Saturday, June 29, 2019

Cheap shots on Spanish

My guess is that almost all of the media voices belittling the Democratic candidates for speaking Spanish at the debates do not speak Spanish themselves.

Of real note are the particularly snarky comments about “Beto”.

For those of us who do speak Spanish, Beto told us something that almost all of the English language media missed. He speaks it well. Very well. Beto grew up in a part of our country where Spanish is a common language and he has obviously spoken it most of his life.

So, the college student on NBC’s coverage giving him advice on how a white person should approach speaking Spanish and the snide panelist on NPR have one thing in common:

They both were equating language with race.

But speaking a language is something we learn, we do, we participate in. Even our native language is a learned thing. There are many people who grew up in another nation and speak the languages of where they were raised because they are from that place and not the land of their passport or skin color.

Beto grew up along the Mexican border.

He is no different than the Anglos in Montreal who speak the language of the French majority (me), or the Mexicans on the other side of that border who speak English better than your average student because English is part of their day to day life.

Booker did OK and my first reaction hearing him was admiration. He had the guts to learn and more guts to risk his skill level to public exposure. He also told us that his idea of ethnic minorities included respect for Spanish speaking Americans. Mayor Pete was competent, as usual, and as a former soldier he might well know a lot of those Spanish speaking Americans who carry guns for our country.

My overall impression hearing those putting their Spanish out there was “not bad” and they all showed a good, honest and intelligent effort. I would not vote for any of them in the primary because my views are further to the left, but they have my respect for making the effort.

And the message of all this Spanish speaking to the Spanish speaking public was loud and clear:

The Hispanic minority is important in this election.

That is not a bad message. It did not deserve the denigration it brought on from pundits taking cheap shots. The “Taco Bell” comments or talking about Beto “trying to speak Spanish” are both mean spirited and uninformed, telling us much about what the commentators think of the politician they are running down while saying a lot about how people in this country feels about Spanish.

In the United States, Spanish is a repressed, undervalued language that is often associated with a patronizing and racist view of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other brown skinned people. In the popular culture speaking French, German, Russian, Chinese and other languages is high class.

Speaking Spanish is treated as low class.

I find it revealing that people who do not speak another language themselves, make fun of other people for not speaking another language well.

Spanish is considered a crutch for those who do not speak English well enough in our schools, public services and politics. In many schools, Spanish is discouraged instead of being taken up to the next level of literacy. Spanish is what we use to talk (down) to those people, who are treated as second class Americans. Third class if they do not have work papers.

Spanish has been the language used to manage the hired help.

So Beto gets run down not because his Spanish is substandard, because it is not. He may have been the most skilled Spanish speaker on stage, including Secretary Castro. No, Beto gets run down because he is speaking Spanish and is white. The assumption that he does so poorly might have more to do with the miserable success level of American college students in achieving fluency.


Keep in mind that almost 100% of our media folk come from the less than one third of us who go to college.

My guess is that there is a higher percentage of bilingual English speakers working in construction and hospitably than there are holding commentator jobs at NBC. 

I have a lot of trouble with English speakers deciding that speaking Spanish in a national debate is pandering. Somehow all the other talk of minority rights, LGBTQ rights and so on is taking positions, but somehow, speaking Spanish is suspect. Were they afraid that Beto was talking about them behind their backs? With that NBC crew, they all could have. There was one Spanish speaking commentator and I was pleased to see him start off in Spanish with a couple of the candidates.

Just note something.
Why wasn’t there a voice over or subtitles to interpret as Spanish was used?
That is what would happen in a real bilingual nation.

But for NBC, Spanish was not important enough for them to be ready for it. Their only provision was to translate the debate from English to Spanish on Telemundo.

Secretary Castro closed speaking well, with a native accent. He let us know that he really speaks it. A lot of people with dark skin and the last name Castro speak no Spanish at all. They are from the United States and don’t speak Spanish any more than I speak Gaelic or my half-brother speaks the German that defines his mother’s accent.

Castro did well and I would have to hear more to know if he speaks household Spanish, the same way I once only spoke household English, or has the depth of day to day language use that comes from education, using it at work, using it for politics and having a deep contact with the culture, economy and daily life of active Spanish speakers. I am not sure how far that goes for Beto either. All the same, I admire Castro for speaking up and being positive about speaking his family’s language with the whole world watching. 

I am not sure I would trust my own English under such a spotlight.

And I am pleased that candidates for president of this nation had the courage to make talking directly to so many Americans with respect for them and their language a priority.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Blueprint for what exactly? (Oakland schools)

Last night’s Oakland Unified School District school board meeting was on two subjects.  One was a report on how we are doing with our Blueprint for Quality Schools from the ad-hoc committee. The other was on the budget, which was presented as an inch-thick pamphlet in a format that is hard to read. (Do not expect an organizational chart)
My guess is that hardly more than a few hundred people in Oakland know about our school district’s “Blueprint for Quality Schools” outside of those who work there.  Yet this is a plan that the board and district staff have been working on for years.  There have been committees formed, advisory groups consulted and all kinds of surveys and meetings that supposedly consulted our communities.  When you voted in 2016 and 2018, you voted for supporters of the “blueprint” process, which was already in gear. In earlier versions it was called a “search for excellence” and other such trial branding. 
The stated goal for this plan is an outreach and public consultation to make our schools better.
The Oakland School Blueprint for Quality Schools is really a cutback and layoff plan.
The only “better” that they found was the only one that they looked for.  I took the survey for parents.  The only questions were about what schools to close, how to do consolidation, etc.
There was always a reason to be dubious about this Blueprint for Quality Schools process that our school administrators have been pushing for some years.
Doubt number one is this idea that somehow, we need to rediscover how to run quality schools.
Seems to me that what our political class needs to rediscover is the need to fund education adequately.  One could talk about all kinds of things and most of them start with the word "restore".  That is as in we need to RESTORE art, music, sports, shop, civics, Spanish, sports and and and....
But that is not what the Blueprint is really about.
It is about cutbacks.  Add to cutbacks, consolidations, closures, and downsizing.
It is also about real estate.  The school closures prepare the way for even more transfer of our publicly owned real estate to these so-called charter schools. 
Those private schools using public money use our public school buildings.
And California State law makes it our obligation to give the charters a home.  Maybe there is another version of charter schools out there somewhere, but I am talking about the actual "charters" that California law gives us in practice and the access they have to our school sites under prop 39 guidelines. Every time I talk about this with a pro “charter” activist they want to talk about what charters should be, and not what they really are here in Oakland. Here they are a bird that lays its eggs in another bird’s nest.
The "Blueprint for Quality Schools" view of efficiency is the same as a bank merger.
We are now at the phase where we consolidate, close branches and lay off staff.
If I heard him right, the principal working on the merger plan that will give us Elmhurst United School explained how we will now have 3 coaches for the united school when we had 4 otherwise. I hope that I heard him wrong.
As if our schools are anything close to sufficiently staffed before these mergers and downsizing?
Schools are not a business and the business model is not healthy for a public service. If they want a Blueprint for Quality Schools in our schools, they could start by cutting back administrative staff and put more support staff on the school sites.  The real plan gives some small concessions to electives that are not available for all students.  Their idea of an elective that it is acceptable to underfund includes Spanish.  Music and art, maybe.  Shop, civics and practical skills? Don’t even ask. 
We have been doing these short-sighted cutbacks for years.  At each round of cutback we offer fewer options to students leaving many parents with little choice other than to “vote with their feet” as one of the illustrious leaders on the dais put it last night. 
We have been sold a hand to mouth version of budget scarcity and the cutbacks that really don't add up to much, but do make more real-estate available for this so called charter movement.
And if we did every cutback, merger and downsize in the Blueprint for Quality Schools, we still would not have the budget stability that the OUSD board claims. 
Sometimes when I listen to OUSD administrators talk about their fine plans, I feel like I am listening to a landscaping beautification plan in the path of a forest fire.
The real needs are for better management with fewer administrators pulling down six figure salaries, better funding altogether, better financial oversight and certainly, more choices at every school instead of being forced to choose between schools.
And we need an audit.                              
But the only versions of these kinds of ideas one heard at last night’s meeting came from dissent from the floor.  A group of students spoke against closures.  Later parents and teachers spoke against the closures. Members of the communities from the schools getting downsized spoke against this plan as parents and teachers. Many who spoke are both parents of OUSD students and have been working for the district in one way or another for many years. 
Finally, Megan Bumpus, a union member and dissenting member of the ad-hoc committee spoke very succinctly against closures in her minority report, making a clear and well supported case that the closures cost more than they save. Parent and teacher activists handed out flyers opposing the closures making similar points. 
If ever there was a day that shows that 5 of the 7 members on that board are elected with the support of Great Oakland Public Schools Advocates and other deceptively named pro “charter school” organizations, yesterday was that day. 
The students and public of Oakland do not get better schools from this “blueprint” but the people who back our school board have more square feet in the pipeline.