Last week, I read that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools had cut graduation requirements. Starting with next school year's freshmen next school year, the number of credits to graduate will be reduced from 28 to 24. In addition, foreign language will no longer be required. Supposedly the school board voted to reduce the number of credits needed to graduate to encourage students to, among other things, travel abroad. Really? Then why isn't foreign language still a requirement? Furthermore, why would you not require foreign language when it is a requirement for admission to most colleges and universities?
I find it appalling that these changes were made, thereby setting up students to fail. Although I understand that all students will not go to college, I do not understand why the school system would not prepare them so that they are competitive candidates regardless of whether they decide to attend college. What if they change their minds, which is something that young people tend to do? Even those who are not attending can still benefit from learning a foreign language. More than likely, they will interact with a public made up of diverse populations, particularly in the workplace.
How sad is it that some of our students will miss out on jobs not only because they lack a college education, but also because they do not have basic knowledge of a foreign language. Is CMS paying attention to the changing demographics of Charlotte and the United States? For example, Spanish is needed now more than ever because it is spoken by many members of the largest minority group in the country, who will be the majority in many places very soon. So, why wouldn't you want your kids to learn the language so that they can be effective communicators and competitive in academic, professional and trade environments. Why would we set our children up for failure?
Supposedly, guidance counselors and teachers will have the task of ensuring that students know that if they do not take a foreign language, then it will decrease their chances of obtaining admission to an accredited college or university. Once again, we make it the responsibility of others to make sure that our children fare well in the world. I went to public school and had great guidance counselors and teachers, so I am not suggesting that they will not do it. In my experience, teachers and guidance counselors probably will break their necks trying to ensure that students know the consequences of not taking a foreign language. But why would you leave something that important to chance?
What will happen instead is that some kid will not listen, follow instructions or take the time to know the requirements for himself and will ultimately blame teachers and counselors for his inability to go to college because of this oversight. God forbid if CMS reduces the number of foreign language classes since they are no longer required. There will be hell to pay when lawsuits surface from students claiming the they could not "fit" foreign languages into their course schedules, thereby preventing them from attending college.
Really, has anyone thought of how these measures will impact educational outcomes? Did anyone bother to look at the lawsuits in California, Michigan or Illinois?
What's more troubling about this situation is that there appears to have been no response from the parents or students, those who will be impacted most greatly by these measures. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, there are many benefits to being bilingual. Some include intellectual stimulation and growth, greater sensitivity to language, a better ear for listening, a head start on language requirements for college, increased job opportunities, and most importantly, improvement of a child's understanding of his or her native language.
I often say that I did not truly know English until I took Latin. Latin, though not a conversational language, helped enhance my vocabulary and better understand the parts of speech and sentence structure. Studying French made me want to go abroad, helped me learn coined terms and stimulated my interested in French cinema. Foreign languages have major benefits.
I am not convinced that these changes were made to help students; instead, I feel, they were made to improve graduation rates. It is a sad day when we lower student requirements in order to accommodate underperforming students and to make administrators look like they are doing a better job than they actually are. I thought it was the role of adults to set high standards and the role of students to meet them.
This poor decision reflects our growing culture of catering to children and giving them the easy way out in order to make things easier for us. Whom will they blame when they are unable to go to school or get a job because they are passed over for an applicant who did take a foreign language? They will blame CMS, instead of their parents or themselves who should be raging against these measures, as opposed to the deafening silence that has resulted.
Again I ask, how can we consider ourselves a "world-class" city when we are not preparing our students for success in the world? CMS has made a colossal mistake. Parents and students have cosigned on it by not railing against it. Unfortunately, it is our children who will ultimately pay for it.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College and editorial director for RushmoreDrive.com.