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Foreign language should not be required for high school

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Published: Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Updated: Saturday, October 10, 2009 11:10

Recently, Roy Barnes suggested that high schools should drop the requirement to take two years of foreign language classes for a college-prep diploma.

The proposal faced immediate opposition from GOP contenders for state government offices, teachers groups and scores of letter writers across the state.

Their basic argument was purely rhetorical.

"How dare we lower standards when our state already has the lowest SAT scores in the nation, " they cried.

Sometimes, pundits offered dubious statistics linking foreign language achievement to higher SAT scores as proof that we must keep forcing students to take the classes.

Unfortunately, such posturing clouds the real issue of whether we are doing enough to teach students in the core areas of English, history, math and science.

Barnes believes that learning a foreign language is beneficial; he does not believe it is so crucial that the state must demand it be taught to students who would like to attend college.

"When you get right down to it, should foreign language decide whether or not you can go to college?" Chairwoman of the State Board of Education Cathy Henson said. "We are simply looking at all the barriers in the way. We need to give kids a chance to be successful."

The best way to do that is not to mandate what students should learn but to give them more options.

Offer students classes to master technology like Flash, Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Provide classes in logic, etymology and ecology (the most important neglected science). Teach high school students ethics, philosophy and comparative religion.

Improve English classes and broaden the scope of history that students learn.

While many universities require foreign language of incoming freshman, most do not. A student who has proven they could succeed in an environment that resembled a microcosm of the university would be more impressive to admissions officers than one who has merely navigated themselves through four years in a state-run babysitting institution.

The youth of this state are not dumb.

They are bored and frustrated with knowledge that is irrelevant to their lives.

They generally receive guidance from overpaid, incompetent advisors.

The expectations are low and the students live up to them.

The fact that students who take foreign languages in high school do better on theSATs does not demonstrate any correlation between the classes and the score; it is merely because college-bound students are required to take them.

While knowledge of Greek and Latin (and to a lesser extent, German and French) certainly help on the verbal sections of standardized tests, it is not necessary to take two or three years.

A simple class on the origins and history of the English language would be far more useful.

I also doubt how much more cultured foreign language classes make students.

Culture is learned through experience and immersion.

Having a "culture day" where Spanish students bring enchiladas and tacos to class (and French students scratch their heads wondering if an éclair from Dunkin Donuts is "French food") is farcical.

This does not mean that we should eliminate foreign language programs from schools. Where it is possible, the state should concentrate foreign language programs into magnet schools.

For that matter, we need much more emphasis on magnet and charter school programs.

Focusing talents and interests will go much further than attempts to homogenize and standardize education ever could. Ultimately, any move to force students to learn is doomed to failure.

Knowledge is something that is sought, not taught.

As the bastardized old saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him put on swimming trunks."

We should give people as many paths to choose from as possible.

Supporting antiquated requirements will not help the children's future.

Our collective creativity and perseverance will guide us to a more fitting solution.

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