A judge in Tennessee has ordered non-English-speaking parents to learn English
or lose their parental rights. Now, I understand that parental "rights" aren't so much rights as privileges that can be taken away if it is deemed in the best interests of the child.
But, given the horrible state of child protection services and foster care systems in this country, how can anyone possibly believe that putting a child through tremendous emotional trauma from separation from his or her non-abusive mother (or father) in order to place them in a system where abuse and neglect, while not common, certainly are not rare is more in the child's interest than remaining with a parent who doesn't speak English?
Can this judge seriously believe that growing up with a non-English speaking mother is going to scar and hinder the child's development more than shuffling through the foster care system until he or she is eighteen? That the benefit of the love, attention, and care of one's mother or father is diminished if the mother or father does not speak English? Woe to all the children not born in the English-speaking world! Hell, most of the world is committing child abuse on a regular basis according to this judge!
It's interesting that discrimination against non-English speakers in the new millennium is mostly limited to discrimination against hispanics. Now that the perception that Asian immigrants, for example, are good, hardworking, often skilled citizens, could you imagine a judge threatening to take a child living in a city's Chinatown away from his or her Chinese speaking mother? Or Japanese speaking mother? Does this judge really believe that parents who don't speak English are a danger to a child's welfare, or that hispanics
and hispanic culture in general is "bad", being associated with laziness, unlawfulness, and taking jobs away from white America?
As far as I can tell, this judge seems to be utterly missing the point of his job in order to pursue a pet theory of social engineering. If a mother fails to get take her child to get immunized (leaving aside the issue of her failure to go to "appointments" the nature of which, and therefore the legal obligation to attend, are not made clear), the remedy is to tell her to get her kid immunized
and order/facilitate her to become aware of her parental responsibilities under Tennessee law. After all, the only child welfare issue before the court was that the mother failed to immunize the child, not whether the child's quality of life will somehow be diminished if the mother doesn't learn English. If the mother had taken the kid to be immunized, then the issue of her ability, or lack thereof, to speak English would have never even been an issue.
By the same token, in another case, the article notes:
Last October, Tatum gave a similar order to a Mexican woman who had been cited
for neglect of her 11-year-old daughter, said a lawyer who is representing the
woman in her appeal. Setting a court date six months away, the judge told the
woman she should be able to speak English at a fourth-grade level by that
meeting. If she failed, he warned, he would begin the process of termination of
Shouldn't the issue be whether or not the woman stops neglecting her child rather than whether she learns English? I note that none of the judge's statements in the article, nor any part of his judgments, actually indicate that not speaking English was the cause of the mother's failure to immunize the child. But rather, the judge's central argument seems to be*:
Here we have an American citizen who runs the risk of losing out on all the
opportunities if she's not assimilated into the culture[.]
But, of course, all kinds of parental circumstances can limit a child's future opportunities other than the failure of the child's parent to "assimilate into the culture" by learning English. Is the judge going to remove children from the custody of parents who smoke, for instance?
Not only do studies indicate that mothers who smoke while pregnant or are exposed to second-hand smoke (say, from a significant other who smokes or from working in a bar) are more likely to have children with emotional, agression, and impulse-control problems, but also that children exposed to second-hand smoke can have their development retarded. That's on top of the fact that second-hand smoke can, at some point, kill the child, which severely limits the child's opportunities, I would say.
In addition, parents who smoke are setting an example for any children, making them, potentially, more likely to smoke themselves.** Is Judge Tatum going to start testing parents for nicotine and removing children on that basis? Somehow, given that his court is in Tennessee, I doubt it.
What about lack of education? Uneducated parents, being less able, perhaps, to spark the love of learning in a child, could be seen as limiting the child's opportunities. Is Judge Tatum going to start ordering that parents be able to pass some kind of general knowledge test or lose parental rights? What about the poor? The financial situation one grows up in is one of the best indicators of a child's future success. Is Judge Tatum going to start ordering parents to make more money or lose their kids?
Heck, what about growing up in a Pentecostal, fundamentalist, or evangelical Christian family? That could limit the child's opportunities as well, for instance, to become an evolutionary biologist. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment, but courts have decided that the First Amendment doesn't protect Christian Scientists who won't take their kids to a doctor. And, since the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech doesn't specify that this right is only to be exercised in English, one could easily argue (and I, in fact, would argue) that the First Amendment protects a non-English speaker as much as a Pentecostal, fundamentalist, or evangelical Christian. Is Judge Tatum going to start ordering people to convert or face termination of parental rights?
Further, Judge Tatum is making a big, unproven assumption with his line of logic, that just because the parent does not speak English the child will not "assimilate into the culture." But I have encountered many adult children of immigrant parents who speak to their parents in their parents' native tongue and also speak fluent English, who dress according to American "culture," have jobs like other Americans, and are fully "assimilated" into American culture, at least to the extent that it does not hinder his or her "opportunities." Once again, this seems fairly common in, for example, the Asian community. Does speaking Spanish or Mixteco in and of itself make one less likely to assimilate than speaking Chinese or Korean?
Of course, I think the talk about the child's "opportunities" is just an excuse for what Tatum is really interested in: Getting hispanics to assimilate. But guess what? It isn't the government's job to make immigrants assimilate. If anything, that should be the province of the right's cherished "free market." If non-English speaking people can survive in America without learning English, great for them. If they can't, and therefore have to learn English, that's fine too. In much the same way, a grocer should be able to decide, as does one in the article, not to cater to non-English speakers. He or she will simply lose business to the grocers who do.
Then, some other jackass jumps in with this:
Though the judge's order may have been a mistake, "the general sentiment
is, if people are going to be in this country, we all have a moral obligation to
learn to speak the language," said Bob Bright, 61, who runs an insurance agency
Do what? "[A] moral obligation?" Is he kidding? By what standard? Even the Bible doesn't order people to learn the dominant language! Besides, if we're going to start using the power of government to coerce people into fulfilling "moral obligations," then judges better start ordering people to give to charity, to volunteer, to help the needy, not to smoke anywhere that anyone else might have to breathe it, not to use more than our fair share of resources, and to provide aid and assistance whenever someone else needs it. I don't see that happening. Not fulfilling one's moral obligations is a cherished American right, especially with the right-wing. You can't pick and choose, Bob. Even if we accept that learning the dominant language is a "moral obligation," which I don't, we can't start ordering people to do that without ordering them to fulfill all their moral obligations.
A supporter of Tatum's lunacy says:
He recalled his alarm at visiting a trailer owned by one such family. The
mother had never lived in a home with a carpet, and the floor of the trailer was
so dirty he feared for the health of her children. Andino taught her how to use
Once again, what the hell does this have to do with speaking English? The woman didn't know to vacuum, by the supporter's own account, because she grew up so poor she never had carpet.
Which could just as easily have been true if she had spoken English. The argument doesn't follow. The conclusion doesn't match the argument leading up to it.
Tatum also ordered a mother to start taking birth control in addition to learning English. If the woman's only "crime" was failing to get her child immunized and to show up for some "appointments," why is she being ordered to take birth control? Is Tatum saying that not knowing that one is supposed to get a child immunized is sufficient to revoke that person's right to reproduce? Is enough to force a woman to take medication that can be dangerous against her will? What if she isn't having sex? Would it still be right to order her to take a medication that might give her breast cancer against her will?
This guy needs to hit himself in the head with a tack hammer, because he is an idiot with no regard for human rights. He is pursuing a personal political agenda in the guise of protecting children, and it is nothing less than sickening.* Assuming that the article fairly represents Judge Tatum's views, which I have no reason to doubt.** I don't know if such studies have been done or what the results were, but if we're taking kids away from parents whose activites we suspect might one day harm the child, we don't need any proof, just like Judge Tatum didn't, right?