Poll Brings Up Questions About Culture, Identity

JORDAN KOETJE 5/12/2016

In our last poll, we set up a box in the library to collect votes. This method proved to be slow and unreliable, so on the 16th, 17th, and 18th of March, I asked students a poll question directly.

“Should immigrants coming to the U.S be required to learn English?”.

What would forcing immigrants to learn English say about our society?  Would that mean that English is an essential aspect of American culture, and thus an integral part of becoming an American?

Language is closely tied to cultural identity. It’s a representation of where people come from and who they are. Knowing English in a society where it is widely spoken is beneficial, and it is logical to assume somebody who lives in the US for an extended amount of time will eventually learn it to some extent.  Is requiring language classes a way to ensure that everybody has equal opportunity, or does it hinder or prevent other cultures from flourishing in the United States?

This question was chosen for multiple reasons. Our school has an impressive mix of students; we are diverse in our language, origin, identity, and beliefs. Many students at our school are related to, or are themselves immigrants. There are approximately 42.4 million immigrants in the United States: 13% of the total population. One out of four people in the United States is either an immigrant or a member of an immigrant family (migrationpolicy.org).

This question was also chosen because of the wide range of opinions people have on it, and the relevance it has in our school in the midst of one of the most intense presidential campaign seasons in recent years. Immigration policy has become a polarizing topic, with talk of building walls, creating paths to citizenship, deporting all undocumented immigrants, and waiving deportations.

Instead of an open ended question like the last one (which was ‘who are you voting for?’), this was a yes or no question with only two answers available. Even though we received 42 votes this time, the percentage of votes per answer has increased, giving us a better representation of the data. Answers were more honest and accurate. For this survey, we polled mostly seniors in a variety of different classes. 57% of the students polled agreed that “no, immigrants should not be required to learn English”. The other 43% thought that “yes, they should”. The answers to this question were determined by the personal experience of those who voted as well as their political views.

Many of the students shared their opinions along with their answers. The common agreement among those who voted ‘yes’ was that learning English would help non-English-speaking immigrants succeed in this country. Employers are more likely to hire somebody who speaks the common tongue than somebody who cannot. It is important to note that while English is the most widely spoken language, the US does not have an official language (PBS.org). Those who voted ‘no’ said that “Nobody should be forced to learn a language if they don’t want to.”  There were many who wrote that “Immigrants should be provided with resources to learn, but should not be forced”.  There are no laws in act currently that require mandatory language classes, but there are many people who argue that “in America, we speak English”. This debate has sparked some very heated discussions among politicians and population alike. (Majed).

 

“Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org. N.p., 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 May 2016.

 

“Official American.” PBS. PBS, 2005. Web. 08 May 2016.

 

Majed, Emaan. “The ‘Americans Speak English’ Debate Is Not About English At All.” TPM. N.p., 01 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 May 2016.

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