February 22, 2007
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
In the mid-1950s, French educator Jacques Barzun said, "Whoever
wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn
baseball." He correctly recognized the sport as a cultural
touchstone that united us.
Half a century later, finding a tie that binds us as a nation is
a little tougher. So let's go back to basics. How about the English
This probably seems like common sense. After all, English is
already universal. It's not only spoken by an overwhelming number
of Americans, it's also understood by hundreds of millions
worldwide. It's the language of aviation, and thus international
commerce, as well as the default language of the Internet.
Everyone, from stock traders in New York to software designers in
Mumbai, uses English to conduct business.
But instead of using the power of our native tongue to unite the
country, our official policy has been to balkanize the United
Executive Order 13166, issued by Bill Clinton in the summer
before he left office, mandates that any group that receives any
federal funding must provide its services in any foreign language
that may be spoken by someone likely to receive those services. So
instead of having one official language, in practice we have
Predictably, this leads to problems. As David Leahy, the
election supervisor for Miami-Dade County, told PBS in 2001, "We
print every ballot in Spanish, English and some ballots in Creole."
So much for the idea that an election should promote national
unity. No wonder we sometimes have problems figuring out who
Enough. It's time for a new approach, one that unites all
Americans instead of dividing them -- and one that stops putting
the children of immigrants at an economic disadvantage. English
should be our official language. This can, and in fact must, start
in our schools. And we've already taken an important step.
Under President Bush's leadership, we've made significant
progress toward helping all American students become fluent in
English. Previously, the federal bilingual education program had
promoted non-English instruction; in fact, three-fourths of the
program's funding for public schools was reserved to teach students
in their native languages. Instructors weren't even required to
That's changed. Now, the goal for non-English speakers is to
make them, well, English speakers. Their teachers have to know
English, and schools must chart student progress. Schools are
required to inform parents when their child is placed in an
English-learning course and to disclose the course's methods, its
requirements, and alternative ways their child can learn
Still, lawmakers should go further, ensuring that federal
funding for English-language learners is used exclusively for
courses that move students toward English fluency as quickly as
possible, not on bilingual-education programs that indefinitely
postpone their ability to function independently in their new
homeland. Students in bilingual classes learn English more slowly
than students in regular classrooms do. Every student learning
English as a second language should do so in an immersion program.
That'll help them learn English more quickly, so they can make the
move to a standard classroom.
Immersion works. Just ask California voters, who opted out of
bilingual education in 1998 in favor of immersion. Since then,
according to the Lexington Institute, the state has seen major
gains in students' English fluency, with the best progress charted
in the districts that are taking steps to emphasize early English
One of the federal government's primary jobs is to unify
Americans. Besides being our native tongue, English is the language
of commerce worldwide. Every student should be able to speak it
fluently. That's the only way to ensure that every child can make
progress toward the American dream.
Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation
(heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute
and co-author of the new book Getting America Right.
First appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times
In the mid-1950s, French educator Jacques Barzun said, "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." He correctly recognized the sport as a cultural touchstone that united us.
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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