The sad decline of foreign language programs

I read a very sad news article today.  Well, sad only to linguists and Germanophiles like me, probably.  The Saddleback Valley Unified School District in California has become the latest in a long list of school districts to seriously cut back their foreign language program, eliminating their German program completely.

The article states, “According to district officials, limited interest led to the decision to cancel its German introductory courses”, which is just sadder.  And the article also mentions that foreign language instruction is not required by either state or federal guidelines, but most colleges do expect applicants to have two or three years of foreign language.

How do colleges expect students to have two to three years of foreign language instruction if school districts across the nation are ending or seriously decreasing their foreign language programs?  And how can we expect school districts to keep offering foreign language programs if foreign language is not required by either state or federal standards?  With increasing budget woes, the first programs that have to be cut are those that are not part of the graduation requirements: foreign language, art, music, etc.

That becomes the core of the issue for me: Why isn’t foreign language, art, or music part of the state or national graduation requirements?  Why do we feel, as a nation, that these subjects are less important?

The way I see it, a national standard for education has to exist as long as there is federal funding for schools.  If we, as taxpayers, are going to giving money to schools we need to have some way of making sure they are doing their jobs properly.  I get that.  But why does the standard only apply to English, Math, and Science?  Who decided that those subjects are the core and all others are elective?

So, what is the purpose of a public education?  It is to prepare our children for the world, not just for the workforce, but for life.  Why do we feel that only English, Math, and Science fit that?  Foreign Language and Art and Music help children’s cognitive development.   It is learning to think in a different way that expands their horizons.

And learning a foreign language, especially German, is a great benefit to students learning English.  As I have studied German, the grammar and linguistics of it, I have found myself understanding principles of English that teachers were never able to explain satisfactorily.  But, that’s probably a different issue — the fact that our English classes seem to be completely devoted to reading and writing, and never touch upon the linguistic reasons that the language is the way it is.

Most students, even most people, find the difference between “I” and “me” very confusing.  I know that I was told that I was to never use the phrase “Joe and me”, that it should always be “Joe and I”.  That’s just wrong.  There are certain instances where “Joe and me” is correct.  Like, “He threw the ball to Joe and me.”  An understanding of case and explicit linguistic instruction easily explain this.  (I is in the nominative case and is used as the subject of a sentence, me is in the accusative class and is used as the object or indirect object of the sentence.)

Language instruction is important. It is so very important.  Why is it not considered a “core” subject?  If English is, why not foreign language?  Why not music, which is itself a foreign language and teaches children a different way of thinking.  We need to educate our children, not just school.

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2 thoughts on “The sad decline of foreign language programs

  1. While I see it as a sad thing to discontinue, money has to come from somewhere (ideally away from administration/unions and back into the schools). That being said, I still believe schools are meant to school, and that’s all they should be expected to do (extra is great, but not essential). The true extra education is instead better done in the homes: surround a child with art, literature, and music, and it doesn’t take much to spark the child’s learning.

    1. dteeps

      Those area valid points. What I find depressingly ironic is that most colleges expect foreign language experience as a way of determining admissions, but we are cutting foreign language programs all across the country. When schools are so concerned about other metrics that will help their students get into good colleges, why do they not continue fostering foreign language and other arts that make good, well-rounded students?

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