs improvement. If we do not recognize the problem, we cannot fix the problem.

It matters very much if we fail.

Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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