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On We Sweep With Threshing Oar

Updated April 19, 2022
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On We Sweep With Threshing Oar essay

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The question of who gets to be an American and who has the right to be one has been long debated throughout history. It is a complex topic that continues to be thoroughly examined and scrutinized especially in today’s day and age. It is an issue that has taken immigration disputes by storm, devouring the very heart and mind of the country as well as the people. When dealing with such a delicate and controversial subject, it is easy to glorify the mindset of the Manifest Destiny, a centuries old principle held by settlers of the old looking to further expand West. There have been various substantial events and ideologies in American history that have negatively impacted views and policy on who is culturally considered to be an American, including but not limited to slavery and the second wave of immigration, and are consequently hurting the country as a result.

The nineteenth century was a time for change, and nothing amplified that sentiment more than the Manifest Destiny. The origin of this ideology came from a New York newspaper editor named John O’Sullivan, who first coined the title in 1845 when he published an essay called Annexation. It bestowed upon the very notion that it was “the divine right and duty of white Americans to seize and settle the American West, thus spreading Protestant, democratic values” (U.S. History. Pp. 315). The federal government at this time was giving support to these people looking to the land west of the Mississippi to “join the migratory stream westward to this unknown land” (U.S. History. Pp. 479).

Cause for moving west varied. While some sought to pursue a new life of economic prosperity, others felt continuously driven to carry through the ideology of the Manifest Destiny, thinking it was their right to enlighten the “heathens” of the land by teaching their religion and spreading democracy. As such, Americans ventured westward to settle the frontier, carrying these inherently superior beliefs as well as their culture with them. The country’s merciless ambition to carry out the philosophy of the Manifest Destiny had a profound impact on several things, perhaps the most notable being the domestic policy dealing with the Native Americans. Despite the land being inhabited by these natives, land was still looked upon as open for westward expansion. “Two very different answers dominated the debate over what to do about the ongoing ‘Indian question’” (U.S. Indian Policy. Hastedt).

The first answer was assimilation. This effort tried to change Native societies from hunters and gatherers to a community based on agriculture. This was relatively successful until the Cherokee were forced from land in Georgia after gold was found. The Cherokee consequently sued, and won twice in federal court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in their favor and as a result, the Cherokees were able to retain their land. According to Hastedt in U.S. Indian Policy, “The Court, however, could not enforce its decisions, and the Jackson administration chose not to stop Georgia’s forced expulsion of the Cherokee to land west of the Mississippi, an episode immortalized as the ‘trail of tears,’ in which 4,000 of the approximately 16,000 Cherokee died.”

It would not take long before these indigenous people would fall victim to the other solution to the “Indian question”: removal. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This resolution essentially granted land West of the Mississippi to Indian tribes that agreed to give up their homelands. “President Andrew Jackson negotiated 94 removal treaties, and by 1840 virtually all Native Americans had been removed east of the Mississippi River” (U.S. Indian Policy. Hastedt).

As migration westward continued, Native Americans were viewed continuously more as a hindrance to the nation becoming a true state. “In 1851 Congress passed the Indian Appropriation Act, which called for the compulsory relocation of Native Americans onto federal reservations” (U.S. Indian Policy. Hastedt). Resistance towards these increasing federal ordinances was inevitable which ultimately led to the Wounded Knee Massacre, the final battle between Native Americans and the U.S. Army. America’s insane ambition to expand westward proved to be a turbulent period in the nation’s history. As unfair and ruthless as the nation was, many believe these elements of history were simply growing pains of an expanding nation.

Social structures during this time became significantly affected by westward expansion. The two primary divisions were the northern and southern regions of America. “Historians have noted that the differences between the folk culture of the South and the modern culture of the North certainly fueled the broad-based reform movements of mid-century and may have ignited the turmoil over state sovereignty and slavery” (Introduction to Civil War America. Salisbury and Kersten). The northern region’s economy was driven by industry. The North had large populated cities and a focus on public education. In addition, the North was not in favor for slavery. Conversely, the southern region was driven by plantation agriculture with cotton being its active force. Because much of the Southern economy relied on slave labor, southerners were unwilling to abolish slavery. “Louisiana also saw a great influx of newcomers, most of them wealthier than their northern counterparts, who poured into Louisiana to found new plantations and spread the slave economy of the Southeast” (Migration during the Antebellum Period. Rohrbough). As a result of vast regional differences, the North and the South became very divided in its viewpoints of what was acceptable. These differences intensified to a level where neither could settle on a common understanding. Eventually, these disagreements would inevitably collapse the nation into a civil war.

When thinking of slavery, especially through an American perspective, plantations, harsh beatings, runaway slaves, and indentured servants are often what comes to mind first. What is often severely disregarded when looking at the history of slavery, are the slave ships, which transported the enslaved people away from their freedom as well as the safety and comfort of their homes. These people were turned into commodities, seen as nothing more than goods in the eyes of transporters. Justification for this included the idea that they were being done a favor, and that Europe and North America’s economic prosperity were of more importance than their lives. The slave ship was a factory that turned a human being into a slave. Slavery was an institution that dehumanized people in the name of economic prosperity and profit. This can be clearly seen through looking at the life of the slaves aboard the ships taking them to Europe and America.

The slaves often banded together to keep their spirits alive, and preserve an identity that could not be completely taken away. Regardless, their living conditions, harsh treatment, and the devaluing of their lives, created an environment where death was more desirable than life. Rediker put it like this, “Shackled and trapped in the bowels of a slaver, unable to go home again, the captives would now have no choice but to live in the struggle, a fierce, many-sided, never-ending fight to survive, to live, of necessity, in a new way. The old had been destroyed, and suffering was at hand” (Rediker. Pp. 107).

Enslavement was a dark time in history, specially when a country’s economic prosperity was valued over human life. Millions of human lives were lost at the cost of power, prestige, and wealth. While this is a very bleak picture of the past, throughout the existence of Atlantic slavery, we see small glimmers of humanity. The terror and horror of the slave trade and what took place on the slave ships cannot, and should not, be masked by lessening the horror of what happened. However, we must not merely focus on the horror of the slave trade, we must also focus on the humans involved. Taking away the identity of individuals involved and labeling it as one big horrific event, would hardly do the victims and survivors of this tragedy justice. Atlantic slavery is more than a historical tragedy, it was a time when millions of individual lives were lost, for the sake of another individual’s prosperity.

In more recent times, it appears that the cliché of a nation of immigrants is frequently brought up in the United States like a growing preoccupation. Despite the identity of an immigrant nation, changes in the origins of immigrants have often been met with resistance. What began with white, Protestant settlers holding onto the hope of spreading their values has now been transformed into a multicultural nation with immigrants from countries across the oceans. As Dr. Ben Carson likened, “America has always been a beacon for individuals who wanted to make something great of their lives; for those who had seemingly tried all things everywhere else but found new hope and new inspiration here on our shores” (Trump leads America’s new Manifest Destiny. Carson).

Since 2016 Presidential Election, the spotlight has been focused on none more so than immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Statistics show that as of 2016, the number of immigrants in the U.S. that originate from Mexico numbers over 11.57 million. To fix this problem, several proposals in Congress have been introduced. “In the first month of his presidency,” according to an article called Immigration Under Trump: Policy Changes and the Ongoing Search for Consensus, “Trump called for the construction of a ‘physical wall along the southern border,’ an additional 5,000 Border Patrol agents, the withholding of funds to ‘sanctuary cities’ (jurisdictions that do not cooperate with Federal efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants), and ending ‘catch and release,’ a practice of releasing immigrants to the community while they await a hearing.”

The current problems in Mexico, which cause in increasing number of citizens to leave, include the shortage of work, low income, and less opportunity to get an education. Poor education causes less numbers of the educated elites who may lead those specific areas kept developing, such as the teachers. Hence, not many people are able to try to develop the country with poverty issues and compile the suggested policy to better the current government structure that is supposed to be the original source to improve the society.

Going along the same vein of thought about academia, the debate over whether bilingual education or immersion programs such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), better serve the needs of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in the United States has been heating up. The increasing need for such services insights passionate supporters and opposition to rise up against one another in the fight over which is better. Advocates of bilingual education stress the value in helping students retain and even enhance proficiency in their native language, while at the same time gaining proficiency in the English language. Critics of bilingual education, however, contend that such programs only “keep students in a cycle of native language dependency that ultimately inhibits significant progress in English language acquisition” (Bilingual Education. Pp. 1). They prefer the immersion method where classes are taught solely in English. They argue that students learn English faster and more effectively when they are completely submerged in the language.

The debate has been especially strong in states where Latino populations are high. In fact, changes in education programs have already occurred in such states as California and Arizona. The sunshine state’s infamous Proposition 227 (also known as the English for the Children initiative), Arizona’s Proposition 203, and a number of other state’s English for the Children campaigns are evidence that many people are dissatisfied with bilingual education and are seeking – and getting – changes. Regardless, the general public remains divided on the issue. Teachers, administrators, students, parents, politicians, and researchers are just some of the groups of people involved in the debate. Clearly, this is not a quiet conflict.

Bilingual education is not new. The first state to actually pass a bilingual education law was Ohio, in 1839 (History of Bilingual Education, 1998). The law was for German-English bilingual education, and was passed as a result of a strong parental initiative. By the end of the nineteenth century, about a dozen states had passed similar laws, and in many other states such instruction was offered, although it had not been sanctioned by the state. During the World War One era, however, as the loyalty of non-English speaking Americans came increasingly under suspicion, many states decided to enact English-only instruction, in an attempt to Americanize non-English speakers. As a result, during the 1920s the bilingual education program had been almost completely dismantled.

In response to the apparent failure of English-only instruction, the United States government passed the Bilingual Education Act in 1968, providing federal funds to local school districts, in an attempt to promote the incorporation of native-language instruction into school curricula. The government felt that, “leaving LEP students to ‘sink or swim’ in English-only classrooms made ‘a mockery of public education’” (History of Bilingual Education, 1998). Recognizing the civil rights of LEP students to have available to them educational programs that offer equal opportunities to learn, the Supreme Court in 1974, decried that immediate steps be taken to overcome language barriers impeding LEP children’s access to the curriculum. As a result, the bilingual program in the United States, essentially as it is today, evolved.

Clearly, the United States government sees some amount of potential in bilingual education, as it authorized federal funding for such programs in 1994, with the passing of the Improving America’s Schools Act. This historical piece of legislation was passed in hopes that through bilingual education, young people might reach high academic standards, such as the mastery of more than one language. Findings from a government study conducted prior to the passage of the Improving America’s Schools Act suggests that the government understands the value and importance of young people retaining proficiency their native language. The government’s report announced that, as the world becomes increasingly interdependent and as international communication becomes a daily occurrence in government, business, commerce, and family life, multilingual skills constitute an important national resource which deserves protection and development. Bilingual education is certainly one method of preserving a native language and mastering another.

Bilingual education aims to teach English to students, whose native language is not English, offering some instruction in the student’s native tongue. The idea is that students be transitioned into mainstream English classes within a relatively short period of time, generally within two to three years. Ideally, such a program helps students remain academic success because they are able to learn new subject matter in their native language while simultaneously learning to read, write and speak in English. The idea behind bilingual education is that learning new material in the first language keeps students from falling behind the way they might if they’d had to struggle to understand the material had it been presented in English. Many proponents of bilingual education contend also, that the program allows young people to retain their first language, so that their existing language skills are less likely to deteriorate.

The problem with bilingual education is many feel the program is ineffective, claiming students develop a dependency on their native language, which ultimately keeps them from gaining proficiency in the English language. When students finally do achieve exit criteria, they may be unprepared for the mainstream English classroom. Additionally, critics of bilingual education argue that such programs take too long, that students become “trapped” in the program for years.

Much like the bilingual education program, English for Speakers of Other Languages programs have a number of advantages as well. One of the greatest advantages of these programs is that educators do not need to be fluent in the students’ native language(s). Additionally, ESOL classrooms can be linguistically diverse; students with different primary languages can be in the same class together. Another advantage of the ESOL program has to do with developmental issues. According to one study, the younger a child is the easier it will be for that child to hear, process, and acquire a second language (Why Do Schools Flunk Biology, Hancock and Wingert). Consequently, programs such as ESOL, which immediately immerse LEP students in the English language, seem to have the right idea. Students need to start their study of English in the primary grades, not later on, the way many bilingual education programs are set up to do.

It is clear that both bilingual education and such immersion programs as English for Speakers of Other Languages have their advantages and disadvantages. It would be unfair to say that one program or the other is completely ineffective. The efficacy of second-language instruction, just like any other kind of instruction, varies with each child, for many reasons.

The issue of immigration and who is culturally regarded as an American continues to be a pressing problem that affects everyone whether through politics, education, or otherwise. It is an issue that has historical ties as well, in accordance with which Americans emigrated to the west in droves or forcibly took natives from their native land in the name of servitude, and it can all be traced back to the idea of Manifest Destiny.

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