Language controversy a 2-way street, amigos
Arizona Republic
Feb. 17, 2006

The language controversy thus far in Southeast Valley and Arizona schools has been over the federal requirement to teach English to Spanish-speaking students, who are usually here illegally, and that such programs be financed by Arizona taxpayers, who are not usually here illegally.

While this federal mandate confuses people who still imagine a difference between legal and illegal, Gov. Napolitano and I understand it perfectly. Since the kids are here to stay, it behooves us to educate them properly. Why? Because an educated non-citizen makes a much better American than an uneducated non-citizen.

While that theory confuses people who still imagine a difference between a citizen and a non-citizen, Gov. Napolitano and I understand it perfectly. In fact, not only am I in favor of teaching English to Spanish speakers, I think we need another required program to teach Spanish to English speakers.

Frankly, it is getting harder and harder for English-only speakers to get along in this state. I have an example:

Last week I was startled to hear the buzz and roar of gas-operated Weedeaters and mowers as an energetic yard crew went to work on my lawn and foliage. I don't have a yard crew.

My next-door neighbor has a yard crew, but I do not.

I ran outside, too late to stop a line of decorative bushes from being drastically reduced in size.

"¡Alto!" I shouted at the crew, which obviously had not had the benefit of federally mandated English.

I later learned I should have shouted "Pare," since "alto" is only for stop signs, but I was under a lot of pressure and my bushes were disappearing fast.

Still, they seemed to get the message, and the crew stopped in mid-trim and mid-lawn-cutting and eyed me expectantly.

"No aqui," I said, pointing down at my grass.

I then trotted to my neighbor's yard and pointed at his grass.

"¡Aqui!" I said. "Aqui es bueno."

They chuckled and moved to the correct location, leaving my lawn half cut and my bushes only half destroyed.

It was fortunate for me that I was fluent in Spanish, having earned solid D-minuses in the language in college some 40 years ago. But what if I were not bilingual? And what if, instead of a yard crew, these guys had been roofers or house painters?

I could have wound up with a pink house and a bill for several thousand dollars.

By all means, teach the kids from Mexico to speak English. But if we're all going to get along, and we need to, the kids born in America had better learn some español.

Jim Berlin, a Mesa resident, is a retired lieutenant from the Phoenix Police Department and a former syndicated columnist.