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Works and Days

2011 Politically-Incorrect Resolutions

December 19th, 2010 - 1:29 pm

The Pride of Solvency

I think the American people are not only scared of collective state and national debt, but sick of it as well. I mean by that abhorrence in the psychological sense—of reading that their governments are broke, of seeing public fraud and waste daily, of realizing that as they pay down their own private debts after 2007, so too they believe their governments could as well. Solvency has now become a matter of national pride.

Much of the elite trumpeting of “decline” and a “new multipolar world” and the “end of the American influence” derives from collective depression over owing $13 trillion in national debt, over seeing the Chinese posture with their trillions in American notes, over being typecast abroad as a spendthrift, out-of-control profligate culture. In other words, if my hunch is right, there is going to be increasing public pressure to balance budgets and pay off debt. Bill Clinton, fairly or not, remains popular today—despite the philandering, Monica, the disgraceful pardons, the serial petit corruption, and the unacknowledged role of a stingy Republican Congress after 1994—because as president he oversaw a few balanced budgets.

The desire for solvency will only grow even as we start to see progress: the more government is restrained from spending, the more we will want it to cut back even more. Too often we talk of debt in terms of GDP percentages, of only reducing the size of the deficit, rarely of simply balancing the budget in real dollars and paying down aggregate debt to ensure surpluses—if only for the psychological effect on a depressed populace. The first governor of California to achieve a balanced budget without raising the nation’s highest sales and income taxes will achieve celebrity status; the first one to cut the income tax to 8% and the sales to 7% and balance the books will be deified.

Monolingualism

I think the American people are ready for a radical break with the sixties past and would welcome an end to multilingualism in government messaging, voting materials, documents, etc. It is not just that receiving documents in the mail in duplicate or even triplicate, or being put on telephonic hold while another language starts up, is wasteful, but such repetition contributes to error and misinterpretation. What helps some in theory, hurts most in fact. There is also a growing collective feeling that creating a climate in which one can function without learning English is divisive, promotes sectarianism, and ultimately is deleterious to the non-English speaker. In private, please learn and use ten languages, from modern Greek to Mandarin; in government commerce and transaction, try English.

English only in matters of government communications would promote unity, save billions in government administrative costs, improve the employment skill sets of the immigrant, and remind our increasingly diverse body politic that we are committed to a single language. Bottom line: we have had over thirty years of separate but equal linguistic policy; it has been a dismal failure in causing unnecessary expense and confusion for the majority, disunity for all, and balkanization and second-class status for the minority speakers. It is time to go back to a single language before we start to resemble Europe around 600 AD when Latin broke down and a multiplicity of languages emerged in the general chaos.

The Problem is the Student—not the teacher, school, or administrator

We hear the usual reasons why our public schools are failing: poor schoolroom facilities, top-heavy administrative costs, teacher incompetence and unions, education department tyranny, and feel-good, “I-am-somebody” therapeutic curricula. All these pathologies surely conspire to thwart learning. As a professor for twenty-one years, who usually teaches somewhere each year as a visiting professor, I can attest to such contributory factors. But all that said, I think our greatest problem is simply today’s student and the familial environment that has produced him.

I went to largely Hispanic and impoverished elementary schools from 1959-67. The teachers, by today’s standards, were probably insensitive and unduly harsh. None of those classrooms had any of the glitz we see today. In September and May the non-air-conditioned rooms were often over 90 degrees. I can remember our second grade class was 44, with 5 folding chairs that we rotated in and out of, given the absence of desks. Instruction was mostly by rote, with ruler slaps for poor cursive penmanship. Art class consisted mostly of “drawing” in the sense that to the degree the finished product did not resemble what the eye sees, so we were berated for “bad” work. I could go on, but you get the picture.

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