Tuesday, February 24, 2015

No Esperanto for Connecticut Schools

Did the judges speak Esperanto?
You can’t fault the Esperanto movement for trying. Over the years, Esperantists made a number of attempts to get the language taught in schools. One such example would be the attempt by Mrs. Wilbur Crafts to get Esperanto into the Washington D.C. schools. It’s a reasonable thing: it brings Esperanto to a group of people (schoolchildren) who have the time to study it, increasing the number of people who speak Esperanto, thus increasing its utility.[1] School systems look at the actual utility of Esperanto and then say no.

There probably are ways in which the Esperanto movement could get Esperanto into public schools, but someone (not the schools) would have to foot the bill. And probably offer other inducements. I remember reading about a program in which the Chinese government subsidized the instruction of Mandarin Chinese in American schools. I suspect part of this is a question of the sunk cost fallacy. If you’ve spent a year studying Mandarin at the age of eight, why not continue with it when offered a language at the high school level? Why start all over again with one of the standard European languages?

If one were to teach a foreign language to small children, Esperanto would actually be a good idea, since even for children, a small amount of time has a big payoff, as with the Philadelphia Girl Scouts, who were able to chatter amongst themselves in Esperanto (every language teacher’s dream) after a few weeks of study. Further, the study of Wellesley students showed that it was much more quickly learned. Finally, studies have shown that Esperanto makes a great initial foreign language.[2] But that didn’t convince them in Connecticut.

The article in the Bridgeport Evening Farmer of February 24, 1911, is tucked under a headline about judicial appointments, which is the main thrust of the article, but Esperanto gets the first line.
Special from United Press.)
Hartford, Feb. 24—The State House of Representatives, today accepted the unfavorable report of the Committee on Education on the bill to introduce Esperanto into the normal and public schools of the State.
From there, it’s off to the topic of judges for the courts in Derby and Ansonia, the other sentence in this short article.[3] Advocates of Esperanto (or any other language) have to get the language included in the standards. And you need qualified teachers (hence the reference to “normal” schools). It’s clear that in 1911, there wasn’t any compelling argument to include Esperanto in the state education standards.

No word on who suggested to the Committee on Education that Esperanto be considered. The issues of Amerika Esperantisto of the era make no mention of an attempt to teach Esperanto in the Connecticut public schools.

  1. I remain convinced that there is some number of speakers (which Esperanto has obviously never reached) for a language after which the utility of the language makes this self-reinforcing. If Esperanto were to achieve the fina venko, and become the widely-used world language, it would probably need to have more speakers than French (which has about seventy-four million speakers). There are actually nine languages with more speakers than French but fewer than Russian, the next most-widely spoken of the U.N.’s six official languages. The most generous estimate of Esperanto is that it has two million speakers, so that’s just seventy-two million to go.  ↩
  2. I suspect that one of the great advantages of Esperanto as a first foreign language is that it gets students over their anxieties about learning a new vocabulary. While the French students are still agonizing over the present-tense conjugations of regular -er verbs (like parler) the Esperanto students have found that verbs alter for tense, not person or number (i.e.: no conjugations) and have moved on from the present tense mi parolas to the past tense mi parolis and the futue tense mi parolis.  ↩
  3. It’s at the top of the article, if you want to read it.  ↩

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