Noncitizens slow to learn our official language: 'Politics'
Jun. 25, 2006
Before you vote to cut off access to adult education English classes to anyone
who can't prove that he's a citizen, which you will do in November, Lucy Dale
would like to tell you a little bit about the students she has taught for years
in such classes at South Mountain Community College.
"My students are motivated," she said. "They attend class regularly, and they
study hard. They do the homework assignments and are ready for class.
For a teacher in the present day, it is heavenly. For the students it is
challenging and difficult. A few drop out before the semester ends, but I often
seen them return in the next semester."
Some of them, she knows, are not in this country legally. Lynn Reed, executive
director of Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County, estimates that about 25
percent of those studying English in adult education classes could not prove
We don't think very kindly toward such people. That's why the measure placed on
the November ballot by the Legislature will pass, as will the ballot measure
making English our official language.
"I confess that I'm confused by the politicians," Dale said. "As a teacher, I
get to see these people as people, not as statistics. Not as the enemy.
And what I see are people who are willing to work very long hours, and then find
the transportation, by bus or a friend or walking, to get to school.
And then spend three hours there trying to learn our language. And why?
Because they want to succeed. They want better jobs. They want to be able to
help their kids succeed. I'm not sure that many of us would put in that kind of
Reed said the people helped by state and federally funded adult-education
classes probably couldn't afford such studies on their own.
"From our experience, these are people who work hard and often for long hours,"
she said. "But still the average income for a large segment of this population
is from about $10,000 to $15,000 per year. And that's for a family of four. They
want to improve themselves. But that kind of money doesn't go very far beyond
providing food and shelter."
For a significant portion of Americans, that's just fine. Actually, for a
significant portion of Americans, that's too much. The fact that
non-English-speaking non-citizens can find food and shelter in the United States
is the reason that more of them keep trying to sneak in. Or as one man phrased
it to me in an e-mail last week:
"I don't want them to learn English. I just want them to go home."
Funny thing about that. It seems to be generally accepted that the people taking
English classes have jobs. Many of them have more than one job. One recent
report that I saw indicated that in 2005 approximately 18,000 adults took such
classes and that thousands more were on waiting lists.
A practical person, particularly a practical business owner, would tell you that
a motivated, reliable worker with the desire to improve himself is a boon for
both his employer and for the local economy. And that the loss of such workers
would hurt the local economy.
But that's not what a practical politician would say. A practical politician,
like those who run the show in Arizona, would say that the best way to get
re-elected is to make demons out of undocumented immigrants and promise to
punish them every chance he or she gets.
There's an official English word for actions that make no sense other than to
benefit elected officials: "Politics."
Reach Montini at (602) 444-8978 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his
blog at montiniblog.azcentral.com.