as the New
July 14, 2008 - Republicans have been in a lather since Barack Obama commented that American children should learn a foreign language in school. It demonstrates the extent to which they've become the party of ignorance.
Responding to a voter in GA who'd like more bilingual education, Obama said:
"Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.
You know, it’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], ‘Merci beaucoup.’ Right? You know, no, I’m serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they’re 5, or 6, or 7 than when they’re 46, like me."
Hard to argue with that. It's obvious too that learning a foreign language helps you to understand your own language better. It also brings perspective on how to think, speak, and write. While thinking critically about ideas you learn to communicate them more precisely.
Predictably, right-wingers flew into a rage at Obama's un-American call for better language skills. For example, John McCormack at the Weakly Standard labeled language education as snobbery and elitism. John Derbyshire called Obama's suggestion "idiotic" because "not many human beings can learn another language", as his own failures prove. He combines that with characteristic condescension:
In fact, below some cutoff point, which I'd guess at around minus one standard deviation in IQ (that would encompass sixteen percent of the population), education beyond the three R's is a waste of time, and foreign-language instruction a total waste of time.
Many right-wingers just skipped what Obama actually said and declared that he wants to forcibly indoctrinate their children in Spanish, or make Spanish the official language of the US. Fox News knew what Republicans wanted to hear. Neil Cavuto brought on the Philly-cheese-steak bigot Joey Vento to denounce Obama: "This man is a sick man. He is a scary man."
Even before it embraced creationism and made attacks on science a guiding principle, the Republican Party had proudly turned itself into the party of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. But Obama's call for children to learn more languages (which he stands by) has given the GOP an opportunity to link two of its favorite cudgels, ignorance and bigotry against immigrants. Truly the modern heir to the Know-Nothing Party.