Monday, July 10, 2017

Like My Grandfather Did

I hear a lot about how students don't need English instruction."My grandfather came here and he didn't need no stinking ESL. He built a company and made a million dollars. He had 14 children and loved my grandmother until her dying day. She stayed home and cooked and cleaned for Grandpa and the 14 children. Too bad their meth lab blew up."

Okay, they don't say that last bit. But here's the thing--back when Grandpa had his 14 children, things were different. There are reasons why so few people have 14 children nowadays, and they have little to do with how easy things are. Back when Grandpa was having those 14 kids, there was no Walmart. People didn't work 20 hours a week there on some ever-shifting schedule so Walmart didn't need to offer them crappy benefits. People didn't work 20 hours somewhere else in some equally crappy second or third job to make ends meet.

Let's drop poor Grandpa for just a moment. When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, things were different. My friend's father lived across the street and worked at a nearby Taystee Bread factory. We used to love to go to his house for Halloween because they always had cupcakes from Hostess, or Drake's, or whatever company worked with Taystee Bread. He had five kids and a wife who did not work.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that was probably a union job. Nowadays it wouldn't be. For all I know, they make that bread in China these days. But here's what I know for sure--a typical factory worker these days cannot afford to support a wife and five kids on his salary alone. I'd have to suppose that if this guy were around now, he'd probably opt not to have five kids. I'd also have to speculate that he would not own a house. He'd probably have to live in a tree, and not in a good neighborhood either.

I don't see how anyone really makes it without a college education nowadays. Of course there are exceptions. You know, there's Bill Gates, but not everyone is Bill Gates. Some people argue over how responsible Gates was for Windows but I'll say this--If Bill Gates' ideas about computers resembled his ideas about education, he wouldn't be Bill Gates either. He'd likely be hanging out with the factory worker in that tree in the bad neighborhood.

And listen, it's true you can start your own business. Lots of immigrants started businesses around food, because the language demands of a food business are always a little lower. But back then McDonald's hadn't spread like cancer, and there weren't chain restaurants littering every Main Street of every town. Every dollar an American spends in one of those places is a dollar they don't spend for a local business.

I'd argue that the better someone is in English, the better chance that person has to make it. I'd argue that if we can help students acquire English more efficiently and more completely we'd be doing them a great service. I'd also argue that just about anyone wanting a future ought to get a college education, and that English instruction would help an awful lot with that.

And hey, if you think I'm wrong, you're free to hop on a plane to China, not study Chinese, start a new life, and hope for the best.
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