"Epsilons don’t really mind being Epsilons”
It seems that not only is John Derbyshire intent on challenging Doug Feith for the title of "Stupidest Fucking Guy on the Planet," he wants your kids to be in contention for the prize too.
Commenting on Barack Obama's sensible, reasonable suggestion that America's children should study a second language, preferably Spanish since there so many Spanish-speaker in or coming to America, the Derb riffs thusly:
Obama's idiotic suggestion that all our kids should learn Spanish is, amongst other things (this is multi-dimensional stupidity) an illustration of educational romanticism run amok. The cold fact is that absent exceptional circumstances — the most common of which is, total immersion at a receptive age — not many human beings can learn another language. Oh, you can learn enough to stumble along and get by on a trip abroad, but if you can attain fluency in a language not your own, without those exceptional circumstances, you are an unusually smart and gifted person. (For my own sad track record, see here.)
Now, I'll admit that my own track record is not much better than Derbyshire's. I failed to learn French in high school and university, where I also failed to learn Spanish. In over a decade in Japan, I still only speak enough to order dinner, give the cab driver directions and get my face slapped - though can understand a good deal more. I do however know that the reason for this is mostly laziness and lack of effort on my part- how do I know this? Because virtually everyone I know well in Tokyo speaks at least two languages better than I do. All the people in my office, all my expat friends and their bilingual spouses, all the people I met in Hong Kong who speak three languages before finishing their coffee in the morning, to say nothing of all the English speaking Quebecois and French speaking Montreal Anglo's I've met -- they didn't all grow up in a multilingual environment, certainly my wife and the hundreds of advanced Japanese speakers of English I've met didn't. They learned the language the hard way, they studied it as adults.
My wife aside (and presumably Derb's aside since he married a Chinese woman who obviously has infinite patience) they can't all be exceptional, nor can the entire populations of China, India, Africa and Europe, most of whom speak more than one language. Derb even manages to undermine his own argument
The pointlessness of foreign-language learning is obscured for English-speakers by all those foreigners we meet who have good English. (Scandinavians are especially humiliating in this regard.) We should remember, though, that (a) the foreigners we meet are mostly smart upper-middle-class types who travel a lot (try finding an English-speaker on a Paris street), and (b) the whole world is bathed in English, so that if you are born in, say, Finland, and want to do anything with your life more ambitious than running an autobody shop in Ylikiiminki, you can't help but learn some English, and (c) for teenagers the world over, English is cool.
We will leave the obvious arrogance in stating that doing anything more interesting than running a body shop in Ylikiiminki requires English (if this is the case, it is only because Americans refuse to learn other languages) and grant him the point that English is the most prevalent language on the Internet and in international business, while pointing out that it is not the only language and that lots of people make a good living as translators and interpreters because of that. The world is bathed in English because of the preponderance of American pop-culture overseas -- those same Holllywood movies and rock songs that Derb and his fellow are convinced are created by multiculturist terrorist-sympathizing commies out in California. That is what makes English "cool" to teenagers.
In addition to all those Europeans, Africans and Asians, what about other countries in Derb's backyard? According to the most recent Canadian census (as summarized in this Wikipedia entry) while Canada is officially a bilingual nation, only 17.5 percent of us speak both language well enough to be considered bilingual, though 35 percent speak a language in addition to French or English. Damn that multiculturalism, eh Derb? How dare all those immigrants remember their native languages, keep using them and teach them to their kids? How dare they not abandon the poetry of cursing in Chinese or German or Russian, the passion of arguing in Italian or Spanish or making love in French? How dare they not abandon the buffet that you can't get into for a bland plate of good old American without any regional dialects or diction? Those people over in the corner that are whispering in foreigner are talking about you Derb, and they aren't saying anything nice.
But that's not all! Nosiree Bob! Not content to try to put the kibosh on kids learning to speak foreign, Derb would like to make sure almost every child is left behind!
Obama suffers from the fallacy — extremely common among high-IQ lefties — that everyone else is just as smart as he is, or could easily be made so with a few educational reforms. In fact, below some cutoff point, which I'd guess at around minus one standard deviation in IQ (that would encompass sixteen percent of the population), education beyond the three R's is a waste of time, and foreign-language instruction a total waste of time.
While it's nice of Derb to admit that Obama is a smart guy - he did teach constitutional law at a college level after all - I am a little concerned that he doesn't think people need an education beyond how to read the instructions on the condom box or work the ATM. Yeah, and at what age do we decide that little Johnny, Janey, Juan, Lateesha, Ngyen or Fritz isn't among your 16 percent Derb? 18? 13? 5? or do they need to be born into a nice white middle class family in a good school district to go learn more than the three R's?
We won't even go into the philosophical arguments in favor of learning for its own sake, how the pursuit of knowledge is the highest calling of mankind, beauty is truth and truth, beauty yadda, yadda, yadda. We won't bother to speculate at length how a magazine like National Review that fancies itself THE bastion of conservative intellectual thought could employ someone so profoundly anti-intellectual (my guess: "he wore a clean suit to the interview and had that dah-ling British accent") or how the recent crop of writers there seem to think a classical allusion means quoting from the first three Star Wars movies. Nope, we will pursue none of this at length.
We will simply wonder aloud why he wants to deny anyone not in his mythical 16 percent the chance to learn about music, art, science, history, literature, higher math and philosophy? Could it be that his extended education include the reading of Brave New World?
And a massive tip of the hat to David over at JimDandyGoodness for braving the stupid to come up with this gem