Teachers at Vineland High School North will no longer be allowed to ban foreign languages in their classes. According to an NBC report, at least two math teachers at the New Jersey school required students to sign a Classroom Protocol Contract. In addition to bans on cursing, wearing coats and hoodies, and chewing gum in class, the contract stated, "This is an English speaking school and classroom – any other [sic] language other than English will not be tolerated."
Excerpt from the Vineland High School North Classroom Protocol Contract banning foreign languages. In addition, students may not curse, wear hoodies or coats, eat, or drink anything but bottled water in class.
When the New Jersey ACLU complained, school officials pleaded ignorance of the foreign-language ban, then insisted that the English-only contract was only given to one math class. However, the letter from the ACLU charges that the Classroom Protocol was also followed by other administrators and teachers at the school.
There was a time when American schools banned the teaching of foreign languages, but in 1923 the U.S. Supreme struck down this practice as unconstitutional (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 401). And while the later Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines confirmed that students don't give up their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door (393 U.S. 502, 506, 1969), more and more schools have begun banning the use of foreign languages outside of foreign-language classes, arguing that foreign languages cause discipline problems and discourage immigrants from learning English.
Such a ban was upheld last year when a federal court ruled that a Wichita private school could expel students for violating its English-only rule. The school argued that it had to enforce an English-only policy to stem bullying in Spanish.
Public schools – run by school boards answerable to voters – have been less eager to impose a no-language-but-English rule. But even that is changing, as codes requiring English-only have proliferated in cities, towns, and even workplaces.
A Nevada school district prohibited foreign languages on the school bus until the ACLU complained. And Arthur, Illinois, perhaps fearing a similar complaint, finally dropped its English-only school bus rule from the most recent edition of the School Handbook, though the school bus operator published the rule at the start of the 2008 school year in the town newspaper, the Arthur Graphic.
Arthur's Chamber of Commerce touts its Amish tourist attractions, but the ban on foreign languages on the bus includes not just the Spanish of the children of its migrant workers but also the low German of the children of its Old Order Amish furniture craftsmen. Cursing, eating, and knives are also not permitted on the bus.
Back in New Jersey, one anonymous Vineland resident commented on the high-school foreign-language ban, "I grew up in South Texas where we were told not to speak Spanish in school, therefore we did not talk. As children, we were afraid to speak the language our parents taught us. If we spoke incorrect English, we were charged $.05 for every mistake."
And another, using the handle "teacher," charged that everyone at the high school knew about the foreign-language ban: "Administrators at this building were not only aware of this largely unwritten policy of select teachers/security staff, they enforced it with warnings, detentions, and even suspensions. The administration of this building is only 'shocked' to save face to the media."
However, English-only rules bring out the xenophobes in force. One commentator, who identifies himself as amishman, attacked the opponents of Vineland's English-only requirement: "This is just another example of the whining, liberal, democratic attitude which wants to 'denounce' anything american and worthwhile, and applaud anything that is degrading and immoral, like abortion, homosexuality, and diversity!"
The Old Order Amish who live in Arthur, Illinois, don't use motor cars or power tools, but for the liberal whiners among them who favor diversity, there's a tie-up for their horse-drawn buggies outside the town's Ace Hardware store.
While too many Americans remain content with their reputation as the most monolingual people of the world, more and more of us acknowledge how important it is for everyone to learn more than one language. And we recognize as well that it takes time and a lot of patience to learn a second language, whether it's an English speaker trying to learn enough French to do business with a client in Québec, or an adult immigrant to the U.S. trying to hold down a job, raise a family, and learn enough English to get by all at the same time. That's why voters in Nashville, Tennessee, where 13% of the residents speak a language other than English at home, though many of them also speak English, just defeated a measure to require all city employees to use only English on the job.
English-only school rules like the Vineland Protocol equate speaking Spanish, Chinese or Russian with bringing a gun to school, smoking in the bathroom, or chewing gum. ("Juan, did you bring enough Spanish for everyone?" And we wonder why the schools are failing?)
But speaking a foreign language doesn't endanger students or teachers, and it's certainly no threat to English. That's why Arthur, Illinois, can't afford an English-only school bus, and it's why Vineland, New Jersey, where, 31.7% of residents speak a language other than English at home (and many speak English as well), can't afford an English-only high school, or even a single English-only math class.