Saturday, June 03, 2006

"Stigmatized for Decades, French Has Renaissance"

See this article from the New York Times: Stigmatized for Decades, French Has Renaissance
People of French descent poured into Maine and other New England states from Canada beginning in the 1870's and became the backbone of textile mills and shoe factories. But a backlash developed, stereotyping them as rednecks, dolts or inadequate patriots. In 1919, Maine passed a law requiring schools to teach in English.

French-Americans had a saying: "Qui perd sa langue, perd sa foi" ("Who loses his language, loses his faith"). But many assimilated or limited their children's exposure to French to avoid discrimination or because of a now-outmoded belief that erasing French would make learning English easier.

"There was just a stigma that maybe you weren't as bright as anybody else, that you didn't speak English as well," said Linda Wagner, 53, of Lewiston, who takes classes to reclaim language lost as a child.
During the Enlightenment, it was noticed that states where everyone had the same nationality (including language and culture) were more stable and better organized than polyglot countries. As is usual with academic theories, description soon passes to prescription. Starting with the Reformation, and growing quickly after the French Revolution, this new kind of nationalism attempted to eliminate all regional variations and sub-groups within countries, particularly by universal single-language education.

This is the situation that developed in the United States, as well as in most civilized countries. Particularly in the U.S., foreign language studies greatly declined, and were sometimes banned, due to this kind of nationalism.

Language education in the U.S. typically starts in high school, after children lose their innate ability to learn languages without accent. Also, students, if they study languages at all, tend to study only one modern language in depth.

By contrast, the classical grammar school model of education would teach young children the basics of many languages, including both ancient and modern languages. Under this older model, it was typical for students to learn English, Latin, ancient Greek, French, and perhaps others, all before they enter high school. However, if we were going to get back to this style of education, it would leave less time for values clarification and critical thinking skills!

What we see here in Maine, and what was experienced in Quebec, Scotland, and Wales in the 1970s, is a new type of nationalism, one based on Marxist 'oppressed class' conflict:
"It's almost like I found religion," said Mr. Marquis, 68, suddenly choking with emotion. "My religion, No. 1, was French. I have a personal movement in my heart for it."
This is very clear: this new kind of nationalism is for political purposes. We see the same thing along the southern U.S. border, with the oppressed illegal immigrant class seeking 'reconquest' of the southwest. This kind of nationalism was encouraged in Quebec with the "Quiet Revolution": the French were given much freedom, government money, and a strict language code all in exchange for losing their Catholic Faith. Typically associated with this new kind of nationalism is a divide-and-conquer quest for autonomy.

This new 'left' nationalism only accepts school instruction in its native language. The old 'right' nationalism imposes school instruction only in the official state language.

Both, of course, are wrong.

Instead, multiple language should be taught in depth, starting at an early age. This is far better than contemporary 'multicultural' education, because children will be able to actually converse with those of other cultures instead of just feeling "nice" about them. Of course all American students should learn English fluently: but they should also be able to speak and read several other languages also. Neither type of nationalist likes this, however. It's far better, they think, keeping the kids stupid.

[Alas, I am one of the stupid, having rejected every attempt to teach me anything other than English.]

Patriotism should be taught, and not just nationalism.

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