Respond to Piscopo?

David Johnson davidcasselsjohnson at
Tue Mar 1 16:10:52 UTC 2005

In a previous email, Dr. Schiffman suggested that responses be developed for
Gregg Easterbrook's article in the New Republic. In a previous lgpolicy
strain, a conversation was generated by another list member, Francis Hult,
about linguistic and educational scholars lacking access to the public
relations and/or political machinery that might help engender more
multilingual language policies in the U.S. and stop initiatives such as
anti-bilingual education laws. (Is that close Francis? If I'm getting it
wrong let me know...)

Following Professor Schiffman's example, I would like to suggest that brief
letters be written in response to Rep. John Piscopo's comments in the
article below. He makes some clearly erroneous statements, seemingly based
more on ideological (or perhaps political) orientations towards language
than on any educational linguistic research. Interestingly, Piscopo seems to
use bilingual education's failure as support for an English-Only law (even
though other anti-bilingual education advocates like Rosalie Porter are
quick to disassociate with the English-Only camp).

This seems like an opportunity for those who are interested to engage a
policitician who has burgeoning interests in spearheading English-Only
legislation and seems to have bilingual education on his radar. So, I am
willing to compile and synthesize any letters sent to me which I will then
send to John Piscopo. I'm imagining a polite and reasonably brief letter,
quickly outlining the benefits of bilingual education. Letters from
Connecticut people (Connecticutians?) are encouraged. Who knows how he'll
respond - my bet is a very vague, meaningless form letter will arrive long
after I forget who John Piscopo is. But, who knows?

>From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
>Reply-To: lgpolicy-list at
>To: Language Policy-List <lgpolicy-list at>
>Subject: Bill to make English official language of Connecticut Fails
>Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2005 09:38:32 -0500 (EST)
>02/18/2005 Thomaston Express
>Piscopo's quest for English language takes hit
>KARSTEN STRAUSS , Special to The Express
>THOMASTON - A hearing for Rep. John Piscopo's, R-76, bill to make English
>the official language of Connecticut has been denied by the Government
>Administration and Elections Committee.  Piscopo said he has introduced
>the bill nine times before and has only received one hearing in the late
>1990s, when the legislation came under fire and was not sent to the House
>for a vote.
>"I was hoping for a public hearing this year out of colleague courtesy,"
>Piscopo said. "But it doesn't look like its going to happen." Piscopo said
>that opposition to the bill comes from those who feel it is mean-spirited,
>divisive and even racist - something that he strongly denies. Piscopo also
>said there are those who wish to bar legislation that has economic
>interests at stake.
>"There's an entrenched bureaucracy in the state that makes a living off of
>printing and education, and other agencies that are entrenched in
>multilingual endeavors," he said. The bill, which according to Piscopo is
>largely symbolic, would declare English as the state's official language.
>As far as changes to the way the state or educational curriculum is run in
>Connecticut, Piscopo said that driver's licenses, voting ballots and voter
>registration documents would be printed only in English.
>"We want to state that Connecticut is a state with English as the official
>language so that everybody can assimilate and learn this universal
>language of commerce and to get ahead faster," he said. Piscopo said that
>bilingual education, once thought to benefit children raised to speak
>foreign languages, is in fact holding those children back.
>"You do not help a non-English speaking student by keeping them at least
>three years in their native tongue," Piscopo said. "The best way we can
>help someone that does not speak English that comes to this country and
>this state is to teach them English as quickly as possible through English
>immersion, or just English as a second language, not teach them in their
>native tongue." Piscopo says he has backing from Hispanic mothers who
>would like to see their children assimilate more completely into the
>English-speaking curriculum.
>"We need these kids to have an equal opportunity to go through the process
>of transition from one culture, one language to another one," said
>Torrington Board of Education member Edgar Trinidad, who disagrees
>strongly with Piscopo's views on bilingual education. "I know many great
>professionals who have been in bilingual education." "I don't know of what
>world this gentleman is," Trinidad said of Piscopo.  "Maybe he doesn't
>have kids in school. It's proven that bilingual education is going to help
>the kid enjoy the concept of inclusion."
>Trinidad said that some aspects of bilingual education need to be
>addressed, but not eliminated. Rep. Livvy Floren, R-149, ranking member on
>the Government Administration and Elections Committee said Piscopo's
>proposed bill was not given a hearing because the commission's calendar
>for this year was too full, not because of the merits of the bill or any
>ideological opposition.
>"It was just a matter of time and priorities, and this just wasn't the
>year," Floren said. "Probably next year, when we have a little bit less on
>our docket, we'll be able to get to it again." Piscopo said he will be
>looking for an opportunity to submit the bill as an amendment in the House
>of Representatives.

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