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Friday, May 26, 2006

Biggest Step Is Mastery Of English

Jeff Jacoby provides some common sense and historical perspective on the suggestion to make English the official language of America. Mastering it is the gateway to opportunity. By providing people the easy way out to avoid learning it, will deny those people access to the good life. Jacoby calls it "empowerment".

In the body of Jacoby's essay, he provides a quote from Frederick Douglass (see one of his quotes in the EtTu Bloge masthead) that I reprint:

"What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us ..... Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, 'What shall we do with the Negro?' I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!"

Read Douglas' autobiography. Douglass' master denied his slaves the right to learn to read and write. Hugh Auld explain to his wife about why she should not teach him to read. Auld explained that, "if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him". According to Douglass: "I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty -- to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man.... From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom." Douglass realized that there was power in learning to read.

The master's wife had initially begun the teaching prior to the prohibition. Douglass, around 8 years old or so, would spend his time with the white children. By challenging their knowledge of the alphabet, he would goad them into showing him the letters without their suspicions. He would rewrite them in private until he learned them. This technique developed into a complete mastery of reading and writing. He followed his natural inclination towards intellectual development.

Today, we seem to want to instill the desire to ignorance. Public school teacher training is dumbed down. Student testing in public schools are dumbed down. What passes as art is dumbed down. Political debate is dumbed down. Press understanding of complex issues is dumbed down.

What happened to Douglass upon his escape from slavery as an adult? He found his "wife" and married her legally. He moved to Massachusetts and used his background working in ship-building (this was his adult trade in Baltimore prior to his escape). He wrote and spoke extensively on abolition and sold it to many white Americans through the power of his eloquence. His message gained power because it was borne of a mastery of English---in a slave!!!

While Harry Reid sees an official English language as "racist", Americans largely disagree. Per Jacoby:

Despite such demagoguery, an overwhelming majority of Americans support making English the official language. The amendment condemned by Reid went on to pass the Senate, 63-34; but that actually understated the level of public support. In a Zogby International poll in March, 84 percent of respondents -- including 71 percent of Hispanics -- favored official English. The only reason English was never formally denoted the national language before now is that it was generally considered too obvious to need mentioning.

Frederick Douglass would certainly find this curious.

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