Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Walk Through the Canyons of the Upper West Side (Of This We'll Speak No More)

We rarely permit our self more than a cursory engagement with the editorial page of the Houston Chronicle. That’s not because the editorials are especially bad---in fact, we’d be hard-pressed to deny that the paper’s entire op-ed operation has gotten noticeably better in the past five or six years. It’s just that we’re among the legion of attention-deficited readers who generally head elsewhere when our eyes fall on those large grey blocks of unbroken type, and too often when our eyes do linger the writing radiates the obvious fatigue that must come with having to take a position and issue a grand Olympian pronouncement on every issue/conflict/concern that comes a’rollin’ down the toll road of life.

Then again, on the six or seven issues that generally rouse us, the ones that bring out the dour little polemicist inside (whom we try to keep stashed deep in the recesses of our being, next to our inner gay antiques-dealer), we find that the Chronicle editorialists more often than not reflect the parochial prejudices and tastes of the Upper West Side. And we don’t mean Memorial and Tanglewood.

What we mean is more of an Upper West Side of the mind, an aerie far above (and far removed from) the grubby street-level concerns of the average property-owning, tax-paying, card-carrying member of the petty bourgeois, the demo that still accounts for the great majority of a newspaper’s readership.

We cite as an example this offering on the State Board of Education’s move to consider supplanting the current system of bilingual classroom instruction with the English immersion model that has proven successful in raising the test scores of non-native English speakers in California.

The editorial is relatively mealy-mouthed when it comes to taking a discernible stand on the issue, which is OK by us, as we know how hard it is to pretend to be correct all the time and then change your mind the following day. But the subhead over the editorial, “Politics should not determine how we teach English to Spanish-speaking children” (which oddly did not comport with the headline, “Little Sponges,” referring to kids’ capacity to suck up new languages when surrounded by, as the paper puts it, “foreign speakers,” which we presume in this case would be speakers of that foreign language known as inglés), nicely gives away the paper’s true sentiment. The editorial wends its way through the issue and then comes down firmly in favor of doing what’s best for the kids (Yes! How novel!) before concluding:

Analysis of language instruction must be done in order to reverse high Hispanic dropout rates and increase the number who go to college. However, the question should be resolved in the best interest of students, as indicated by the data. An atmosphere of hidden agendas and open resentment of immigrants will only prevent sound conclusions.
The Chronicle has run one story on the SBOE’s planned consideration of English immersion, and nowhere in that story was there a hint or suggestion of any immigrant-bashing or hidden agendas. If we can be as presumptuous as the editorial writer, recent history would suggest that the demagoguery and hidden agenda will be the property of those opposing English immersion.

As for politics: No, we shan’t have any of that intruding on what is essentially a political issue. And we in Texas with an elected board of education! If we can be so presumptuous and offer this English-language translation: what the editorial means by “politics” is politics we don’t agree with.

But that’s how it is in the Upper West Side of the mind. Those who somehow might find reason to disagree with your position on, for instance, illegal immigration or bilingual education are more than likely ignorant, nativist know-nothings with hidden racist agendas. Bah. A few weeks ago we saw NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell blithely proclaim on some talk show that rising concern about illegal immigration is “racist.” This from the wife of Wal-Mart Nation’s most revered economist whose personal contact with illegal immigrants is probably safely limited to the bus boys she and her husband ignore when they’re chowing down at some five-star diner.

Oh well. We meant to devote this space to our memories of Cactus Records (part of the series “Shopping Experiences We Fondly Recall”) but we see our dour little polemicist is loose again. We’ve armed our inner gay antiques-dealer with this Venetian gilt metal chandelier and told him to bring that sucker down at all costs.

On a mostly unrelated note, it has been brought to our attention that Slampo’s Place was quoted in a Chronicle story (for the first and probably last time) on the metastasizing media indifference to the big trial downtown. This citation has fulfilled a lifelong dream to be mentioned in the same newspaper story as Garth Jowett, the communications professor at the University of Houston whose talent for saying the obvious (and in a delightful foreign accent) is matched only by that of Rice University’s Bob “You-Need-A-Quote” Stein. (Fortunately for our mother, circumstances dictate that we be mentioned only under the secret code name we use to blog and in transactions with our tax consultant at the Beechnut storefront and with our transsexual Thai masseuse---we’ve never been clear whether he/she is a transsexual specializing in Thai massage or Thai transsexual who gives massages, but either way it works for us.) So if we die in a fiery crash on Loop 610 later tonight, we’ll go to our reward knowing we made a difference, although we suppose this means we'll have to start proofreading again.

No comments: