EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a follow-up to We Expect Less Of You, wherein I opine on a university’s decision to de-emphasize good grammar and spelling.

My father had an employee, decades back, who worked crazy hours at his restaurant. The man, whose name escapes me, was the “chef’s helper,” a job with specific tasks in New York City-style 24 hour diner-restaurants. He started work before the chef and finished well after the chef had gone home for the day. He was from Greece, had been in America for over 30 years, but had English language skills poorer than those of 3 year olds. He never put any effort into learning the native language of his adopted homeland. He also never advanced beyond the role of chef’s helper.

We can speculate as to the reasons for the man’s career stagnation, but it’s certain that his failure to develop his English language skills didn’t help matters. Was that failure the result of laziness? Poor intellect? Stubbornness? The “routine” trap?

These are all internal, personal elements. Some can be overcome more easily than others, but they are all matters up to the individual to address. Today’s discussion is not about the man himself, but about society and the influences it can exert.

Consider the idea of English as the “national language” of America. The nation doesn’t have a “national language,” but for most of its history, immigrants and/or their descendants would strive to learn English as a means of assimilating into American society and culture. In doing so, they’d contribute to the language in melting-pot fashion, and common vernacular today is loaded with words and phrases that are either directly lifted from or hybridized by other tongues. Speaking the common language is fundamental to interacting with others in a society.

Unfortunately, the idea of the melting pot has been replaced by the concept known as multiculturalism, and the latter’s advocates see nothing wrong with encouraging people to hold onto the language of the lands they left in order to come to America. In doing so, those people end up limiting their economic prospects by shrinking the available supply of employment prospects to those where their native tongues are spoken. They also, in doing so, ensure that they won’t fully assimilate into the culture of their new home, and will fail to contribute that which they brought from their homelands to American society.

Any individual can choose to learn English and fold himself or herself into mainstream society, and any individual can choose to stay within a pocket or enclave of fellow immigrants. The former is far more likely to offer opportunity and success, and I’d encourage it, but it’s not my place to scold those who choose otherwise. My beef is with the advocates for multiculturalism, the people who urge others not to go native, because it’s somehow better that they hold onto the language and traditions of the lands they chose to leave.

Consider this bit from a recent interview with the great Thomas Sowell:

Here Mr. Sowell pivots to 18th-century Scotland and the philosopher David Hume: “Hume urged Scots to learn the English language,” he says. “He didn’t do that because his job was that of an ethnic leader. He did it because he was an intellectual.” Yet it helped bring progress to his homeland. “One of the most miraculous advances of a people occurred in Scotland from the 18th century into the 19th,” Mr. Sowell says. “A wholly disproportionate share of the leading British thinkers was Scottish. I mean Adam Smith in economics, Hume in philosophy, Sir Walter Scott in literature, James Watt in engineering. You can run through the whole list. A people who were really far behind in one century had suddenly come out of nowhere and were on the forefront of human progress.”

Skill in the common language of the society within which one functions is critical to economic and intellectual success, and this makes it far more important than highfalutin arguments about cultural identity that excuse and even condone the failure to develop such skills. It is unfortunate that our education sages think in an opposite fashion, and get aggressive and angry with anyone who dares challenge them. When immigrants are either discouraged from learning English or coddled with lesson programs in their native languages, when “ebonics” is advanced as an alternate language program in primary education, when society focuses on multiculturalism rather than assimilation, it promotes failure, disaffection and socioeconomic stagnation/dependency.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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