A lifetime of self reliance and accepting personal responsibility

The more our governments and their deficits grow, the more I think of my late mother-in-law. A trained bookkeeper and armchair economist, she had ideas that could save the country some real money today.

She came to America at 13, speaking only Yiddish. When she died some 70 years later, her Yiddish was still perfect. But so was her English. That's because in the 1920s, teachers and parents did not know about diversity training and political correctness. So they placed her in classes with much younger English-speaking kids. She was ashamed and angry at first, but by the end of the school year she had conquered the national language of the United States. As an adult, she got hooked on New York Times crossword puzzles, which she always worked with a pen. She was very proud of that.

She believed it shouldn't cost the government an extra dime to bring foreign-born kids up to linguistic snuff. After living in California for 25 years, she opposed bilingual education and ESL (English-as-a-second-language) programs because she observed that they cost too much, took too long, and didn't work. She used to say that If she had been subjected to ESL and bilingual education as kid she'd now be speaking "Yinglish," which she defined as Yiddish with an American accent and English with a Yiddish accent.

The only time I saw her linguistically livid was when a computerized telephone prompter said to her "If you wish to continue in English, press 1."

As for driving a car, her view was that "if you can't read English, you shouldn't have a driver's license." Since most U.S. road signs display words, she would ask: "Isn't it dangerous for someone who can't read English to drive in America?" She never fathomed the logic behind printing driver manuals at public expense in foreign languages and administering the written portion of the driving tests in those languages. No matter how good or bad your English was, she opposed driver education in public schools. A friend, relative, or private driving school should teach you how to drive.

In her time, if you had to go to a dentist, doctor, or hospital, and your English was poor, you asked a relative, friend, or neighbor to come along as your interpreter. She thought it was time to bring that custom back. She also thought that taxpayers shouldn't be paying for sex education. "That's the responsibility of parents and physicians. Besides, with all the money and effort the schools are expending on sex education, why do we have more unwed mothers [her generation never called them single parents] than ever before?"

Years ago, kids weren't bussed to school if they lived less than a mile or so away. They walked or they biked. If the community deemed walking and biking good for their health, the community expected that the bicycle and sneaker manufacturers would make that point at their expense. If they were fat because they were inactive and ate the wrong foods, their parents were the ones who got them off their duff and made them eat properly. No one needed or expected government advertisements to tell parents what to do.

Finally, there were no situational ethics and moral relativism when my mother-in-law was alive. There were only core values: patriotism, honesty, dependability, work, tolerance, respect, courtesy, charity, and the like. You learned them from parents, priests, ministers, or rabbis. They taught you the difference between right and wrong, and between good and evil. Long before you ever got to high school and college, parents, priests, ministers, and rabbis made sure you knew that actions have consequences and that you alone, not the government and not society, are responsible for what you say and what you do.

Edward Bernard Glick is a professor emeritus of political science at Temple University