On trial? Forget jail, learn English!

A judge known for creative sentencing has ordered three Spanish-speaking men to learn English or go to jail.
The men, who faced prison for criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, can remain on parole if they learn to read and write English, earn their GEDs and get full-time jobs, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said.

This story is so weird and the fact that it plays up how kind and progressive this judge is creeps me out. Ordering men to learn English because you are frustrated that they can’t speak English and need translation is a type of racism. On the other hand, if this distracted the courts from incarcerating more men of color, that is cool.
But ordering people to learn English? If the state is forcing you to adopt culture and language in the context of incarceration, that is not in the best interest of the accused. It is part of the process of colonizing the underclass and forcing them to do things you think are *good* for them, while ignoring what is actually harming their communities.
The best part? If they don’t learn English and pass a test they go to jail for 2 years. That is A LOT of pressure.
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78 Comments

  1. marlisa
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I had a negative reaction to this at first as well, and agree that “learn English” is loaded with racist overtones. And yet, with all the fucked-upness of the prison industrial complex, it is actually a promising kind of ruling. The article says the judge often orders defendants to get a job, finish school, etc rather than serve time.
    While he is ordering folks to do what HE thinks would improve their lives, the point is that it’s about positive change and empowering people to make their own lives better. Speaking English sure isn’t going to hurt them, and I wish all judges handed down similarly constructive rulings.

  2. Destra
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    It’s still up in the air whether or not this is legal.
    It sounds positive to me. Yes, it is a situation where a judge is deciding what he thinks are “*good* for them,” but that’s what judges do all the time. It’s the judge’s job to do so. The judge in this case gave the men the opportunity to turn their lives around instead of just throwing them in jail. Even a local Hispanic man who runs the local Spanish newspaper was supportive of the ruling.

  3. blondein_tokyo
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Obviously, if they learn English they’ll have a much, much better chance to get a JOB that pays decently, instead of making a career out of robbery. I live in Japan, and there are a lot of foreigners here who don’t learn the language, and then go around complaining about how difficult it is to get a job- of COURSE it’s difficult! Not to mention that integrating yourself to the culture requires that you speak the language, and that in itself opens a LOT of doors that were previously shut to you. Whether the judge is racist or not, I think his judgment will benefit these men.

  4. blondein_tokyo
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Obviously, if they learn English they’ll have a much, much better chance to get a JOB that pays decently, instead of making a career out of robbery. I live in Japan, and there are a lot of foreigners here who don’t learn the language, and then go around complaining about how difficult it is to get a job- of COURSE it’s difficult! Not to mention that integrating yourself to the culture requires that you speak the language, and that in itself opens a LOT of doors that were previously shut to you. Whether the judge is racist or not, I think his judgment will benefit these men.

  5. Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Assimilate now…or go to jail! Disgusting!

  6. Posted April 8, 2008 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    What is annoying about all this is the arbitrary authoritarian judge’s behavior.
    These men broke the law. The sentencing guidelines were there.
    As to learning English: none of the Mexican construction workers around here speak English. They have jobs. I think speaking English and having jobs are two different issues. They came here to work, not to learn English.
    But the guys who committed crimes are criminals. Were they citizens? If they were not, wouldn’t they be deported?

  7. Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    what if you take out the part about learning English? Then it sounds like a really great deal, right? Besides, learning a language doesn’t make someone an assimilated automaton.

  8. eruvande
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I am a student of linguistic anthropology, I speak two languages and am learning more, and I am a staunch opponent of “English-only” policies. Even so, I don’t see this sentence as a bad thing.
    As much as I hate the push for assimilation, after reading all the stories about prisons that have come to light lately, I would much rather this judge push for education and English learning instead of just tossing people in prison and forgetting about them. In a country where prisons are considering turning loose violent criminals just because there is no room for new inmates, why make new inmates if education is a viable alternative? Why take small-time offenders, toss them in prison, and make bigger-time, more violent offenders of them, when you can offer them education?
    I agree that it is racist to say “Learn English or go home, ya furriner!”, but the reality of this nation at this point in time is that knowing English helps. Hell, it helps to know English no matter where you are. And education is always a good thing, right? Besides, the judge didn’t say (as far as I know) that the accused couldn’t “be” Spanish-speakers anymore, just that they learn the official language of the country in which they live. If we were to adopt Spanish as a second official language, obviously the “learn English” wouldn’t apply so much, but I think it’s great that people be made to finish up at least a high-school-level education.
    I will be following this case to see how it ends up for these guys. I hope it turns out well. If it doesn’t, well, we’ll have to think of something else.

  9. coreanna
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    yyep, that’s my home town. great to see they’re really coming along. *sigh* honestly, he’s probably a home town hero for this ruling, that kind of sentiment is all over in the Wyoming Valley of PA. There are small groups of progressive liberals. I hope they make a point to let him know how racist he is. Sadly, he probably won’t care.

  10. Unicron_The_Vagina
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I disagree with Samhita equating the act of learning a language to adopting a culture, or even adopting that language. They’re not being forced to in any way discard their previous language or cultural heritage. They’re not being coerced into believing A instead of B; they are being forced to supplement A with B. It’s not as though they’re being forced to swear off Spanish or take a loyalty oath or anything; languages are not conflicting ideologies.
    There are a lot of doors currently closed to these men as a direct result of their inability to speak English. The judge’s decision seems to acknowledge that they haven’t had the same opportunities here as their English-speaking counterparts, and also acknowledge that they might have been productive, law-abiding citizens were it not for this lack of access. They’re being given a second chance to do exactly that rather than just become a victim of the circumstances.

  11. EyeHeartNY
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Marianna, you bring up a good point in that the judge is acting pretty arbitrarily. Since I don’t really know the legal details on how much freedom judges have to hand out creative sentences, and that giving judges too much arbitrary power could set some messy precedents in the wrong hands, I’m hesitant to give him a pass.
    But my initial reaction is that, forced-acculturation overtones aside, making the guys study English and go to school gives them a chance to improve their life chances in this country instead of just locking them up. Isn’t that along the same vein as assigning community service, or mandatory treatment instead of prison for drug offenders? (not that I am in ANY WAY conflating not speaking English with drug addiction.)

  12. noname
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Assimilate now…or go to jail! Disgusting! – ojibwayangel
    They were already going to jail. The judge is offering them a way out. Learning the language predominantly spoken in your country does not require that you give up your own culture.
    As for the racism angle: All the article says is that they are Spanish speaking. Race is neither discussed nor detailed, and language is not race specific. If the judge ordered them to lighten their skin that would be about race, I think. Learning to read and write in English, however, is a racially neutral concept. What’s next, the Feministing Stop Literacy campaign?

  13. Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    It’s a shame that the prison system is so shitty that this is a better option than the sentence they earned. At the same time, what are the chances that you can learn a new language in a year? For some of them, they face heftier jail time for failing to learn English, get their GED, and get a full time job than for the original crime. Additionally, all that stuff in a year? How long does he think it takes to become fluent in a new language? I took Spanish for four years and yes I can read and listen but I’m by no means fluent. Seems like he thinks he’s doing them a favor, but ultimately expecting them to fail anyway.
    I got to say, if a judge told me to learn Dutch or be jailed, I’d put in the effort but I wouldn’t be able to get over how patently ridiculous the situation was.

  14. Alice
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    This isn’t racist: presumably, he would have felt the same about a citizen unable to speak English of any color, and I say this because if he were racist he could have just sent them to jail.
    YOU, on the other hard, are being racist by calling them “men of color.” I don’t see a picture in the linked article, so you can’t assume that just because they speak Spanish and have the names they do that they aren’t white. Several very white, very Mexican relatives of my very brown father exploited this sort of thing to cross the border back and forth with less hassle than most people.

  15. jillas
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I am also a native of the lovely Wyoming Valley. And I agree with coreanna. What really bothers me is the judge’s comment about providing translators. Clearly he seems to have forgotten that the court is required to do so.

  16. Alice
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    outcrazyophelia: I got to say, if a judge told me to learn Dutch or be jailed, I’d put in the effort but I wouldn’t be able to get over how patently ridiculous the situation was.
    Even if you were being sentenced for crimes committed in the Netherlands, as a resident of the Netherlands?

  17. Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Alice,
    The one who’s still in jail is a man of color.
    http://pahomepage.com/content/fulltext/?cid=24609
    They have a link to a video at the top of the page.

  18. Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Even if you were being sentenced for crimes committed in the Netherlands, as a resident of the Netherlands?
    Maybe it would make more sense if I were in a country with a national language–these men aren’t. There’s no denying there are obvious benefits to learning English while a resident/citizen of the U.S, but it’s certainly not the law. So if I were told to learn some language that I wasn’t legally required to know or face jail, I’d think it was a bit ridiculous. I can’t speak on the Netherlands–never been there.

  19. Alice
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    There’s also not law that requires a person to posses a high-school education or GED. Do you object to that part as well?

  20. leah
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    “just that they learn the official language of the country in which they live.”
    The U.S. does not have an official language. Never has.
    If you read the article, the judge’s decision to force the defendents to learn English was made not with their best interests in mind, but with his own annoyance. That’s what makes it a bad decision. If he had said “Learning English will make your life easier in the USA” rather than “Do you think we are going to supply you with a translator all of your life?”, then I might believe his actions were altruistic. Context is everything, though.

  21. ellestar
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I had lots of responses. This says it all much better than I could:
    http://xkcd.com/84/

  22. Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure as to the legality of mandating a GED and commented on the likelihood of obtaining one in a year when presumably the classes are in English. So not only do you have to learn a language in a year but essentially four years of high school. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but when you look at it that way, I’m not so sure the judge had the best intentions in mind.
    Apparently the judge has been known to sentence people to get their GEDs, so maybe it is legal (after all, the lawyers are still looking into it–so maybe it isn’t).

  23. Alice
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    ellestar: I had lots of responses. This says it all much better than I could:
    http://xkcd.com/84/

    So, if we don’t require immigrants to assimilate to our culture and language, we will go the way of the Cherokee?

  24. Kelley
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Aside from the English-learning aspect, I agree that the sentence is a very good thing. However, I have to agree with those that said the English part of the sentence was pretty racist. The United States does not actually have an official language, so forcing someone to learn English is pretty arbitrary in a legal sense.
    As some before me pointed out, by asking them to learn English, they are not technically asking them to give up Spanish, or their culture, but implicitly I think they are, especially because they made this ruling in a society which is currently leaning heavily towards monolingualism and English-only policies (and it’s hard to deny that language and ethnicity are usually inextricably connected)
    I personally think it’s a good, practical idea for anyone living anywhere to learn the majority language (I also think it’s a good idea for EVERYONE to develop speaking, reading and writing skills in more than one language in our increasingly globalized [I think I just made that word up]world), but I really don’t think that should be a matter for the legal system, especially when our country has no official language (Sorry, Eris Eruvande).

  25. MLEmac
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I agree with leah, his intentions were not as good as some commenters are making them out to be. However, I do like the requirement that they get a GED.
    Also, though it is certainly hard to learn a second language, it is a hell of a lot easier and quicker process when you are immersed in a culture that speaks that language. I’ve had friends who went on an exchange program for a year, not knowing a word of the language and coming back very confident in their skills.
    I’m actually going to france this summer for that exact reason. i’ve taken classes for 8 years, but I really feel that I won’t improve anymore unless I actually live there for a while.

  26. WheresTheBeef?
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    To the people who are saying there is no racial angle to the story: the headline I read says “Judge Sentences Hispanic Men to learn English.” The vagueness of the term “hispanic” aside, isn’t that a racial signifier? I’m not making an argument one way or another, just saying…

  27. Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    So, if we don’t require immigrants to assimilate to our culture and language, we will go the way of the Cherokee?
    I believe the intimation is that the guy in the comic is going on about learning the language of the land, but it’s not as if he knows any Native American languages and doesn’t even recognize one when he hears it which means he’s a hypocrite. By his own logic, he should know it.

  28. antimony
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Just FYI, before anybody carries on with the people-should-learn-our-national-language thread, neither the U.S. nor the state of Pennsylvania have an official language. The Senate passed a bill that would have made the national language officially English in 2006, but it never got through the house and never became law.

  29. Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I don’t see anything in the article suggesting that resources will be made available to help these men learn English or that the judge ascertained that there were existing accessible resources. That, to me, suggests that this is not about increasing opportunities for these men.

  30. ellestar
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Alice: So, if we don’t require immigrants to assimilate to our culture and language, we will go the way of the Cherokee?
    Yeah. You didn’t get that at all.
    outcrazyophelia: I believe the intimation is that the guy in the comic is going on about learning the language of the land, but it’s not as if he knows any Native American languages and doesn’t even recognize one when he hears it which means he’s a hypocrite.
    Thank you!

  31. Alice
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    outcrazyophelia: I believe the intimation is that the guy in the comic is going on about learning the language of the land, but it’s not as if he knows any Native American languages and doesn’t even recognize one when he hears it which means he’s a hypocrite. By his own logic, he should know it.
    That is the obvious interpretation, yes, and the implication the Cherokee speaker in the comic herself was presumably trying to make, but the fact that English wasn’t always the “language of the land” could also be used to argue that it won’t stay that way without active measures.
    A better example than Cherokee, though, would be Texas. They let immigrants in without requiring to assimilate, and look what happened there.

  32. Alice
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    outcrazyophelia: I believe the intimation is that the guy in the comic is going on about learning the language of the land, but it’s not as if he knows any Native American languages and doesn’t even recognize one when he hears it which means he’s a hypocrite. By his own logic, he should know it.
    That is the obvious interpretation, yes, and the implication the Cherokee speaker in the comic herself was presumably trying to make, but the fact that English wasn’t always the “language of the land” could also be used to argue that it won’t stay that way without active measures.
    A better example than Cherokee, though, would be Texas. Mexico let immigrants settle there without requiring them to assimilate, and look what happened there.

  33. Alice
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Sorry for the double post, it had looked like the first one didn’t go through so I edited it and resent it. The second post is what I meant.

  34. Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that our judicial system is pretty fucked. Marriana- you call them criminals as if that explains the entirety of their character. A friend of mine is serving a hefty sentence for conspiracy to commit robbery, and he’s a Black American. Circumstantially, his sentencing is absurd, so these types of alternative sentencings are interesting to me.
    Something needs to be done differently. To create better a prison system it seems necessary to start with the judicial system. This judge is hardly being altruistic, but if these kinds of punishments could lower the crime rate in that area by improving the quality of life rather than locking up an entire group of people, then he’s accomplishing something. It can be a slippery slope to give a judge such freedom, but 64% of inmates in the US are considered “ethnic minorities� and that needs to change. It’s racism and socio-economic classism all balled into one. Maybe what this judge is doing will change that a bit, even though he is full of prejudices.
    Prison stats: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/crimoff.htm#inmates

  35. ellestar
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    but the fact that English wasn’t always the “language of the land” could also be used to argue that it won’t stay that way without active measures.
    The way that English became the language of the land was through spreading smallpox, slaughter as a result of Manifest Destiny, and the dishonoring of treaties with the Native Americans and their subsequent enslavement, relocation, and forced assimilation.
    So far that I’ve seen and experienced, Spanish-speaking immigrants only want to work, not conquer.

  36. adminassistant
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    As a former high school English teacher in California and Arizona, I can say with some confidence that learning English is highly beneficial to immigrants, in terms of getting an education and a job to haul them out of a relative poverty and stigmatism Spanish-only speakers exist under. What bothered me while teaching, was that Hispanic kids got to take Spanish as their foreign language credits. Riddle me that one.
    And: Maybe these guys are really aware that our government kicks and screams in public about immigration issues while quietly waving the maids, landscapers and nannies through the back gate, so maybe these guys won’t bother with the “rehabilitative” English-learning business.

  37. Posted April 8, 2008 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Alice, I believe you’re reading a meaning that isn’t the one the comic intended–so I didn’t immediately get where you were coming from. If I were to interpret a secondary reading, it would be that the idea that English is superior is what makes people virulently assimilationist rather than “you should speak the language of the people who were here first”. English was never the language of the whole of the U.S, and in fact the large portions of the country that speak Spanish usually correlate with the portions of the country that once belonged to Mexico. The fear of Spanish speakers taking over is propagated by the myth of a unified English speaking America having always been.
    Are you pro assimilation or are you playing devil’s advocate? I’m not quite sure where you’re coming from.

  38. Destra
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    In response to everyone saying that English is not the official language of the US, and that you do not need to learn English to hold a job: this is all true. However, you are overlooking the judge’s push to improve the quality of their lives and keep them out of jail. You don’t need a GED to hold a lot of jobs, but a court can sentence you to take it. English will raise the types of jobs that you can hold and improve your life in the US. As a parallel, you don’t have to take traffic school to drive proficiently, but a court can order you to go to traffic school as a condition of you driving. A court can put conditions on you retaining a privilege when you’ve violated the law. That’s what’s going on here, and I don’t have a problem with it on a legal level.

  39. Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Alice… are you suggesting that English is going to die because we’re not being active enough about enforcing it as an official language?
    Native Americans suffered genocide in this land. There are so few Native Americans that their languages are hardly spoken. No one is trying to force English speakers to not speak English at gunpoint, nor are we suffering genocide. 82% of United States residents speak English fluently.
    I simply don’t understand why people are so frightened of other languages invading their lives. Europeans speak many languages because they are in such close proximity to one another. The US is a melting pot where ethnic groups have settled in no further proximity than exists in Europe.
    Learning English is helpful in the US, but to suggest that we are in some danger of losing our rights to immigrants is buying into the right-wing hype that promotes fear of “otherness.� It has us living in a fear culture that keeps the upper class rich, the poor poor, and the middle class blindfolded by the allure of the American dream.

  40. FeDhu
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    *A better example…would be Texas. They let immigrants in without requiring to assimilate, and look what happened there.*
    Alice, as a Texan, that made me laugh. :) To be fair, however, the original group that Austin brought in had to become Mexican citizens, but later, desperate for the money, that requirement was dropped in order to pull in more settlers.
    I’m torn about the ruling because on one hand, hmm language lessons vs. jail time that’s sort of a no-brainer, but I have a feeling the judge did it out of a sense of outrage and superiority instead of a desire to lessen jail population. If he had said that tutors would be made available, that would be one thing, but I have a feeling those guys will be left to struggle on alone, which means they will fail and the judge will then be able to pat himself on the back for ‘trying to help, but some people just don’t want to be helped’ and never lose a moments sleep.

  41. dondo
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    1. As many commenters have noted, the decision isn’t racist. Forcing someone to learn a skill which can only help them — whether it’s a language skill or a trade — is not the same as forcing someone to “assimilate.” It’s true that exposure to a different culture inevitably colors a person. Perhaps that’s “assimilation”; I choose to think of it as “growing and learning.”
    2. Not racist, perhaps, but the judgement is quite regressive. I’m surprised that only one commenter pointed this out (thanks, ekswitaj): forcing someone to acquire a skill without offering them support and opportunity to learn it is not progressive, it’s just a weaselly way to blame the victim.
    3. The press coverage, on the other hand, has clearly been racist. Ick. But don’t blame the judge for the media coverage.
    4. At core, this is about whether our “criminal justice system” is a penal or a rehabilitation system. I could dream of the day when sentencing criminals to jail would give them educational and occupational training opportunities which would obviate the choice this judge proposed. Today, our system is clearly “penal”, and as such I find it difficult to condemn the decision.

  42. Posted April 8, 2008 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    My boyfriend and I were talking about this a few days ago because we live right down the road from the Luzerne County mark and we ended up just shaking our heads and leaving it as “Well, this is North Eastern Pennsylvania, after all…” It seems like all of the downright bizarre stuff happens here, like a man walking into a convenient mart and robbing the place wearing only a hat–Yeah, that happened down the street from us.

  43. AlaraJRogers
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Dondo, as long as the educational and occupational opportunities we offer people for free when they *haven;t* committed a crime are so drastically limited, we will never give prisoners anything much. As a culture, we’re highly opposed to the notion of giving people benefits for committing crimes.
    Of course, the solution of the right wing is “don’t give the criminals anything, even though it ensures they stay criminals”, and my solution would be “give expanded educational and occupational opportunities to everyone, and if you’re a criminal we force you to take them but if you’re not a criminal you are still offered them, it’s just you have the freedom to say no”, but at the end of the day I think I’d agree with the right wingers that it would be horrifically unfair to give criminals opportunities we won’t give to non-criminals.
    As for my opinion on this case, I think education is always a good thing. Always always always. If the person telling you to go get an education is racist, this does not change the fact that education is good. But if these men get no help in achieving their court mandates, then the sentence was a bad thing.

  44. Alice
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Alice, I believe you’re reading a meaning that isn’t the one the comic intended–so I didn’t immediately get where you were coming from.
    I have no doubt as to what was intended, but then, I’m fully in favor of a “death of the author” approach to literary criticism. The counter-point made there in does paint the guy as a hypocrite (putting aside the matter of the fact that Cherokee isn’t the language of the land at present and so isn’t what he’s talking about. Maybe he would have learned Cherokee if he were settling in Cherokee lands in the 1700s) but at the same time argues in favor of the position he was, although from a different direction.
    Are you pro assimilation or are you playing devil’s advocate?
    In that particular case I was just throwing in an alternate interpretation of the comic. I am, incidentally, pro-assimilation, but like I said, the elimination of the Cherokee is a bad example. I do stand by my assertion that the present situation with Mexican immigration does parallel the conditions that led up to the loss of Texas by Mexico in many important ways.
    I don’t understand why assimilation is regarded as racist though, because it would seem to me that a racist would naturally conclude that assimilation would be pointless, since it can change a person’s culture but can’t change their race, which to the racist is the important part of the equation.

  45. eruvande
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Leah @ 10:48 AM:
    You’re right, English isn’t our official language. Don’t know what I was thinking. I guess you could say it is our “unofficially-official” language, but that’s not the same.
    If this was about taking work off the judge, then yeah, it’s kind of dumb. I don’t know much about the “paperwork” required after a sentencing…If you send someone to prison, does that make any more paperwork than letting them go or handing down an alternative sentence? Also, if this guy is known for his sentencing practices, might he not have foreseen a bit of media stink over this, which undoubtedly would cause him *more* work than if he’d just sent them to jail? (I’m a web designer–I don’t know from law.)
    Certainly I hope that if we’re going to be sentencing people to learn languages and get GEDs and jobs, we put something in place that facilitates that, rather than just tossing folks out and saying “Go forth and find a tutor.” If that isn’t in place, a ruling like this is not much better than a delayed prison sentence.

  46. Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I have to say… It is not like the judge ruled that they had to assimilate culturally. He didn’t rule that they had to eat specific foods, act is specific ways, or listen to specific music.
    What he said was that they had to better themselves, so that they could function in our economic society.
    Consider this… if an uneducated male in the same position was ordered to take six hours a semester at the local community college, would that really be any different?

  47. Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t understand why assimilation is regarded as racist though, because it would seem to me that a racist would naturally conclude that assimilation would be pointless, since it can change a person’s culture but can’t change their race, which to the racist is the important part of the equation.”
    Assimilation can be/tends to be racist because of the implicit concept of racial/cultural superiority. The idea that other cultures are so inferior that to allow them to flourish is to ring the death knell for the main culture. Cultures rarely die out except by means of force. I don’t think merely existing is the force necessary to wipe out the predominant culture.
    Furthermore, assimilation general presumes giving up some if not all of your previous culture–at least to be truly assimilated it usually does. It’s problematic to presume people should willingly submit to that, and even more problematic to presume the right to force them to.

  48. EG
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    On the other hand, it seems unrealistic to suppose that it is possible to emigrate anywhere without losing some of the culture of the place where you came from, given that culture is reinforced by one’s surroundings.

  49. adminassistant
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    All this is funny to me because after living in Arizona for several years, all you hear is how its turning into Mexico down there! They’ll claim that they’re the ones being assimilated and forced to read everything in Spanish…

  50. Posted April 8, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Racist? Whaaaat?!
    I think this is the smartest thing to do. Make people learn to take care about themselves. To get up and go to a course, do homeworks, practice and all such stuff needs some concentration and perseverance and stamina, cultivating of which surely doesn’t hurt anyone. And when the guys are in a course or immersed between their books, they at least won’t be around planning other crimes. And that it’s English in basically English-speaking country? I call it practical, not racist. They chose to live among English-speaking folks so why to make them learn Swahili or Faeroese?
    But I might have got it all wrong, after all I’m European. Knowing languages is possibly much more common in here and it’s more of a comparative advantage.

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