O f course, the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore last week prompted the usual cries for “an honest conversation about race,” and countless appeals to fix the “broken” public school system. So, in the spirit of those pleas, I will advance a very plain and straightforward idea: above all, teach young black kids how to speak English correctly.
Nothing is more important than acculturating ghetto kids out of their pidgin patois and into real English with all of its tenses, verb forms, and cases. It’s more important initially than learning arithmetic, history, and science. I would argue that it is hardly possible to learn these other things without first being grounded in real grammatical English.
When these kids grow up, their manner of speech will identify them and their prospects for success at least as much as the color of their skin — and probably more, in my opinion. Their ability to speak English correctly will be the salient feature in how others assess the content of their character
I’m sure by now that the racial justice hand-wringers are squirming over this proposal. All dialects are equally okay in this rainbow society, they might argue. No they’re not. Have you noticed that TV news, business, show biz, education, and politics increasingly employ people whose parents came from India and other parts of Asia. Do they speak in a patois lacking in complex verb forms? Apparently not. Are they succeeding in American life, such as it is? Apparently so.
Notice that the speech issue — how people talk — is never part of the “honest conversation about race” that we are supposed to have. Has anybody noticed that in his public speeches Martin Luther King spoke regular English correctly, if with a Southern inflection? Has anybody noticed how important that was in his role as “a communicator?” Why is this crucial question of language absent from the public conversation about “the intractable problems of race in America?” Is it because both blacks and whites are too fearful, too cowardly, to face this particular problem of how English is spoken?
Perhaps this raises the specter of IQ. I’d like to know how any IQ test can be meaningful when the person taking it can’t speak the language that the test is given in. I’m sure that any ghetto kid drilled in English for two years would show substantial improvement in such a generalized test. But, of course, first the American people of all skin tones would have to admit that this is important.
We don’t want to. We’d rather wring our hands over “structural racism” and other canards. Why? Because Euro American whites have been programmed to “not offend” at all costs; Asian Americans are too busy being successful; and African Americans are too invested in their own excuse-for-failure industry, wringing money from offense-o-phobic whites.
A year ago, I gave the opening day lecture to the entering honors freshman class at Rutgers, New Jersey’s State University. I swear at least half of that class of about 400 young people was made up of first generation kids of parents from India — owing, I suppose, to the current demographic of the state. Many of these kids were very dark-skinned, as dark as African Americans. Guess what? They didn’t speak in any kind of pidgin patois. They spoke regular American English. Do you suppose during their childhoods that the household fretted about “sounding white?” I doubt it. By the way, not only did these very bright, dark-skinned honors students speak English correctly, they also behaved politely. No fights broke out during the convocation. They effervescently launched themselves into their college careers — and then they went out for pizza.
How about it America? Job number one: learn how to speak the English language. Everything else depends on it. Excuses not admissible.
Note: JHK’s 2014 Garden Report is finally up
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