Bilingualism, Immigration, and Education The 'Cultural War' From a French Louisiana Perspective

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There
is a growing portion of the population exhibiting extra “intelligence”
these days. Better news still, according to François Grosjean,
the children in that group will benefit significantly, and are likely
to be highly motivated in school. These kids will tend to score
higher on verbal and nonverbal IQ tests than other children; they
will have “a more diversified structure of intelligence and more
flexibility in thought: greater cognitive flexibility, greater creativity,
and greater divergent thought.”

Why?
Because they are bilingual and that's what researchers indicate
bilingualism does to people. By being bilingual, it has been shown
that people develop and then use a part of their brain they otherwise
wouldn't, and the same proved true for sign language and music.
One research cited by Grosjean in Life
with Two Languages
is that of Peal and Lambert (1972) who
concluded the following after testing bilingual children in Canada:
“it is not possible to state from the present study whether the
more intelligent child became bilingual or whether bilingualism
aided his intellectual development, but there is no question about
the fact that he is superior intellectually.”1

In
1979, Swain and Cummins reviewed the most recent studies on bilingualism.
Grosjean writes:

Among
other things, these studies conclude that bilinguals are more
sensitive to semantic relations between words, are more advanced
in understanding the arbitrary assignment of names to referents,
are better able to treat sentence structure analytically, are
better at restructuring a perceptual situation, have greater social
sensitivity and greater ability to react more flexibly to cognitive
feedback, are better at rule discovery tasks, and have more divergent
thinking.2

Now,
I'm thinking that we need more citizens like that, especially of
the kind who are adept at understanding the nature of our government's
newspeak. Divergent thought, as we know here, is not a bad
thing and the fact that the number of bilinguals in the United States
is going up should be good news to everyone. However, aside from
an article by James Crawford, who maintains a
language policy web site
, I have yet to see or read something
positive about this, if anything at all. On the contrary, bilingualism,
as is the tradition in the United States, is being treated like
a contagious disease in need of a magical cure: English monolingualism,
accompanied by American monoculturalism.

As
has occurred when the 1990 census results came out, there has been
hysteria in the media over the fact that more and more people choose
to speak a language other than English in their homes. Their
numbers rose from around 32 million in 1990, to nearly 47 million
in 2000 and with this simple fact, the alarmists are trying, again,
to make people believe that the English language is somewhat threatened
here and that those who speak English only will eventually be left
behind.

Please!
Anyone who has taken a look at the census
itself
can see that the English language is just as healthy
as ever in the United States. Among other things, the census shows
that,

  • A whopping
    82.1% of the population speaks nothing but English, i.e.
    they are monolingual.
  • When adding
    the people who speak English “well” and “very well” to the English-only
    population, we come to roughly 96% of the total population,
    leaving some 11 million people (out of 262 million, above the
    age of 5) unable to speak English, or who do not speak it well.
    (By most accounts, more than 11 million immigrants entered the
    country in the past 10 years alone.)
  • Among
    the 5–17 years old population, the percentage of non-English
    speakers who can speak English “very well” was up nearly 60%
    since 1990, which shows that children are learning English faster
    and they speak it better than is the non-English speaking
    population as a whole.
  • Only 2.5%
    of children from non-English-speaking families are reported
    to either not speak English at all, or not speak it well. This
    represents about 1.2 million kids out of 53 million.

Furthermore,
the notion that immigrants are not learning English as fast as they
used to is, I believe, misguided as well. If anything, this generation
of immigrants is probably breaking speed records in learning the
language simply because we are much more “connected” than ever.
Linguistic isolation is so minimal nowadays that it is barely worth
mentioning. Crawford writes that that the proportion of non-English
speakers was “five times as large” one hundred years ago, as it
is today. My own research has led me to conclude that never,
in the history of the New World, has there been a time when such
a large percentage of the population was able to speak English.

(For
more on the census, see James Crawford's article, Census
2000: A Guide for the Perplexed
).

I'm
guessing that our media pundits know all of this just as well as
I do. They just choose to ignore the fact that 96% of the population
can speak English so that they can put on a good show and
argue about such issues as bilingual education, bilingual voting
ballots, the Tower of Babel phenomenon, etc. They looked at the
census and they saw only one thing: some 36 million people could
speak English all the time, but they choose not to.
It dumbfounded them for they simply cannot comprehend why anyone
would want to do that in the US of A. How un-American! (Note
that these are the same people who have been saying “no” to bilingual
ed. for years, and who have been telling parents that if they wanted
bilingual kids, they had to teach them at home.) Additionally,
these pundits are sitting there with so-called “experts” asking,
“what are we going to do about it?” I mean, how does one make
people speak English in their homes, and all
the time, without looking like a complete totalitarian
freak?

In
desperation, they usually end up saying something to the likes of:
“if they like their culture so much, can't they just go home where
they can enjoy their culture all the time?”

I'm
not sure if it's just historical ignorance or plain stupidity that
make people say these things. Perhaps it's a little bit of both.
Perhaps it takes a bilingual to understand that it is hard, if not
impossible, to build an empire and achieve monoculturalism at the
same time, but I doubt that's it.

For
the fun of it, though, let's say that people who choose to use a
language other than English in their homes ought to go back where
they came from. What do we do with the people of the First Nations
(Native Americans) who choose to raise their children in their ancestral
language? Where do we tell them to go? What do we do with Amish
people, whose ancestors settled here before there existed a United
States of America, and who speak Pennsylvania Dutch among themselves?
What do we do with 200 000 + French Louisianians whose ancestors
were bought like cattle by Jefferson, but who have managed to maintain
a French-speaking tradition in their family for all this time? Do
we send them back to France when the last time anyone in their genealogy
tree lived there was, say, 1730? Do we turn back the clock to 1755
and send Cajuns
back to Acadie
? But then, what would we do with the Anglo-Saxons
who live there now? Is it their turn to be deported, to go back
where they came from? What about Hawaiians, where are they supposed
to go back to?

Simply
put, recent immigrants are not the only bilinguals out there.

Louisiana's
cultural war

For
me, as is the case for many French-speaking Louisianians, this whole
debate, or cultural war, has nothing to do with immigration, at
least not any “recent” immigration. Here, language has been at the
center of disputes since about 1803. The only immigration waves
that truly had an impact were that of Americans after the Purchase,
that of Union patriots following the War of Secession, and that
of yet more Anglo-Saxons when oil was discovered in the southern
part of the state in 1901. Ironically, when they first took control
of Louisiana, one of the first things Americans did was to enact
laws “protecting” English because it was a minority language, and
it remained spoken by only a minority of residents until the dawn
of the 20th century.

However,
as their numbers increased, English-speakers gradually used their
political power to eventually impose on everyone the language they
once had to “protect.” How? Through a compulsory, English-only,
state-run education system. Like magic, this is also when the language
“problem,” took a turn for the worst. How could it not? When schooling
is a free-market enterprise, people, not the state, decide what
language, or languages, they wish as part of their child's curriculum.
In reality, before “public education” took over in the US, this
is precisely what people did and, in many areas of the country,
French, German, Spanish, and yes, bilingual schools were
as — if not more — widespread than English-speaking schools.

In
Louisiana, I even discovered that many Cajuns categorically refused
to send their children to “free” government-run institutions, especially
in areas where they had a private, French or bilingual, alternative.
I remember reading about a Cajun who was quoted in a 19th
century article as saying that the state's schools made “rascals”
out of their sons and bad mothers of their daughters. I'd say he
was on to something, but therein lies another story. Nevertheless,
Cajuns in those days certainly did not perceive “free” education
as a “right” and they did not ask to have “free” French schools.
Instead, they apparently simply chose in large numbers to ignore
the state's schools, as they went about building and opening their
own schools.

In
Abbeville, the main city in my parish, Miss Blanche Perret opened
a private school in 1870, years before there were any public school
in the parish, and it is said that her students “received a well-rounded
education and especially an appreciation for classical literature,
both French and English.”3 In 1870!

True,
Cajuns were not all literate, but according to historian Carl Brasseaux,
literacy levels among Cajuns compared to the levels in the rest
of the south, including that of Americans. Thus, by 1916, when school
attendance became mandatory, many Cajun children were already
attending school and their literacy levels as a people was soaring,
just as was occurring in the rest of the south. Of course, in many
American minds at the times, Cajuns were as good as illiterate because
a great number of them could not read and write in English. (They
could have read Bastiat, but not Mills. What a shame!)

This,
of course, was unacceptable. “United we blend,” after all, used
to be “One nation, one flag, one language.”

In
1921, Louisiana enacted a new constitution, which mandated that
English be the only language allowed on all school
grounds in the state. Throughout the country, similar measures were
being, or had been, enacted.

In
1923, the US Supreme Court was asked to rule in a related matter,
which involved a teacher and the state of Nebraska. The teacher
had been accused of tutoring a 10-year-old child in German (using
bible stories), which was a violation of a law that prevented languages
other than English from being taught in Nebraska to pupils who had
not passed the eighth grade. Part of the court's ruling reads like
this:

That
the state may do much, go very far, indeed, in order to improve
the quality of its citizens, physically, mentally and morally,
is clear; but the individual has certain fundamental rights which
must be respected. The protection of the Constitution extends
to all, to those who speak other languages as well as to those
born with English on the tongue. Perhaps it would be highly advantageous
if all had ready understanding of our ordinary speech, but this
cannot be coerced by methods which conflict with the Constitution
– a desirable end cannot be promoted by prohibited means.

[...]
It is well known that proficiency in a foreign language seldom
comes to one not instructed at an early age, and experience shows
that this is not injurious to the health, morals or understanding
of the ordinary child.

[...]
The judgment of the court belo must be reversed and the cause
remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.4

In
Louisiana, none of this mattered, and what followed was three, four
decades during which Cajun children were ridiculed, humiliated,
punished, sometimes severely and even physically, for speaking French
on school grounds. For many, it was the only language they knew.
A now famous sentence here is “I will not speak French on the school
ground,” for many children went back home having to copy the line
anywhere from 200 to 1000 times. Others reportedly had to kneel
on rice or on gravel for lengthy periods of time, while a good number
tell stories of children peeing in their pants because they did
not know how to ask, in English, for the permission to go
to the bathroom. Cajuns learned also that their language was nothing
but a poor corrupted version of French, and a patois that no one
in the French-speaking world would be able to understand. The Americanization
of the Cajuns had begun.

In
Liberalism,
Mises wrote about the problems created by compulsory attendance
laws in areas where people do not all speak the same language:

Here
the question of which language is to be made the basis of instruction
assumes crucial importance. A decision one way or the other can,
over the years, determine the nationality of a whole area. The
school can alienate children from the nationality to which their
parents belong and can be used as a means of oppressing whole
nationalities. Whoever controls the schools has the power to injure
other nationalities and to benefit his own.

[...]
In all areas of mixed nationality, the school is a political prize
of the highest importance. It cannot be deprived of its political
character as long as it remains a public and compulsory institution.
There is, in fact, only one solution: the state, the government,
the laws must not in any way concern themselves with schooling
or education.5

Ironically,
had Cajuns not been drafted in large numbers to fight in WWII, they
may still believe all the tales about their language. Indeed some
do, and too many are ashamed, still, of the French they speak. However,
those who served in France and North Africa during the war came
back with a different view. Many had been used as interpreters for
officials, while some served as spies behind German lines, passing
for French peasants. These people were conscious that their bilingualism
had allowed them to receive better assignments, therefore, bilingualism
could not be such a bad thing. In addition, all came back knowing
that their French language was as good as any, and more importantly,
they had proof that the state had been lying to them for years.
Louisiana's “French renaissance” began to take roots with these
folks.

Here's
where, in my opinion, Cajuns took the wrong approach in solving
the problem they faced (this is the best example I know of trying
to solve a problem with the same thinking that created it, but it's
only because by then, a “free” public education had become a “right.”)
Led by charismatic Cajun politicians, Cajuns claimed that because
the state had robbed them of their language with its schools, it
was now up to the state to “give it back,” through the schools.
They began to lobby to have French instruction included in schools'
curriculum, and later, they lobbied for French immersion programs.

Here,
you see, bilingual education is not for immigrants to make sure
that they learn English, it is French immersion for mostly monolingual
English-speaking kids with parents who feel that the state “owes”
them something. On a side note, I'm sure many will feel relieved
to know that French immersion kids learn to recite the pledge of
allegiance in French and in English. Comforting, isn't it?

All
of this, I suppose, is to say that the “cultural war” out there
is not only about immigrants and whether or not they are able to
speak English, or even how well they can speak it. The very root
of the cultural war, in my opinion, is that the government, at some
point (likely very early), gave itself a mandate to “ensure” that
everyone be able to speak American and it had absolutely no business
doing so.

What
troubles me the most, I think, is the fact that even some libertarian-bent
(and usually sound) writers have been throwing a fuss over the fact
that one in five residents does not speak English at home, finding
ways to make it a “problem.” But why does it matter? Many even lament
that at some point, it was easier to assimilate immigrants, explaining
how, in three generations, immigrants went from monolingual in one
language, to bilingual, to monolingual in English. The fact that
this three-step, massive assimilation was only possible with a vast
compulsory, state-run, national, English-only, and unconstitutional
school system escapes the minds of the many who view the cultural
war solely as a consequence of recent immigration and who perceive
bilingualism as a disease these people bring with them.

This
being said, I'm not trying to dismiss the impact of massive immigration
on the growth of the state, which I, too, view as completely out
of control. I must add, though, that contrary to popular belief,
the United States is not the only country where massive immigration
of parasites is creating problems. “They all want to come
here,” as far as I can tell, is just another state-created, media
propagated myth. Just ask Canadians and French how they feel about
immigrants and they'll sing the same song… “They all want to come
here, there are too many of them, they cost too much, they come
here to depend on the state, they keep their culture, they don't
learn the language, blah, blah, blah.” (Need I mention that by going
to Canada or France, immigrants have automatic access to their “free”
universal health care coverage and many other freebies, which they
do not receive by coming to the US?) Clearly, the larger the welfare
state, the more immigrants will contribute to its growth.

Furthermore,
as others and I have pointed out, state-run immigration is nothing
but a racket, which allows the state to hand pick its customers,
play the lottery with people's lives, teach them servitude to the
state and admiration for Lincoln as part of the “becoming-a-citizen”
routine (see “an
u2018alien' patriot
“), while for years, it deprives perfectly functional
(English-speaking) human beings from any participation in the political
process with its mandatory waiting period for this or that. Frankly,
I would not be surprised if the INS was currently turning down an
Einstein or a Mises, or many like them for that matter, at the border
because they do not fit the “perfect immigrant” profile. Must they,
too, be blamed for the ill workings of the American immigration
system?

In
truth, what we have today is state-induced diversity (through immigration),
followed by state-mandated uniformity (through the school system).
In any case, this can only be the recipe for yet another state-orchestrated
disaster. Immigrants used to come here expecting nothing but the
chance to pursue happiness; they knew they had to catch it themselves.
They came here to be free, not to be free of responsibilities. Come
to think of it, isn't the fact that immigration prompts the state
to grow so much precisely a sign that immigrants are assimilating
just fine into the neo-American culture, of entitlements that is?
Yeah, well, when in Rome…

Notes

  1. Jean Grosjean,
    Life
    With Two Languages: an Introduction to Bilingualism
    (Cambridge:
    Harvard University Press, 1982), 223.
  2. Ibid.,
    222.
  3. Vermilion
    Historical Society, History of Vermilion Parish, (Vermilion
    Historical Socitety, 1983), 64.
  4. MEYER
    v. STATE OF NEBRASKA
    , 262 U.S. 390 (1923).
  5. Ludwig
    von Mises, Liberalism:
    the Classical Tradition
    (New York: Foundation for Economic
    Education, 1996), 114–15.

September
9, 2003

Chantal
K. Saucier [send
her mail
] is a freelance writer and a French
neutral currently living in South Louisiana.


        
        

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