Friday, December 09, 2005

Seriously, What the Heck Is the Matter With Kansas?

From the excellent Language Log:

Language Log's Jackass of the Week award goes to principal Jennifer Watts of Kansas City, Kansas' Endeavor Alternative School for suspending student Zach Rubio for two days for speaking Spanish in school. Fortunately, as soon as superintendent Bobby Allen learned of the suspension he reversed it. The school district has no policy forbidding the use of Spanish or other languages. This evidently is, however, Ms. Watts' policy. According to the Washington Post, in a written explanation for the suspension she stated that:

This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school.

According to Superintendent Allen's report, Watts said that it is important that the teachers be able to communicate and know what the students are saying. That teachers need to be able to communicate is true, but what has it got to do with whether students use Spanish in private conversations? (There is no issue here of encouraging Rubio to learn English - he is a fluent native speaker of both English and Spanish.) That teachers need to know what students are saying in private conversations is false. They don't need to know and they can't, even if the students always speak English. Both in school and out of school students have far too many opportunities to communicate out of range of their teachers for schools to know everything they say. By Watts' Orwellian reasoning, students should be required to wear microphones that transmit everything they say so that it can be monitored at the school office. Even the Soviet Union didn't go that far.

In any case, according to Zach's account Ms. Watts said at the time: "We are not in Mexico, we are not in Germany", and "I don't want to hear it [Spanish] in my building". This sounds more like plain old bigotry than educational policy.

Yes, I can connect this post to legal education. The State of Kansas has taken a number of black eyes recently, over the intelligent design controversy and other issues. How must our friends and colleagues at Washburn and KU Law Schools feel about all this? Is it affecting their admissions applications?

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