Saturday, August 27, 2005

Official English - A Slightly Different View

For some reason, I have been motivated lately to write
"Letters to the Editor." The most recent one is was
addressed to the program Lou Dobbs Tonight that airs
nightly Monday though Friday from 6 to 7 pm Eastern US
Time on CNN. Lou has taken up the cause of the outsourcing
of American jobs to lower-paid workers in countries such as
India and the detrimental effects of outsourcing on the US
workforce and the US economy. He also campaigns against
illegal immigration and its deleterious effects on the US
economy as well as on US security. He does not attack the
immigrants, for whom he professes a respect that I believe
is sincere, but rather he attacks the US Government for
failing to secure the nation's borders and attacks employers
for maintaining the demand for illegal workers whose labor
they exploit. He believes that immigrants should learn
English rather than being taught and otherwise receiving
services in their mother tongue. On Wednesday, he railed
against the Dallas school board's decision to require
the principals of majority Hispanic schools to learn
Spanish. I offered a more nuanced view, which was not
read on air.
Official English - A slightly different view

Lou - I have spent most of the last 30+ years working in
international development, including 19 years with the
Peace Corps. I can attest to the immense advantage -
economically, socially, and politically - of having a
language that is common to everyone in a country. I can
also attest to the great disadvantage to developing
countries of not having a common tongue.

However, I can't bring myself to endorse "official
English" or "English only." Unfortunately, lurking
behind these movements are, in addition to the many
sincere and well-meaning folks such as you, racists
and nativists for whom "English" is simply a
politically correct euphemism for "white."

I would like to see English promoted as our "national
language" rather than our "official language" while at
the same time demonstrating that we value fluency in
other languages and cultures. I would like to see us
make the sustained financial commitment to promoting
both English and our other languages so that our
citizens will be able to work and to communicate
together and to compete effectively in an inexorably
globalizing and polyglot world economy.

The difference between "official" and "national" may
seem semantic, but I assure you that it is not.
Promoting and taking pride in all of our languages makes
a lot more sense to me than trying to forbid or discourage
some of them and enforce English.

Copyright © 2005 Kelly J. Morris

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In re: "Welcome Soldiers to the Peace Corps," by Colman McCarthy, The Washington Post (8/21/2005)

In an article in the August 2, 2005, edition of The Washington
, journalist Alan Cooperman wrote that "the U.S.
military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is offering
to allow recruits to meet part of their military obligations
by serving in the Peace Corps, which has resisted any ties to
the Defense Department or U.S. intelligence agencies since
its founding in 1961 ... Congress authorized the recruitment
program three years ago in legislation that drew little
attention at the time but is stirring controversy now, for
two reasons: The military has begun to promote it, and the day
is drawing closer when the first batch of about 4,300 recruits
will be eligible to apply to the Peace Corps, after having spent
3 1/2 years in the armed forces ... When it stalled as a separate
bill, aides to the senators [McCain and Bayh] said, they folded
it into a 306-page defense budget bill, where it did not attract
opposition ... Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez, who was
appointed in 2002 by President Bush, said in a recent
interview that the Peace Corps was unaware of the provision
until after it became law ..." He said, "There might have been a
discussion, there could have been some dialogue on this, but
obviously that didn't happen,"

Columnist Colman McCarthy responded to the news, and to the
negative response of current and former Peace Corps people, in an
irate op-ed piece in The Washington Post on Sunday, August
21, 2005. He stated that "the Peace Corps should be open to all
comers, regardless of the route they take to apply. Is someone
with a liberal arts degree from an Ivy League school somehow
superior in character and skills to a Marine lance corporal
educated by surviving combat in Iraq? Elitism is at work here:
The purity of the Peace Corps will be sullied by opening the doors
to militarists." He decried the "... bias against people in the
military [that] has long infected the American peace movement ..."
and posits that "an alliance with the Pentagon could be an
opportunity for supporters of the Peace Corps ... to shake the
Pentagon's money tree and increase the Peace Corps budget."

In an unpublished "Letter to the Editor" of The Washington Post,
I responded as follows:

During the period from 1968 to 2001, I served for 19 years with
the Peace Corps as a Volunteer and staff, in Africa and in
Washington. Based upon my knowldge and expeience, I believe that
Colman McCarthy is entirely wrong.

The negative response of current and former Peace Corps Volunteers
and staff to the provisions of the "National Call to Service" law
that allows members of the US armed forces to complete their service
in the Peace Corps is not an elitist anti-military reaction. There
have always been veterans of the armed forces who have served as
Volunteers and staff of the Peace Corps. Former Peace Corps
Volunteers have also served in the military after their Peace Corps
service. Among the thousands of Volunteers and staff that I have
known since 1968, there were more military veterans than Ivy League
liberal arts grads. Volunteers are more likely to be graduates of
state universities and of small Catholic and Protestant liberal arts
colleges where their vocation for public service has been nurtured.

I know that no one values peace more than America's combat
veterans. Among them are my late father, a proud World War II
submariner whose example inspired me to serve in the Peace Corps.
Until now, however, there has never been any confusion about Peace
Corps Volunteers' status in regard to the military when they were
assigned to any of the dozens of countries where they serve, often
at very remote sites.

Peace Corps has never been able to guarantee absolutely the security
of each and every one of the thousands of Volunteers serving at any
given time. The agency staff tries to select assignments and sites
carefully and trains Volunteers in the cultural and linguistic
skills that will help them to be both effective and safe. Ultimately,
however, Volunteers' safety and well-being are in the hands of the
people and the local authorities of the communities where they live
and work. Typically, Volunteers are offered tremendous hospitality
and are enveloped by their host communities. Any confusion in the
eyes of a Volunteer's neighbors and co-workers as to what is the
real mission of that Volunteer, and as to what is his or her
relationship to the US military, is potentially very troublesome.
It may not only diminish a Volunteer's effectiveness but also can
diminish the community's willingness to take responsibility for the
Volunteer's safety. As a result, the new law may make Peace Corps
Volunteers more vulnerable and less safe.

And by the way, if this new provision of law is such a great idea,
why was it not debated in the light of day? Why was it sneaked into
legislation without the knowledge of current and former Peace Corps
people and of most of the Members of Congress and Senators who
voted on it? This is hardly a shining example of democracy at work.
The Peace Corps-related provisions of this law are ill-advised and
dangerous. Congress should repeal them at the earliest possible
Copyright © 2005 Kelly J. Morris

Monday, August 01, 2005

"African Democracy: A Primer for Development Workers" - FIRST DRAFT

I have just completed the first draft of "African Democracy;
A Primer for Development Workers." The premise of this document
is that democracy is no less a part of African culture than it
is an inherent part of European and North American culture. The
democratic traditions in African culture can either be
cultivated and encouraged in order to help develop modern
practices and institutions of democratic governance, or they
can be ignored, stifled, or suppressed. Grassroots development
workers, I contend, can have a positive role in encouraging the
development of African democracy without involving themselves
in partisan politics.

Please download a copy of the document in PDF format. Once you
have read it, please return here to post your comments.