Sunday, August 29, 2010

English? What's That?

A friend, retired from the public school system, has been teaching a while in a chasidishe elementary school. He reported back on a conversation he had with his fifth grade and my husband shared that conversation with me.

Our friend was giving the boys a mussar shmooze on the importance for them of learning at least English, if they gave no importance to history or science. Basically he told them, "You need to be able to read a contract for business reasons, you need to be able to understand what you are signing and what that obligates you to. You need to be able to communicate with various business authorities and you need to be able to not only understand what they say to you but you need to make yourself understood to them."

One of his fifth graders responded: "Far dos vell ich hobben ah veib"--for this I will have a wife. Chasidishe secular education philosophy in a nutshell.

I'm old enough to remember when a large part of my parents' generation was referred to as "greenuh." The newly arrived immigrants from Europe were particularly characterized by their poor skills in English. But here's the thing--that generation struggled and worked hard to attain English language skills, to be able to function as a "regular" member of American society. To be complimented on their English usage was a compliment of the highest degree. A scant 3-4 generations later we've got a new generation of greenuh, born and raised here and less fluent in English than their grandparents and great grandparents were, and it bothers them not at all.

Just what is the frum veldt coming to?


tesyaa said...

What you have to remember is that the frum world is making a CHOICE. They're not being forced into poverty and illiteracy by circumstances (or an evil czarist government). This is a choice and people are responsible for their own choices.

leahle said...

Yes and no Tesyaa. Yes, one person gets to make a choice for him or her self. No because that choice and the results of that choice can affect other people and those people will have to put up with the results even though they didn't make the choice.

Example: I choose a school for my child to go to. The result of that choice doesn't affect just me but it affects my child and all the rest of the family also. I could be happy with my choice and my child could be miserable. If he/she is miserable she will spread that misery to everyone else in the family.

I choose not to learn English. The choice makes me happy. But because I don't know English or don't know it very well I can't/don't teach English to my children. They grow up and have a miserable time and can't do what they want to do or have to do. Maybe not all of them, but if even one is held back because of my choice then my choice will still have a negative outcome in my family.

Freedom of choice still comes with some limits to it.

Naomi said...

Please explain to me the not, the PRIDE in not speaking English, the language of THE COUNTRY YOU LIVE IN. It's obviously considered "bad," but why????

SubWife said...

I have encountered this when I was making arrangements for our wedding and the Chassidishe hall manager spelled "cake" with two k's and pretty much misspelled every word he had to add to the pre-typed contract. His spoken English was only marginally better. Originally I thought he was from Israel, but no, born and raised in the U.S. Being an immigrant myself, I just don't understand. Knowing math and the language of the land seem such basic necessities, and to rob your kids of them is simply neglect.

Allen said...

I can give a guess as to why the antipathy to learning the English language. Cultures transmit their beliefs and social content using language, both written and oral. If you aren't a strong user of English then you aren't going to be getting the full dose of American culture--what you can't understand will presumably not hurt you or take away from the frum culture you want to be primary.

So some frum non English speakers/readers in the US are not bothered by the social/cultural/political/philosophical happenings in the secular world. Unfortunately, along with any cultural ideas they don't want to be exposed to they are also not exposed to a massive amount of information and practices that would be beneficial to them. I believe in English that would be called throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Unfortunately, these non English speakers can't understand the words of that statement and therefore cannot understand the import of the words either.

Ari said...

I think this is peculiar to US and Israeli chasidim. My rough impression is that in the UK, for example, the men can spell and speak properly in English.

tesyaa said...

Ari - LOL, but American and Israelis make up the vast majority of chassidim, on the order of 90% or more! And it's a peculiarity? I'd say British chassidim are in the minority here!

Ari said...

True, although I think the other large chassidishe communities include Antwerp, Belgium and Montreal, Canada.