City Journal Autumn 2014

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Autumn 2014
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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
How Not to Encourage Assimilation
English educators are rebuilding the Tower of Babel.
13 August 2002

These days, I open my morning newspaper with a feeling of dread. Is there no end to the suicidal madness that has seized hold of the British educated classes? The short answer is that there is not. This summer I learned at breakfast that a conference of school principals in London had passed a resolution calling for the teaching in schools of Punjabi and African languages, such as Somali, rather than the traditional foreign languages of French, German, and Spanish. Some principals went so far as to demand that national academic tests should be available in the languages that refugee and immigrant children speak at home—all 160 of them. Reformers now seem to view the Tower of Babel as a model to emulate.

It is impossible to know whether the school principals are just stupid or whether their ranks have been infiltrated by what used to be known in Stalin’s Russia as “Trotskyite wreckers.” The effect is the same. The principals want to enclose the refugees and immigrants in ethnic and linguistic ghettoes that reproduce the characteristics of the countries from which they or their parents have fled—all in the name of a broadminded belief that all cultures are equal and none is preferable to another, especially not their own.

British pedagogues could devise nothing more wicked or socially divisive than an educational system burdened with perverse disincentives to learn English—just as in America, advocates of bilingual education have persuaded many Hispanics, to their permanent disadvantage, that a mastery of English is not essential to their lives in the U.S. Furthermore, because neighboring European languages and cultures are so important a part of British culture, the school principals, by denying immigrant children access to them, are denying them full integration into our society. But then, this is precisely their aim.

It is already possible for immigrant groups to live their lives enclosed in their own languages. Official forms are available in scores of such languages; large translation agencies act as intermediaries between immigrants and officialdom; and it is possible for people to take official tests in Albanian, Kurdish, Punjabi, Mandarin, Arabic, and a host of other languages.

I discovered not long ago, for example, that to take the test for a driver’s license does not require the applicant to speak a word of English. I recently had a patient injured in a crash while driving a truck. He spoke no English, not so much as a syllable, yet he had passed the driving test and obtained his license. (Needless to say, I spoke to him through one of my hospital’s small army of interpreters.) At his driving test, he received his instructions via headphones in his language. He took the written as well as the practical test in his own language, too.

This is the model that principals would like to apply in schools. They want to turn Britain into New Guinea, where there are hundreds of mutually incomprehensible languages spoken in mutually inaccessible mountain valleys.

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