What’s that? Barack Obama thinks that our schools should be as successful as those in other developed nations at ensuring that American students master a foreign language? Elitist! Next he’ll be suggesting that we try to teach math or reading as well as Canada and Japan. Not in my America, MENSA-boy!
Update: Some folks piling on here are adding that Obama is a hypocrite on this front, suggesting that he’s himself a monoglot. Actually, he’s told The Hill he speaks Indonesian and “a little Spanish.” Though having heard his accent in the latter case, I don’t mind if he refrains from deploying that knowledge.
Update II: Apparently, we have a difference in interpretation. Here’s the actual relevant quotation:
I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about, we need to have English only. They want to pass a law, we just, we want English only. Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English, I agree with this. But understand this, instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English—they’ll learn English—you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. We should have every child speaking more than one language. It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup.
At the Standard, they appear to find it obvious that Obama is just personally mortified that his countrymen are making him look bad at Au Bon Accueil, and cited French and German specifically because we should be preparing our students to sing along with Bizet and Wagner. (Actually, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.) I thought it was equally clear, in context, that the point was that we should be embarassed that European students consider fluency in three or four languages perfectly normal, while our schools have trouble with two, and that the choice of French and German was merely illustrative. Of course, if you’re precomitted to the narrative that Obama is an arrogant snob, then the first reading is natural enough. I’ll even allow that it’s consistent with the text, so to speak. But it boggles the mind a bit to see it dubbed a “mischaracterization” when someone fails to strain for the least charitable reading.
The really odd thing here was that usually conservatives are better at making the point that our educational standards in much of the country are embarrassing. But then, I suppose what I used to like most about conservatism was a certain species of elitism that may have died off with Bill Buckley. This was the conservatism that insisted a decently educated person would know some Shakespeare, even if he was a Dead White European Male. It was a conservatism more concerned with encouraging and celebrating excellence than ensuring mediocrity didn’t interfere with self-esteem. It was a conservatism that could use the word “refined” as sincere praise, rather than as an ironic term of abuse. It was, in other words, a conservatism prepared to assert that the proper response to ignorance was, indeed, shame, not defiant pride. Honestly, one of the more depressing things about contemporary politics is that what used to be the central redeeming feature of the right has instead become their favorite attack on the left.