Sunday, July 26, 2009

State of Absurdity

Some days it seems like I can't read the newspaper without getting annoyed. This time it was the article about the state Department of Public Health requiring barbers and hairdressers to "pass a state licensing exam in English or, if an applicant has earned a license in a state that gives exams in languages other than English, they must pass an English proficiency test."

Waterbury will begin inspecting salons later this year and will inform the state DPH of any barbers or hairdressers who are unlicensed. On the surface, that sounds perfectly reasonable. The problem is that Waterbury is an immigrant city, full of Dominicans, Mexicans, Albanians and others who do not speak or read English. Granted, they will in theory have had several months to prepare and pass the licensing exam, but imagine trying to pass an exam in a language you don't speak. That can't be easy.

First level of absurdity: since when has proficiency in English had any bearing on someone's ability to be a good hairdresser?

Second level of absurdity, as printed in the Republican-American: "But the state Department of Public Health said it is too expensive to offer the state exam in other languages, at least right now while the state is grappling with its huge budget deficit, Gonzalez said. It won’t allow translators out of fear of cheating, she said."

Actually, I think that's the second and third levels. Too expensive? If this is a written exam, how expensive can it possibly be to hire translators for the most common languages? At most, probably fifty grand. Balance that against the number of barbers and hairdressers who will become unemployed because the test is available only in English. Add to the mix the number of empty storefronts and the loss of revenue from those businesses.

Connecticut will lose tax revenue if they shut down businesses because the state refuses to spend the money to translate the test.

As for fear of cheating, if the test is a written exam, I don't see how cheating is a problem. Hire reputable college professors to do the translation. If the test is an oral exam, well, there's just as much a risk of cheating in English as there is in any other language.

When my great-grandparents came to this country one hundred years ago, they spoke no English but were able to support themselves and their family by starting their own business. I wonder if they would have had a harder time doing that today, or if the difficulties and challenges, while not the same, are equivalent?

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