Monday, August 28, 2006

The nativists are restless.

Bilingual voter-guide pamphlets, according to the Tucson Citizen, have outraged the usual suspects.

    To sample some of the razor-sharp reasoning behind this:
  • "'This is AMERICA not Mexico and our language is ENGLISH not Spanish,' Mike and Judy Lairmore wrote in a July 27 letter. 'We resent our hard-earned tax dollars being wasted like this.'" I, too, don't think the state should issue a voter guide. It ought to be up to campaigns to get the message out. Oh wait, they're referring to the Spanish content. This is AMERICA. Our language is ENGLISH. Now I see.
  • "'This is really irritating,' letter writer Ira Larsen of Tucson said during a telephone interview. 'To me, to print those things in Spanish is . . . unpatriotic in a sense that English is our primary language and our Founding Fathers determined that.'...Larsen's July 24 letter said it doesn't make sense to print the pamphlet in Spanish because voters must be citizens, and naturalized citizens must be able to read and write English. 'It's time we get real and quit bending over for people who don't qualify for full participation in this democratic process, which seems to be fading, I'm sorry to say,' Larsen wrote." Yes, being more proficient in Spanish than in English clearly disqualifies one from participation in the electoral process. And the determination of English as the country's official language way back in the 1780s has been left out of the history books in what must be a liburul conspiracy.

The Voting Rights Act, in one of its non-anachronistic provisions requires that official election materials be provided in the language of any sizeable (>10,000/jurisdiction) language minority. The nativists--because this is AMERICA and our language is ENGLISH--clearly take issue with this. I wonder if they'd say the same about provision of Indian or Cajun materials on reservations and in south Louisiana, respectively. I wonder if there'd be a gripe about Polish materials on Chicago's Southwest Side.

Sufficient argument for bilingual or multilingual election materials can be found in the history of the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The argument that Spanish speakers aren't eligible voters falls flat; naturalization does not require fluency in English, and quite a few natural-born citizens from rural communities in these parts grow up learning Spanish. This was, after all, a part of Mexico.

Why not issue Spanish-language election materials? Word on the street is that some groups--who've alienated Latino voters--are afraid of how they'll vote, but for the most part it's just part of the "stick it to the spicks" mentality that's been going around.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Make it illegal, then it'll surely go away!

As was widely reported yesterday, Governor Napolitano is proposing to raise the minimum high-school droupout age to 18 as part of an economic reform package in the works.

Coming from Arizona's Iron Lady, the heavy-handedness of such a proposal doesn't surprise me. What does is that it's, for to be blunt, a simpleton's approach; if anything else, Napolitano is ordinarily intelligent. If some sixteen-year-olds don't value what's offered in high school enough to find it worth their while, how will making their attendance solve the problem?

Making a law is easy. Making high school worth students' while, on the other hand, is complex, and pushing anti-intellectualism out of the mainstream is daunting. There probably isn't one best answer; expanded school choice, then, is likely to be part of the solution, as is ending social promotion to ensure that sixteen- to eighteen-year-old young adults can read and write well enough to approach studies in a mature fashion. Dumbing down the curriculum does no one any favors.

Dropping out happens for a multitude of reasons, one being the perception that finishing won't raise one's prospects or status. What Napolitano and her supporters probably don't realize is that these "kids" are young adults in every sense of the word. They're not dropping out to play Nintendo and hang out; they're leaving high school to work, have children, and support their families. The dumbed down curriculum for poor kids, the world of difference between the standards and expectations of working-class public schools and those of prep schools, and the objectively apparent babyishness of the English and History classes is a subtle insult. The loud silence on the part of teachers and administrators on the relevance of education and the refusal to teach things of clear worth are downright criminal.

The best reason usually given by educrats for staying in school doesn't even refer to any intrinsic worth but rather to the diploma as a credential. Put up with two more years of extended childhood and you'll get a piece of paper that'll help you get a better paying job! Napolitano only does slightly better, referring to meeting the needs of a "changing" and "increasingly competitive" workplace. The merits--or injustice--of operating a public school system to prepare youths for industry aside, what dropouts would learn that'd help them keep up with the "changes" is a mystery. Furthermore, given, for example, how many times the Electoral College had to be explained back in 2000, or college students' ignorance of the First Amendment, it's doubtful that they're even learning enough to be informed, intelligent voters and citizens.

Why not let them drop out, instead of holding them captive in a place they don't want to be, making teachers and other students deal with disruptive behavior, and sending the bill to taxpayers? Let them get experience on the job or at trade school; if they find later that independent study of the liberal arts isn't sufficient, they can always get their G.E.D.

Or go straight to the university. After all, if what I've seen in two years of teaching freshmen is exemplary, Arizona's high-schools in working-class areas don't give students a solid background in mathematics or English. Why bother?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A free market in water or water rights

Where could cap-and-trade for water make more sense than here in Arizona? I've posted a short take on the subject on the Pima County Libertarian Party weblog.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Why wait 'till 18?

As the Arizona Republic reported today, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in a 19 July letter asked Governor Janet Napolitano and the Arizona Board of Regents to move beyond the symbolism of hanging the Stars and Stripes and and copies of the Constitution in every classroom by requiring every student at the state universities to take a course in U.S. History.

ACTA reports that over 75% of outgoing college students can't identify James Madison's rĂ´le in the writing of the U.S. Constitution. In itself that's not reason for concern; I'd be willing to bet that most of the folks at ACTA can't remember that Gouverneur Morris wrote most of it or what Roger Sherman had to do with anything. I had to look up the latter, but so what?--those are just names and facts dissociated from any meaningful context.

50%, 75%, 92%, what does it matter? Although the modern obsession with quantification lead them to a weak argument, ACTA's point still stands; it's not likely that students who fail the $100 Jeopardy question have been brought to appreciate the Constitution's purpose and historical context or to think deeply about its meaning, or in general to understand history in such a way that it refines their perception of the present and deepens their views of civic life and public policy.

However, college students are already voters, and chances are that by age 18 they've chosen a political label and its corresponding set of confirmation biases. While ACTA's proposal may bring about much-needed discussion, I doubt its implementation would be significantly beneficial.

Two more radical reforms in the same vein--of which ACTA National Council member Jacques Barzun would probably approve--might get to the heart of the matter.

  1. Teach real, rigorous, history in high schools. There's no good reason for students in high school to be taught history as a collection of lifeless facts and not as a living academic discipline like most of the good private schools do. There are plenty of bad reasons: the students can't read, it requires intellectual effort from teachers, parents will complain about the suddenly high standards, and surely busybodies the world over will fret over the prospects for indoctrination.

    Throw out the textbooks and the multiple-choice tests. Have them read Hofstadter, Zinn, and a slew of book chapters and write term papers citing primary sources. When classroom debate is commonplace, as long as the teacher has fair standards, who can complain of indoctrination?

  2. Ban the term "Gen Ed" at the state colleges and introduce a liberal arts core. Flexibility and choice don't have to go, but tolerance for anti-intellectualism, the notion of the university as an accrediting body, and the rotten idea that courses outside one's major are an add-on or a nuisance should've been dispensed with a long time ago. The multiple-hundred-person lecture and the high-school-style multiple-choice exam needs to go out the door with general education. It's not important that every college graduate knows Harry Truman was president when the Korean War broke out, but it is important for them as citizens to know how to ask the tough questions and bring a healthy skepticism to bear on their own beliefs, on those of their fellows, and most importantly on the actions of those in power.

    If they were to dig deeper, I suspect ACTA would find not only an unfamiliarity with the basics "Whos" and "Whens" of American history but with the Big Questions. To anyone concerned with preserving human liberty and avoiding the mistakes of the past, that, and not the results of some survey, is what is truly troubling.