New English in New England

As the dominant newspaper of New England, the Boston Globe influences informed opinion throughout a region containing six states, nearly fifteen million people, and endless numbers of quaint cobble-stoned towns, stained in the history of centuries. But most importantly, this region also contains the bulk of the elite universities that constitute the Ivy League, such as Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Brown, and many hundreds perhaps even thousands of other important places of learning.

If Silicon Valley represents the technology center of America, Hollywood the entertainment center, Wall Street the financial center, and Washington the political center, then a plausible case might be made that New England represents our nation’s intellectual center, the location where both visionary scholars and hare-brained academics alike cook up the major ideas which will gradually propagate to lesser centers of learning through America and even the world, and then eventually, after an uncertain interval of ten or twenty years, filter down to Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street, and Washington. Today, philanthropists in Palo Alto, politicians in DC, professors in Denver, and school superintendents in Texas all are drawing their current policy ideas likely as not from an ultimate source of New England intellectual capital, probably without even so realizing those origins.

Thus, it was hardly surprising that when three decades ago Massachusetts, the principal component of New England, became the first part of America to establish a statewide mandate for so-called “bilingual education,” this policy was soon copied from New Jersey to Houston. And the probable collapse of this policy in its original Massachusetts home has more than symbolic importance nationwide.

This weekend morning, hundreds of thousands of New England residents, many of them professors or students, stumbled out of bed, picked up their Sunday Globe, and noticed the front-page headline indicating growing support for replacing bilingual education with English immersion among the actual teachers and administrators who daily deal with immigrant students. As our initiative campaign moves toward November 2002, additional such headlines and such stories may grow increasingly common, thereby shaping the views of the people who shape the views of students drawn from across the world.

Ideas have consequences. People who generate ideas are consequential. Political campaigns that shape and redirect the ideas of such people are most consequential of all, at least in the long run.

One hundred million dollars of political advertising at election time, perhaps funded by oceans of gullible wealth from Silicon Valley or Hollywood or Wall Street, would probably not have the long-term strategic impact of the two or three thousand dollars we have so far spent in Massachusetts, and the news stories already generated by that trivial amount of cash.

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