Speaking Of Tongues

To the Editor,

Congratulations for your insightful analysis of the consequences of "foreign language" illiteracy in our country and the failure of our educational system to redress this problem (The Skinny, Tucson Weekly, March 28). Shame of D.C. Towne (Letters, Tucson Weekly, April 25) for distorting your position to fit his obsession with the "English Only" initiative. It is clear to all that the U.S.A. is a land of language cripples, unable to properly lead the world at large, whose history and culture are generally not understood by its citizens.

Mailbag It is the nature of my profession (theoretical physics) that I frequently travel abroad. In a typical year I will be in Europe for several months, and I had year-long sabbaticals in Frankfurt and Rome. Looking at the notches in my belt (adjusted for culinary reasons), I count 17 European countries, plus three in Africa and three in Asia. By now I have good friends all over the world, not all scientists.

It is true that at the moment English is the dominant language of science; all my overseas colleagues are competent in English and (usually) other languages. But I have found that to understand the culture and history of these rich traditions it is necessary to advance beyond the skill needed to order meals in restaurants. Language competence is the basic requirement for the understanding of the accomplish-ments of other nations, and the appreciation of the historical context of the political world in which we live.

Whatever the purity of motives of those like Towne, the common U.S. aversion to foreign language often looks and functions like bias. (The Greeks coined the word "xenophobia," hatred of foreigners.) Although the expansion of job opportunities is a clear motivation for learning Spanish, say, in Tucson, the problem is much more general and the consequences serious.

What can be done in a land where many immigrants do not use their native language in their home to speed up the mastery of English by the children? First we must recognize that to most "American" students, English itself is a foreign language. This was painfully driven home to me recently when I participated in a faculty grading of essays by UA upper-class students. Almost without exception, the grammar and spelling were atrocious. Logic rarely made an appearance, not to speak of style. There are many outstanding works in the English language whose reading could improve all this.

What can be done in K-12 education to improve on this sad situation? Regardless of the suitability of my particular suggestions, it seems to me that something must be done. I would require that each student learn one language well, in addition to his inherited one. In the early grades, language instruction should be accompanied by some presentation of cultural accomplishments of the peoples in the chosen language. At later stages, literature, art, music and historical aspects should be added. Especially valuable would be an optional year abroad for high school students, with reciprocal scholarships for foreign students.

The situation is not much better in universities. Since 1961, when I began teaching at Cornell, foreign language requirements have been largely eliminated. This has occurred in large part because of student activism, coupled with acquiescence by spineless faculty.

--Peter Carruthers

Flip Flop

To the Editor,

Whereas cartoonist P.S. Mueller probably meant no harm in his Flipside cartoon (Tucson Weekly, April 18), the material provided should possibly been given more thought before its publication.

Depicting a man as being shot up with arrows after apparently trying to curb casino operations just fuels stereotypes of Native Americans. I hope the author realizes the mistake so that he may be able to create in a more educated manner in the future.

--Mike Kerkman

To the Editor,

I hope that I am just one of many readers who take exception to P.S. Mueller's Flipside cartoon (Tucson Weekly, April 18). I am not questioning the First Amendment rights of your paper or the cartoonist to exercise freedom of expression.

But I do question why a "liberal" newspaper would print a cartoon that perpetuates negative stereotypes of American Indians. The false image portrayed in the cartoon is that Indians are savage, ruthless and violent, i.e., they will shoot a cowboy in the back with arrows. This image is tied to the bubble message about letting Indians have their gaming casinos.

Using historically racist images to comment on current political controversies can only foster prejudice and misunderstanding. A newspaper's purpose is to disseminate information that will help its readers make sense of the world they live in, and not propagate stereotypes.

--John Shaw


To the Editor,

Thanks for the article on Warren Faidley ("Mister Twister," Tucson Weekly, April 25). Spielberg and his techno-cronies may create the illusion of an extreme weather phenomenon on film, but without Mr. Faidley's efforts the knowledge wouldn't exist to accomplish it with such verisimilitude. Hats off to a genuine "stormchaser." I hope that I would have the good sense not to join one of the "chase yahoos," but thanks to Mr. Faidley, I can live that dream vicariously.

I'd also like to thank you for the eclectic mix of hot links on DesertNet. It's a real treat for someone with a digressive mind like mine. You kept me entertained for hours and made me a fountain of erudition on a wide range of topics. Keep it up and you'll be partly responsible for keeping me intravenously connected to the Web permanently.

--Timothy D. Tabor

Film Flam

To the Editor,

I think you had better get a new film critic because his bird-brain critiques lean towards Hollywood films which are made for a 14-year-old's mentality.

--Charles Petrevan

Editor's note: Film critic Stacey Richter is a she.

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