Ignorance rules

May 22, 2006

What a joke for the Senate to declare English the "national language" of the United States. As if most Americans had any ability to converse in another tongue.

In fact, learning other widely spoken languages of the world is such a rare phenomenon in the education of most Americans, they rely on English to be at least a second national language everywhere - and certainly many act that way when they travel.

Senators would be making a greater contribution to their fellow citizens by encouraging more opportunities for Americans to learn languages other than English.

Of course, the disappointingly large 63-34 vote Thursday by which senators directed the federal government to "preserve and enhance" the role of English in the United States had nothing to with serving their fellow citizens.

Rather, it was a shameful appeal to the fear and xenophobia that infect the national debate about immigration. As with many generations before them, some Americans resent foreigners coming into the country - legally or illegally - because they represent competition for jobs, services, political power or simply space.

Senators often proclaim a belief that America has been enriched by its multiple tides of immigration, and surely it has. That happened not because newcomers surrendered their former identities, but because their various languages, cultures and traditions added new flavors to the stew in this grand melting pot.

Instead of enshrining a national language, Congress should be promoting a national principle: tolerance.

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