Like lots of folks, I’ve been watching Arizona’s attempts to deal with its illegal immigration problem. One of the things that has really ticked off some of my friends is the state’s effort to make sure that teachers (even in classrooms dominated by immigrants) can speak fluent English.
While I find the “accent standard” problematic — what about teachers with a Boston or South Carolina accent? — I think there’s a case to be made for teachers being fluent in the country’s dominant language.* Doing otherwise seems to me to consign immigrants to an unassimilated life here, for the sake of what Bush 43 (in a moment of lucidity) called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Historically, the immigrant experience in America (voluntary version) has been something along the lines of a 2- to 3-generational assimilation process. I don’t see much benefit either to the immigrants or to the nation in prolonging that with “separate, but equal” education.
I think there’s a difference between diversity and multiculturalism. The first is fine. The second seems more like a ticket to Balkanization. Be who you are — but if “who you are” means rejecting the American culture, be who you are somewhere else. If the only reason you’re coming here is immediate economic benefit (not to be confused with giving your kids a better life as Americans), then you’re a mercenary. I can understand mercenaries, but I don’t see much point in encouraging them to stay that way.
*I’ve always been opposed to the idea of official language laws. What legislators establish, later legislators can change. The weight of a couple of centuries of custom and tradition has worked to make English the de facto language of the U.S., and learning English has typically been a condition of thriving here. It has been a function of the culture. Providing services in other languages may be fine as a courtesy, but to make it a matter of law is to deliberately step toward dismantling the culture.