Thursday, November 17, 2016

Still a Small World

Circles of Learning from ACTFL
by way of my Small World page.
A decade or so after revising our general-education requirements in a way that removed the study of foreign languages, my university (Bridgewater State) is considering revisions to the program. A lot of interesting ideas are being proposed, but to my utter dismay, none of the options would restore the study of foreign languages as a core requirement.

I encourage current colleagues and students to read the proposed changes and to participate in the online forum. Both are available on our campus intranet for currently-affiliated persons. 

Alumni and others interested in my contribution to the discussion can read my comments below. Unfortunately, I am too dumstruck by the omission of foreign languages to give much attention to the other parts of the proposal, though I did discuss them during an on-campus forum.

I was quite active in the debate at the time our requirement was reduced from two courses to zero; my Small World web page contains many of the arguments I made at that time.



The requirement to complete the equivalent of two semesters in a language other than English was removed when the current Core Curriculum was enacted. I do not think this decision was evidence-based, and I do not think that the efficacy of this decision has been assessed.

I am doubtful, though, of that any benefit has accrued to our students or to the region or the world as a whole. Granting four-year degrees without a meaningful language requirement borders on malpractice; it conveys a false sense of equivalent accomplishment with other four-year programs.

Our students are disadvantaged in many professional settings in our own region -- and certainly abroad -- if they do not choose to study a second or third language as undergraduates. Moreover, they are distinctly disadvantaged if hoping to pursue graduate education, particularly at the doctoral level.

Most students enter with at least some competency in a foreign language, since high schools typically require more language learning than does BSU. We should be BUILDING on that by requiring the equivalent of third- or fourth-semester study. The impact on most students would still be around 6 credits.

The current model and all of the proposed alternatives present language study as an option, giving students "choice" in the matter. But this is flawed in two ways. First, it is our responsibility to allow only for choices that are associated with the best possible education we can provide. Otherwise, why have a core curriculum at all? Second, the lack of a requirement leads to an impoverishment of our offerings. Students CHOOSING to study a language have quite a short list already, and we risk taking serious study of languages off of the menu if we are not careful.

Here at BSU, we often consult the practices of peer institutions for some guidance on our decisions. I do not want to see us continue to "lead" other institutions in the reduction of language learning. 

In these increasingly xenophobic times, this is no way to show leadership in global education.

(For those who do not know me or do not know me well, I have studied several languages and although I am not fluent in any besides English (arguably), I have high-intermediate competence in both Spanish and Portuguese. I use both regularly in my teaching, and model the value of even moderate competence for my students. Some of them find themselves in the position of far exceeding my modest example, and this gives me constant encouragement.)

James Hayes-Bohanan, Geography & Coffee
(Posted to Core Curriculum forum, November 17, 2016)

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