Friday, October 26, 2012

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...
English: This is a high-resolution image of the United States Declaration of Independence (article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Teaching English as a second language to immigrants and refugees is an eye-opening experience.  First, there is the exchange of ideas, beliefs, customs, etc. that can't help but happen when one is teaching someone of another culture.  Then, there are the stories of hope that pull at your heart-strings, shared in between grammar lessons or during a practice conversation. 

One of the greatest hopes of many of my students is to become a U.S. citizen.  To these amazing people, it is the ultimate dream.  

As the great grandchild of immigrants, this dream is not so far from my personal experience not to understand the great passion and drive people have towards reaching it.  Therefore, I jump at the chance to teach my students what they need to become citizens. 

One of the questions for citizenship in the U.S. is, "What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?"  There are three - Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness - but students only need to remember two.

Students, who study for citizenship, do so with great eagerness and pride.  They believe that by becoming active, contributing citizens of these United States, they will have a good life where they will be free to pursue their dreams.  Of course, learning English is one of the stepping stones used to reach their dreams.

Recently, in a conversation with a colleague, I was told that funding for English as a second language classes was being slated for cutbacks.  How, I asked, with more and more English language learners coming to our schools every day, can anyone justify cutting back this vital component of the curriculum?

Let me go back to what I have just finished teaching my students.  The Declaration of Independence assures us that ALL humans living in the United States have the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  How can the State and Federal governments promote this and then go about cutting the funds of programs that will enable new citizens to actually have these rights?  

Of course, the bigger issue here is not simply the small ESL programs.  Rather, the problem is the corporatization of education, by which music, art and other subject matter that promotes creativity and promotes critical thinking are also being cut.  Corporate giants believe that if it doesn't make money, then let's get rid of it.  

What the men in suits don't seem to understand is that education is not and never has been a money-making venture.  Education is a  service that provides citizens with the means to become productive members of society, contributing to the good of the nation.  Turning education into a corporate venture will only produce human beings that can robotically spit out facts and figures, but who have no depth, no creativity, no ability to think and discern critically.

I have no way of fixing this problem, other than to continue to teach my students to be the best they can be - to thirst for knowledge - to practice their English skills so that they, too, may have the capital by which this nation runs.  I encourage the newly sworn in citizens to vote. I encourage all my students to ask questions, not to take no for an answer when they know it is the wrong answer. And, I remember that Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are still not rights enjoyed by all people here in the land of the free.

May we all be instruments of peace,  promoting the unalienable rights for all who call this nation Home.

Namasté!

 
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