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BIG SCREECHER - English only in Little Italy, Chinatown

I graduated Brooklyn Tech High School in 1954, so it’s safe to say that an awful lot has changed in the education system these past 60 years. I’m adding the years spent in elementary school PS 130 down in Chinatown/Little Italy.

For one thing, very noticeable, was that everything was taught and spoken in English. I couldn’t understand why, my parents were Italian immigrants and could hardly speak English, like most of the Italians that settled on Mott Street in the tenements of the lower east side lovingly known as the neighborhood!”

If the school sent out a notice or note to my parents, it was in English which had to be interpreted by my older sisters to my mother, who later told my father, he being busy on the docks loading and unloading ships earning our daily bread. Now although PS 130 was mostly Italian American kids, there was also a percentage of Chinese American kids from the neighboring Chinatown that likewise had to bring their notes or notices to their parents, which had to be interpreted to them.

There was a neighborhood center, The James Center just around the corner, run by the Children’s Aid Society that was also know as the Italian School, because of Mrs. Scauza, the Director who not only ran it, teaching Italian and its culture, but was the neighborhood translator. She was a toughie! Compare that era with now, where schools must send out notices in eleven different languages processed by the Department of Education such as: Croatian, Armenian, Turkish, Russian, Bengali, Korean, Chinese, Urdu, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Haitian, Creole.

Do you know why the Japanese surpassed the Americans in computers, technology, and cars? Because they all spoke Japanese. They were able to communicate with each other; I wish I could make that same statement for Americans, everyone speak English!

Today, the schools and PTAs are so wrapped up in the translation processes; there have been times that they have forgotten to send out notices in English. However, not only is there a language problem with the new American children attending our schools, there are generation gaps with language problems between the Hip Hop kids and other generations. Last week when I was at my accountant’s office in Coney Island to file my income taxes, a black teenager kept knocking frantically on the door of the storefront office. He was obviously very disturbed and when he finally managed to open the door, he asked to use a phone to call the “fuzz.” He was trembling and one of the ladies waiting in the office offered him the use of her cell phone. Seeing the nervous state he was in she offered to dial 911 for him and asked him “What was the matter?” The kid said that his father was beating up his grandmother in her crib. He didn’t know the address of the crib, even though he just ran out from there.

What was extremely upsetting to me was that this kid didn’t know how to ask for help or even know where he was at. The woman who relayed his call to 911 didn’t understand that the crib meant the home or apartment of his grandmother, so she told 911 to come to the Accountant’s Office where the kid would be waiting for help. The 60th Precinct responded very quickly and within minutes there were 7 police officers (fuzz) who responded. We surmised that there had been an altercation involving drug money, and although we never did learn the results of what happened, it was upsetting to me that this teenager couldn’t express the problem in everyday English, even in an emergency.

Now if the kid was Hispanic, would a Hispanic Police Officer be needed to translate the incident?

Did you know that Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted against any national legislation that in effect would to make English the official language of the United States? Senator John McCain voted yes on any legislation he was present for. So I guess we will have to continue pressing one for English for a long time to come. I really don’t understand why the Democratic candidates are rejecting English as our country’s official language. The reason our forefathers who framed the constitution didn’t include it was because then everyone spoke the King’s English in the Colonies.

Read this little scenario, someone sent me on the internet, since it pertains to this English discussion; I will share it with you. Mind you it’s only a scenario vividly comparing the past and now.

Scenario:

Pedro fails high school English In 1957 -

Pedro would have gone to summer school, passes English, goes to college.

In 2007

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