Rosalie Porter’s New Book Cuts to the Heart of America’s Failed Multilingual Policy
Rosalie Pedalino Porter’s new book, America Challenged: The New Politics of Race, Education, and Culture, attempts to explain the dynamics driving many of the social and cultural challenges America faces today. The author also proposes solutions drawn from scholars, public figures, and her own experiences. The book covers a variety of topics, but its exploration of multilingualism/multiculturalism and its relation to the immigration issue is especially impactful given the author’s own expertise on the subject. Her insight into America’s failed experiment with multilingualism and the wider costs it imposes on society is both incisive and highly relevant, today more than ever.
Porter, throughout her extensive career as a lecturer, writer, and consultant, has been particularly notable for her advocacy of structured immersion over bilingual education for students learning English. She holds an EdD in bilingual education, has published several books on the failure of bilingual education programs, and worked on several successful state-level campaigns against wasteful and ineffective bilingual programs. America Challenged, in examining the issue, distills the central message of her books cleanly and in an easy-to-grasp format for readers while also covering related topics like multilingual drivers’ tests and assimilation.
One of the main focuses of the book is division, and in particular how several “culture-war” issues tend to break Americans into artificial, mutually exclusive categories that undermine cohesion and cooperation. Porter singles out bilingual education as preventing students from engaging with their peers and meaningfully integrating into society. As Porter notes and FAIR has extensively researched in one of our latest reports, the cost of these programs to schools and state/federal government agencies is unreasonably high. However, Porter also makes an important point about the social costs that bilingual programs impose because they keep children from immigrant and non-English-speaking backgrounds from integrating fully into the economy and culture of the United States. Her poignant examples illustrate to the reader one of the most devastating effects of mass immigration without assimilation; children who grow up without public identities, fearful of expressing themselves and not being understood because well-intentioned bilingual programs have kept them out of our English-speaking society.
Porter also brings up government initiatives like driver exams and ballots printed in a huge variety of languages. As Porter discusses, these measures are often the product of unfunded federal mandates that are intended to make life easier for immigrants but are ultimately a self-defeating waste of taxpayer funds. She rightly points out that in order to vote in the first place, immigrants must take a naturalization test that includes knowledge of English, making multilingual ballots counterintuitive. Furthermore, simple common sense dictates that a person unable to take a driving test in the language in which road signs are displayed is likely to encounter issues driving. Ultimately, Porter asserts that the effect of programs like these is to maintain enclaves where people can remain comfortable never interacting with broader society at significant social and fiscal cost to America as a whole.
While the book examines a huge variety of topics, Porter leads with multilingualism and its natural ties to immigration, and there she is most in her element. She succinctly lays out the issues she sees with the way our country’s governments and institutions handle integration and language diversity. Drawing from her own experiences both as an educator and an activist for changing programs that engage in what she calls “promoting ethnic and linguistic separatism in the name of multiculturalism,” Porter proposes concrete steps for how concerned citizens can advocate for these changes themselves. As the nation wrestles with integrating an ever-increasing population of English-learners thanks to lax immigration enforcement, Porter’s observations and insight are more timely and relevant than ever.