Stop the “English-Only” Nonsense

Question: What do you call someone who speaks Italian, French and German?

Answer: Trilingual.

Question: What do you call someone who speaks Spanish and English?

Answer: Bilingual?

Question: What do you call someone who speaks only one language?

Answer: An American.

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We’re not sure why, but a surprising number of Americans proudly parade their inability to learn any language other than English and somehow feel compelled to look down on someone with the ability to speak two languages.

The latest manifestation of this nonsensical attitude is the English-only movement that is spreading throughout the country. Wisconsin is the latest state infected by such ignorance, and last month an Assembly committee passed legislation declaring English the state’s official language.

The bill would prohibit the use of any language other than English for official communication between state governments and their agencies and officials. Such ideas are not new. But this latest resurgence of bigotry and stupidity is particularly dangerous because it is part of a broader upsurge of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment fanned by Pat Buchanan’s rightwing populist campaign. To date, some 22 states have passed such English-only legislation, and knee-jerk xenophobes on the national level are pushing for passage of a federal bill.

Given the many political atrocities being committed every day, it might seem there are more compelling battles. But it would be a mistake to underestimate both the danger of English-only bills and the depth of anti-immigrant sentiment. Even Lamar Alexander, the so-called moderate among the Republicans who were vying for the nomination, pandered to anti-immigrant sentiment and called for a wall to be built along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Public hearings and meetings will be held in coming weeks on the Wisconsin bill. We encourage all Rethinking Schools readers to become involved and stop the bill before it goes any further.