Could it be that my child will learn something in AP English?

My older child is taking AP English this fall, and has to do some reading and write some essays even before school starts.  I was intrigued by two of the essays:

Francine Prose’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Cannot Read : How American high school students learn to loath literature (Harper’s Magazine, 1999) and Richard Rodriquez’s Aria : A memoir of a bilingual childhood (American Scholar, 2001).  What’s amazing about both of these essays is that they go against the dominant narrative controlling high school English classes all over the nation.

Regarding Prose’s essay, I’m too lazy to search for links right now, but I know that I’ve railed repeatedly against high school English classes that have nothing to do with the English language (grammar, composition, artistry, and elegance), and everything to do with advancing a Leftist social agenda, complete with victimization, racism, white evil, and the elevation of emotions over rationality and morality.  Back in 1999, which doesn’t seem that long ago, someone could still write an essay that would be published in a major magazine making exactly those points.  Prose doesn’t phrase it in terms of the Marxist takeover of education, but that’s the underlying subtext to her complaint about the — you should pardon the expression — crap that high school students have to read, none of which advances the cause of the English language.

Oh, and while we’re talking about English language bastardization, please read Dennis Prager’s latest, in which he comments on a decision Leftist publications have made to act unilaterally to rename the Washington Redskins.  For purposes of this post, here’s the killer quotation, made as part of Prager’s slashing analysis of Slate’s self-righteous stance:

Slate Argument Three: “Changing how you talk changes how you think. . . . Replacing ‘same-sex marriage’ with ‘marriage equality’ helped make gay marriage a universal cause rather than a special pleading.”

Response: It’s nice to have at least one left-wing source acknowledge how the Left changes language to promote its causes. When more and more people began to suspect that global warming was not about to bring an apocalypse, and that, at the very least, it is in a pause mode, the Left changed the term to “climate change.”

The substitution of “marriage equality” for “same-sex marriage” is just one more example of dishonest manipulation of English.

The Orwellian manipulation of language by the Left would be reason enough to oppose dropping “Redskins,” a name representing a nearly 80-year-old tradition venerated by millions.

As for Richard Rodriquez’s article, he says what my father always said:  “bilingual education,” which really means teaching an immigrant child in his native tongue without ever exposing him to the English language, is a mistake.  At least, it’s a mistake for the child.  For the Leftists (this is me talking, not Rodriquez), it’s a great thing, because it creates a perpetual (Democrat-voting) ghetto class made up of people who do not speak sufficient English to break into the great middle class.

These articles are old, and I doubt that many more like them are being written.  I’m delighted, however, that at least one high school teacher is keeping them alive.

I should note that neither of these articles has anything to do with the English language either.  That is, this class has nothing to do with learning how to venerate and recreate the best kind of writing.  But at least it’s not PC crap.

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  • Charles Martel

    Rodriguez is an excellent writer. His “Hunger of Memory” was my first introduction to him years ago. Since then he has skewed evermore left, and his self-identity as a gay man has also colored his writing. But his skill with both English and self-reflection is something I wish our public schools would try to pass on to Latino kids. They need to learn that their role in America should be something so much better than remaking it in the image of the corrupt, peasant-mentality sh**holes their parents escaped.  
     
    Book, your quote from Slate succinctly captures the aims and substance of modern Newspeak. Orwell said that the Party in 1984 intended for speech to reach the point where it originated in the larynx, not the brain. Thus the accolade/insult “duckspeaker.” The German translation of duckspeaker is rendered Krugman.

  • Gringo

    As for Richard Rodriquez’s article, he says what my father always aside:  “bilingual education,” which really means teaching an immigrant child in his native tongue without ever exposing him to the English language, is a mistake. At least, it’s a mistake for the child.  For the Leftists (this is me talking, not Rodriquez), it’s a great thing, because it creates a perpetual (Democrat-voting) ghetto class made up of people who do not speak sufficient English to break into the great middle class.
     
    In the nineties, I took an Education course where the teacher unequivocally said that the previous way of assimilating ESL students- total immersion in English- was a failure. I thought of three people I knew who had not spoken English before attending school here and who had learned English by the total immersion method: 1) a family friend who was magna cum laude from Radcliffe and had an MPH from Harvard; 2) my English Literature teacher in high school who later got a Ph.D. in Shakespeare; 3) my brother in law who at age 12 immigrated with his family from Europe- got an MBA.  Soon after, I read an article about baseball star Manny Ramirez, then about 25 and still with the Indians, who after 13 years in the US still spoke very little English-  courtesy of bilingual education in NYC.
     
    I regret that I didn’t initiate a debate with the teacher over these anecdotal counterexamples.
     

  • Charles Martel

    Gringo, you call to mind my encounter with a Hungarian refugee girl in early 1957. She showed up one day in our fourth grade class, speaking maybe three or four words of English. Nobody knew a lick of Hungarian, so she was pretty much on her own.
     
    Three weeks later she moved on. By then, thanks to my girl classmates taking her under their wings, she was speaking simple English sentences. I never saw her again, but I’ve never doubted that by the end of that year she was speaking close-to-perfect English.
     
    Teaching (mostly Latino) children solely in their native language is a racist/ethnic insult. Espanol es una lengua bella y expresiva, but, alas, like Italian or Swedish, it not a tongue people turn to for serious undertakings.

  • lee

    I have known people who had parents who immigrated here, and as kids, they did not learn English until they went to school. A friend from the UP heard only Finnish at home, showed up to kindergarten a little confused. And Michigan did not have any English/Finnish bilingual program. Another friend near Detroit–parents only spoke Greek. He learned English really fast in school. Both of these kids did well in school and went on to college. Another friend moved here at age 15 from Mozambique during his freshman year of high school. Was placed in a class a few grades below where he had been–with a lot of 12 and 13 yoer old seventh graders. he spent the summer watching television IN ENGLISH and was retested in the fall, and started his sophmore year with OTHER SOPHMORES. Heck, I lived overseas, and the best way to learn a language is to not be able to speak your own.

  • 94Corvette

    I was blessed during my Senior year of High School to have an English teacher who taught us the beauty of the English language.  She exposed us to great literature and using those works as a foundation, she instilled in us a desire to express ourselves using ‘proper’ construction and grammar.   (Anyone else remember diagraming sentences?).  Now, over forty years later, I still appreciate all she did for me.  I cringe when I read how today’s students express themselves and I am sickened when I hear a teacher praise students for using substandard English as they ‘express their feelings’.  As you talk to these teachers, you realize that they have no love for the beauty of the language as they have never leaned the ‘rules’.  In schools here in Texas, they are even abandoning teaching penmanship as so much is done on the keyboard. 
    We have a fantastic heritage of great literature but we have abandoned it over the years.  To use an analogy I’ve heard many times, we have traded a gourmet dinner for McDonalds Happy Meal. 

  • Call me Lennie

    If only high schools and universities would relabel English class and English majors as “Engels-ish” class and “Engels-ish” majors, we’d could all better understand what was actually being taught

  • Beth

    Thanks for this post.  Your child’s teacher sounds like a gem–it certainly should be a good year for your son/daughter.  I appreciate having the article as I sent it to some friends as my reason number 5,472 for why we homeschool. 

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Call me Lennie:  Brilliant pun.  Thanks for that one.

    And everyone else — I love your comments.  All I can do is nod my head in agreement with them.  As for your Krugman joke, Charles Martel, that too is one for the ages.

  • Gringo

    Bookworm:
    As for your Krugman joke, Charles Martel, that too is one for the ages.
    That went over my head- perhaps because I pay as little attention as possible to Herr Doktor Nobel Prize Krugman as possible.