The Department of Education has moved to ban English from public schools. Calling the language “a potential threat to civil rights,” the Department’s regulation will affect all U.S. public schools and universities beginning with the 2011-2012 school year.
Janice Hamby, an attorney with the Department, said that use of English in public schools raises serious concerns of civil rights and justice. She notes that the English culture surrounding the language has historically been linked with racism, oppression and other injustices.
“As an obvious example,” she notes, “the colonial era is a classic reminder of English oppression against native populations.”
Hamby explained that genocide, environmental destruction, and subjugation of peaceful indigenous populations are connected inseparably to the English language.
To allow English to be spoken in public schools, Hamby argues, would be to permit a hate crime against all the ethnic, racial, religious, and sexual minorities victimized by English culture.
“In any given school, there may be a Native American student whose people were brutally destroyed or oppressed by English conquerors,” she noted. “Every time he or she hears English – the language of the white man that plundered his or her family – it is like being eradicated all over again.”
The move comes after a civil rights complaint was filed against the Oregon public school system by the National Native American Alliance for Equal Opportunity. The NNAAEO alleges that speaking English violates students’ civil rights.
“Speaking the English language is no different than hate speech or threats of violence, and is equally unprotected by the First Amendment,” said Ronald Gazon, the group’s director.
“This is a great day for justice for my people, as well as for other minorities who view English and everything associated with it as inherently unjust,” he said.
Officials remain unsure which language should replace English. Some say that Spanish is the likely candidate, since it is already heavily used as a second language throughout the country. But Gazon says he would like to see multiple languages used in different regions.
Vincent Root, an official with the Department of Education, said that all school districts will be required to choose a non-English language by the beginning of the next academic year. All students will be required to learn whatever language their district adopts.
After the start of the school year, no students will be allowed to speak English on public school or university property. In addition, they will not be permitted to bring to class, wear, read, write, or think anything in any language other than the officially chosen one.
Free speech advocates are decrying the new language requirement.
“This is an Orwellian affront to the First Amendment,” says Patricia Carlson of the Rights and Liberty Institute. She said that while the government can adopt an official language, it cannot require students to speak it or punish them for not doing so.
“This is similar to religious freedom: just as students do not shed their religious liberties at the schoolhouse door, they do not shed their free speech rights, either.”
Hamby denied Carlson’s objection and asserted that the new requirement is necessary to protect the rights of students.
“If certain students have their feelings hurt because of the harmful social implications of the English language, we clearly have a violation of civil rights,” he said. “Public schools have a legal obligation to protect the sensitivities of every student, especially those insulted by the English language.”