|Not only did immigrant children learn in public schools, but those parents most successful at leaning English and becoming citizens studied at night in those same public schools like this one in Red Hook, New Jersey.|
Yesterday the Northwest Herald, paper of record for McHenry County, ran one of those letters that set my teeth to aching. After years of battling right wing disinformation and propaganda in those columns, I largely have given up wasting my breath. But every once in a while, I just can’t help myself.
This is the letter published on Thursday, March 29, that set me off:
To the Editor:
When asked, a polling expert said recently, “Americans who are polled are stupid,” not once, but five times, a clear attitude regarding the public. In follow-ups, a caller was told, America’s “fourth estate,” the media, always has felt the public were “stupid.”
Sadly, this is very true. But long ago, and until a public education system, it was a sacred trust, to teach, to inform, to stir to action the quiet masses.
A Polish, Italian, Slovakian, Middle Eastern, African immigrant, came as “your poor and huddled masses.” Alone, afraid, but determined to be American. With no money, few friends, no education, on a city street, the paper-boy’s call, “Extra! Extra!,” made the immigrant look to see, but not read “Lincoln Shot!,” “Titanic Sinks,” “Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor.” The immigrant raced home with the news, and the words would teach English slowly, day after day.
If a man strives, works, hungers to know, to learn, to understand, and is educated, speaking out, and sharing with those around him, and the newspaper reporter, fulfills the purpose for this “Fourth Estate,” to spread the word ...
The story has not changed, but the population has. Now, most Americans, most reporters, are “educated” in public schools and universities, where, instead of struggling to learn, are spoon-fed and indoctrinated to all think a certain way, without the loneliness, the fear, the need to survive.
Yes, we truly are “stupid,” but only because we Americans are lulled into believing the struggle is over.
This is the response I just e-mailed the editors.
To the Editor:
Tom Doepker of Bull Valley recently wrote attacking public education, of all things, for making the American public “stupid.” He dishes up the now familiar right wing attack on public education in spades. Specifically he conjures a world where immigrants fresh off the boat educated themselves by reading newspapers that were not yet ruined by being written by hapless saps with public and university educations. In his rich fantasy these immigrants all pulled themselves up by their own boot straps and happily assimilated in no time thanks to piecing out words from a tabloid at the kitchen table after a 12 hour shift.
Of course there is lots of research that shows this view—how can we put it charitably—is an utter fabrication. In fact most immigrants found it very difficult to master English, even years after arriving. Relatively few became fluent or functionally literate in their new language. They continued to use their native tongue at home and in their communities. They read newspapers printed in their native languages, and worshiped in churches that preached in it.
But their children, the second generation, did master English, became fluent and literate—largely by attending the very public schools the Doepker despises. Just as new immigrant children do today.
But that doesn’t conform to the tidy world view that has been packaged for him by the media he “trusts”—the ones who confirm and inflame his prejudices.