Editorial: English idea lacks wisdom

Published 8:54 am Wednesday, September 15, 2010

With the start of a new school year, a state budget deficit that only promises to spread misery to virtually every sector of public life and the beginning of the intense election season, you can be sure to hear a lot about education in the upcoming months.

So, we’d like to throw an idea on the table.

Last month as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was roaming around the country as an official unofficial presidential contender, he made the statement that Minnesota should adopt an English-only position.

Email newsletter signup

That kind of talk plays well in an election year as the GOP takes a hard tilt to the extreme right. And since Pawlenty’s been a lame duck in Minnesota for more than a year, no one back home really took him seriously.

So much for Minnesota nice.

We suppose it’s Minnesota nice so long as you speak our language, and have our color of skin.

But this isn’t an editorial railing on the narrow-mindedness and the partisan pandering of a man whose legacy has been to leave Minnesota and its once-proud institutions in shambles.

Instead, we wonder if Pawlenty really missed a bigger opportunity.

Instead of this tendency to bandwagon with the English-only crowd, we’d offer an alternative.

Instead of wishing all Minnesota be English-only, why not advocate for more mandatory foreign languages in every school, down to the elementary level? And why stop at only one foreign language?

It seems like no real accomplishment to proclaim that we only speak one language. In fact, in today’s global economy, it seems like more of a hindrance and embarrassment. It seems to send the message to the rest of the world that we have no interest in becoming citizens of the world.

Moreover, there’s a very hostile undertone an English-society implies: If you want to communicate with us, you have no other choice but to learn our language.

Most of us recognize the world has changed since we attended school. And most of us want what’s better for our children and grandchildren.

So, if Pawlenty really wanted to show leadership — the kind worthy of the Oval Office he may or may not be seeking — then why play to a soundbite that already appeals to hardliners? Why not offer something truly innovative?

Take a look around this world and you’ll find many countries that don’t think twice about teaching school children more than two languages. And that not only produces a more globally-aware student, it also puts that student at an advantage.

Sure, this is a time of budget crunches and cuts, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for bad policy.

If we’re ever going to get out of this financial mess, it will be because business and industry helped right the faltering economy. And that business can only be successful if it can compete on a global level. And if it competes on the global level, it must have entrepreneurs and employees who can speak its languages.

— Winona Daily News. Sept. 6