Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pardon this interuption--a minor rant before carrying on

This blog is primarily about food, in particular food I like to cook.  Having had the good fortune of living in Southeast Asia for a number of years, some of those years in refugee camps and others in large cities and small towns, there is a bias towards food of that region.  Although many people think the title of the blog suggests it to be about coffee, I had never had much luck getting good coffee in Java, or elsewhere in Indonesia for that matter, until my visit last summer.  Indonesia produces a lot of great coffee (not too much in Java), but finding a good cup is definitely a challenge.  Probably the best I enjoyed was a cup of café den at a coffee shop in the refugee camp on Pulau Galang.  So, no, this is not a blog about coffee.

I cook because I enjoy it and because it makes good food affordable.  My wife and I are both teachers, teaching adult education, and, despite what some politicians suggest, are not living high on the hog thanks to our union contracts.  Besides my full-time day job teaching, I also teach a couple classes at one of the local community colleges.  Despite having M.A.s and years of experience in our field, neither of us enjoys a particularly lucrative contract.  We do, however, have jobs we love.  We both enjoy our students (most of them) and our colleagues (many of them) and don't particularly loathe our bosses; at least one of us has a boss we actually respect.  This blog is a creative outlet for me, a way for me to think about something other than how to get students to recognize subject-verb agreement or write a coherent thesis statement.  I never wanted it to be a reflection of my daily life, my struggles and successes.

Still, life sometimes intrudes.  I have not posted anything for some time not only because I've been busy with my classes, but because I've just been so goddamn frustrated.  Frustrated that my wife, who's one of the best teachers I've ever worked with, is losing her job because her district has decided to scrap its adult education program.  Frustrated that although the district will no longer be offering adult ESL classes, the state is still going to be funding the district for the program at the same level it was funded two years ago when it was much larger.  I'm frustrated that this is happening to programs up and down the state of California and nothing is being done about it.

Yes, the economy here is rotten.  The state legislature is dysfunctional and programs are being cut right and left.  GOP representatives are refusing to allow voters to vote on whether or not to extend some minimal taxes rather than gutting social and educational programs that have already been cut to the bone.  The state is still funding adult education programs, but allowing districts to abolish the programs and shift the funds to K-12 programs.  At the same time budgetary pressures on the community colleges are forcing them to limit the lower level ESL classes they offer.  Adult immigrants who don't arrive in California fluent in English are going to be limited to their ethnic enclaves.  As people are stuck in separate neighborhoods with fewer chances for advancement, as our communities become more insular and stratified, resentment will grow among everyone.

"Why don't these people learn English?" This is a fairly common sentiment among many Americans, a people not exactly renowned for their multilingual abilities.  Indeed, listen to the average American who is a native-speaker of English  speaking on the street and you might wonder what  his first language is.  To learn a language beyond the survival level of expressing basic needs, wants, and abilities takes time and study.  Some people seem to have this idea that all the immigrants coming here were illiterate field hands or trash pickers in their countries, people with little or no education who should be thanking Jesus every day that they now get to live in the greatest country on earth.  They don't realize that the cook in their favorite Chinese restaurant was an engineer or teacher in China.  When a person's language skills are limited, others treat him as if he were a child, no matter that he may have been a doctor in his native country.

In 2002 Time magazine designated Sacramento the most diverse city in the United States.  They gave it this designation not based on the number and variety of immigrants living here, but on the social, economic, and educational success the various ethnic groups achieved in this city.  A lot of that success starts at the adult education level with students getting a foothold by learning basic English skills. In 2004 the ESL program in our district was awarded a Program of Excellence designation by the California Department of Education.  Next year our budget for the year, if the tax extensions are passed, will be less than the cost of 20 seconds of air time during the Superbowl.  If the tax extensions are not passed, there will likely be no program at all.

So, yes, it has been a little hard to get up any enthusiasm for taking pictures and writing about food.  Still, what else is to be done?  I just hope that the next time someone complains about these goddamned immigrants who don't learn the language he does something about reopening the goddamn classrooms and allowing them to learn.

Soon, a brand new post about food. Yum.


  1. Interesting post; I was first hooked by the comment that it is hard to find a good cup of coffee in SE Asia - I'll agree. I lived in SG and traveled alot around SE Asia for four years and it is tough to find a truly excellent espresso or cup of coffee for that matter.

    Related to conversation about a second language, I can honestly say the best thing I did during my life was to move to Japan and learn Japanese - a fairly random step post-college, but one that changed me. The ability to speak to a completely new set of people, of different culture and background, changed how I saw the world then, and now. And, I have a far greater understanding of others who have both learned a second language, or been frustrated even with most diligent efforts on their part.

    Interesting post. And, I await more tasty food posts too. Thanks. Leon.

  2. I am sitting here nodding my head in agreement. I was an immigrant myself (I lived in DK for 3 years) and my mom was the first generation here in the US. When I first moved to Denmark, I was treated like I was stupid because I didn't speak the language. This despite being well-educated. I ended up working in restaurant because that was the only job I could really find. It was a struggle at the time, but turned out to be a big positive influence on me.

    The one thing I can praise about the system in Denmark is they offered FREE language classes for immigrants. In fact, to get State support, you were required to attend language classes. Of course this was ten years ago and it may be done differently now. But the Danes understand the importance of language education (virtually everyone speaks at least English and many a third language) and I'd be surprised to learn some type of free language education is not available.

    My mom has been in the States for 30 years. She knew English before moving here and was married to an American. She worked at a bank as a loan officer for almost 20 years and is now a part-time real estate agent. Yet people still talk to her like she's fresh off the boat. It kills me.

    There are just so many cuts to education, I could go on and on. I teach science at both high school and community college and I can honestly say that all the politicians' talk about commitment to education is a crock of shit. They say one thing and turn around and slash funding.

  3. Day to day living is always easier, more plesant, and more efficient when there is effective communication from one person to the next. Language proficency enables people to reach their potential and perform in their given areas of expertise. In an international civilization second language education should be a high priority. Communities with second language programs make a statement about the worth and value of all people. Second language state funding should be categorical, not general.
    Papa Bob

  4. Thanks for the comments and support. It is nice to know that others get it, that it's not just a few of us beleaguered teachers wallowing in our misery.
    Darlene, I've seen what you describe happening to your mother time and again. One of the teachers I work with, a Chinese-American man who was born here, was complimented for his good English a few years ago by a member of an accrediting team doing a site visit. The teacher said it took all his control to keep from going off on a profanity laced tirade against the ignoramus.


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