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Lisa Rinehart, Published January 12 2011

The choice to be uninformed is arrogant and ignorant

In response to Jason McDonald’s letter (Jan. 9) regarding the literacy skills of the “unreal” Americans:

The biggest problem that seems to exist about this issue is ignorance. I would like to know how McDonald knew the people he observed could not read, write or speak English. Did he ask them? Is it possible they choose to speak their native language because they were conversing with others who speak the same language?

I would like McDonald to imagine this: One day out of the blue there is a war, and you are suddenly taken from North Dakota and sent to live in the middle of Somalia with only the clothes on your back. You are not familiar with the culture, the climate, or the language. However, you are expected to learn the language, adapt to the culture, get a job, and be a productive member of the new community of which you are now a part. And you are supposed to do it right now.

In addition, any higher education or employment experience you had prior to arriving doesn’t matter because of the language barrier. Last, more than likely, you will have to depend on public transportation to attend the necessary classes to learn the language. You will need to learn the language to get a job. However, you don’t have money for public transportation, therefore you will have to walk to class. How well do you think you would fare? Welcome to the reality of many of the refugees who live in Fargo.

Another reality is this: It takes anywhere from one to three years to be functional in conversational English and anywhere from seven to 10 years or longer to be functional in academic language. While refugees do receive government assistance for a limited time while they are learning English, this assistance often ends before their English skills are developed enough for the local job market demands. As a result, whereas many refugees may still receive assistance for the basics such as food, medical care and housing; they no longer receive cash assistance, and therefore attending English classes is a challenge during the winter months because they have no money for bus fare.

The final reality is this: uninformed presumptuousness is arrogant ignorance. I would like to ask McDonald who he claims the “real” Americans are. To my knowledge, there are no Native American tribes called “the McDonalds.” In regard to his label of the person he observed as “this waste-of-life person,” perhaps McDonald should look in the mirror before making such strong comments.


Rinehart is an ESL instructor, Fargo Adult Learning Center.