Commentary: Foreign language education caught in silly war of words

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramFebruary 26, 2011 

First, some parents asked why Mansfield's schools would teach Arabic.

But now some Tea Partyers -- and even some Republicans over in the next county -- make it sound as if schools shouldn't teach any foreign language at all.

In a throwback to the isolationist America of the 1920s and '30s, the Johnson County Republican Party executive committee adopted a resolution Tuesday condemning the Bush-era Arabic language and cultural studies lessons planned for a few schools in south Arlington and Mansfield.

"We're teaching everything but English," county Chairman Henry Teich of Cresson told the Cleburne Times-Review.

The resolution says party leaders "declare and demand" that Mansfield replace the lessons with more American history and government.

On the blog of the Politically Active Republicans of Johnson County, one writer criticizes the whole idea of federally funded language lessons:

"One Nation, One Language, One Culture," he wrote.

"We have a bunch of elitists who are telling us that we must teach our children these different languages."

After a barrage of similar complaints -- many from religious East Texas Tea Partyers suspecting that Mansfield is going to "indoctrinate" children in Islam -- district officials announced revised plans Friday.

Beginning in 2012, Cross Timbers Intermediate School in Arlington will teach a choice of either Arabic or Spanish during short lessons that will touch on other foreign languages.

The federal grants started under President George W. Bush, when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said America should promote learning foreign languages to spread our message of freedom throughout the world.

Bret Lovejoy, director of the Virginia-based American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said he's grateful that most parents are glad their schools get the federal money.

"Frankly, it's patriotic to learn another language," he said.

"A student who begins to take Arabic in Mansfield might get interested and become a diplomat someday. If we don't learn other languages, that only cuts us off from the world."

He also harked back to the English-only lessons after World War I, when German classes were barred and some states completely outlawed teaching another language.

"Looking back, I think anyone would say that was foolish," he said.

Still is.

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