Aside from the condescension and hypocrisy of Barack Obama’s directive for Americans to learn Spanish, there was another part of his remarks that is more serious and troubling. As Roger Clegg points out, Obama doesn’t seem to put much importance on teaching immigrants English. “Oh, they’ll learn English,” he says. But they haven’t been, at least at a rate which satisfies the children’s own parents. Hence, we have state and local efforts to overthrow the educational status quo, abandon the failed bilingual language programs and adopt English immersion.
This seems to be just the type of “dumb-avoidance” that Obama should favor. Instead, he races past discussion of increasing English proficiency (as he did in the debate in Texas ) to lecture Americans to learn other languages. While the latter is helpful and important the two are not of equal weight. Moreover, by invoking the latter, he seems to be engaged in a major pander, in essence saying “Until you all learn Spanish don’t be fussing about them not speaking English.”
But, of course, both from the perspective of the immigrants who will never be successful and integrate into the American economy without English and from the perspective of the country as a whole the real priority is getting everyone in this country to speak a common language, English.
So the next time Obama feels the need to give a faux “tough talk” to a group perhaps he should give a real dose of strong medicine (to educators, for example) about the absolute primacy of learning English.