Books: Readings

September 26, 1990 5 min read

The English-Only Question, due in the bookstores Oct. 17, traces more than two centuries of language laws and educational policies leading up to the present debate over whether the United States should designate an “official” language. Its author, Dennis Baron, professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois, gives an extensively researched history that is objective and laced with insightful anecdotes. He concludes with the following warning:

[T]he American historical record supports this contention: no nation has been able to achieve through legislation the kind of linguistic uniformity that the United States has achieved through “natural social forces” and with minimal official intervention.

But what is even more important to consider in evaluating the usefulness of either official-English legislation or laws to protect minority-language rights, court orders and constitutional amendments cannot teach English to nonanglophones or make them retain their minority language, nor can they make English speakers learn other languages. Even teachers have trouble doing that.

If there is a language crisis in the United States, it is not because there is no official language--English is the American official language--nor is it because too many Americans use “foreign” languages or nonstandard varieties of English. Rather, it is because large numbers of Americans do not learn to read or write well enough in any language or language variety to make that language work for them.

Yale University Press, 92A Yale Station, New Haven, Conn. 06520, 236 pp., $22.50 cloth.

The bizarre 1976 kidnapping of 26 children from a school bus in Chowchilla, Calif., launched for Dr. Lenore Terr an extensive study of the impact and treatment of psychic trauma in children. In Too Scared To Cry, she shares what she has learned from the Chowchilla victims and others suffering from less publicized traumatic events.

“Schools are natural settings for group work with traumatized children,” writes the San Francisco psychiatrist, who recommends training in group therapy for school personnel. She offers this view of her own technique:

Most traumatized children need more than an “explanation.” These children want to be able to protect themselves in the future. They need to learn actually, really, how to do so. And so I show them. I teach many of them to tape a quarter to the inside sole of each shoe. Thus, they always have the money to use public phones. I teach them to dial the operator to get the police, and to call home collect. We practice with my phone. Traumatized children feel better about this. Why? [The psychoanalytic pioneer] Melanie Klein, I think, might laugh if she were to see us dialing and redialing. We are not attacking any personal underpinnings here, nor are we dissecting any internal development fantasies. We are attacking, instead, the external environment. But that is what trauma is all about--the external environment.

Harper & Row Publishers, 10 East 53rd St., New York, N.Y. 10022, 372 pp., $21.95 cloth.

The British writer and consultant Charles Handy, who specializes in organization, work, and management education, has taken a look at the convulsive social and technological changes ahead for industrial societies, and in The Age of Unreason he gives his view of the adaptive responses that will be needed to master them.

In a chapter on “Re-Inventing Education,” he cautions that the new work world, built on depth of experience and adaptability, will require a broader view of intelligence than the standard analytical variety measured by iq tests:

There are some signs of change in every country. Learning is increasingly accepted as meaning something more than acquiring knowledge. Capability, competence, and social skills are rewarded and recorded in many schools. In Britain, many schools use individual records of achievement to recognize different forms of success and different types of intelligence. In America, in a similar vein, young people are encouraged to see their school days as an opportunity to start compiling their resumes, lists of accomplishments both inside and outside the classroom. In France, the goal is that 75 percent of young people should get their baccalaureate but there will be different baccalaureates for different talents.

Education needs, however, to move further and faster if it is going to catch up with the future. A system which has in the past allowed more than a third of its members to leave without even one acceptable mark of achievement has to be more deskilling, particularly for a portfolio world. In that world, self-cone, a salable skill or talent, and an ability to cope with life and to communicate are critical. Success, of some sort, needs to be part of everyone’s early experience. That is why a wider and more formal acceptance of the other types of intelligence is so crucial.

Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass. 02163, 278 pp., $18.95 cloth.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist H. G. Bissinger left his job as an editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer to spend a year recording the impact of high-school football on life in Odessa, Tex. In Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and A Dream, he illustrates vividly that the impact is considerable.

This engrossing account of the Permian High Panthers’ 1988 season, seen through the eyes of players, coaches and parents, cheerleaders and teachers, church and civic leaders, reveals some thought-provoking realities of school life in locales where sports have become a deeply embedded part of cultural identity:

A teacher such as Larue should have been considered a treasure in any town. Her salary, commensurate with her ability and skill and 20 years’ teaching experience, should have been $50,000 a year. Her department, of which she was the chairman, should have gotten anything it wanted. She herself should have been given every possible encouragement to continue what she was doing. But none of that was the case, of course. After all, she was just the head of the English department, a job that in the scheme of natural selection at Permian ranked well behind football coach and band director, among others.

As Moore put it, “The Bible says, where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is also.” She maintained that the school district budgeted more for medical supplies like athletic tape for athletic programs at Permian than it did for teaching materials for the English department, which covered everything, except for required textbooks. Aware of how silly that sounded, she challenged the visitor to look it up.

She was right. The cost for boys’ medical supplies at Permian was $6,750. The cost for teaching materials for the English department was $5,040 ...

Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Jacob Way, Reading, Mass. 01867, 357 pp., $19.95 cloth.

A version of this article appeared in the September 26, 1990 edition of Education Week as Books: Readings


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