Posting in Cities
All K-12 students in Macon will be required to take Mandarin as part of a program phasing in over the next three years. Is the policy onerous or forward-thinking?
Pop quiz: How do you say "hello" in Mandarin?
Over the next three years, public school children in Macon, Ga., will be required to answer that question. The district has just mandated courses in Mandarin Chinese for every K-12 student to be phased in over time starting with the youngest children, reports NPR.
Local officials say the move is practical: By 2050, when many of these children will be at the height of their careers, China and India are predicted to account for about half of the world's gross domestic product (GDP). The school system is looking to a local Chinese language center, the Confucious Institute, for teachers.
"They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price," Romain Dallemand, the superintendent of the Bibb County school system, told NPR.
But, as you might expect, the move is creating controversy. After all, this is a district where most of the 25,000 students qualify for free or reduce lunches. What's more, about half of the kids won't graduate.
"Bibb County is not known for producing the highest-achieving graduates," one Macon resident told NPR. "You'll see that many of them can't even speak basic English."
The move, which apparently was a surprise, raises the question of what languages should be taught or required in U.S. schools.
Compared with other leading economies, people who graduate from the U.S. public school system aren't usually fluent in any language other than English, even though that isn't officially the language of the United States, only the de facto one. Yet, in an increasingly global economy, being able to converse in another language will be incredibly important.
Over the weekend, my father (a Canadian who speaks French and Portuguese) related a story to me about a speech he gave in Brazil at a business conference about the cocoa industry. He delivered about half of his talk in the country's language, which freaked out the American attendees and got a standing ovation from everywhere else -- because he took the time to try.
That incident was at least 25 years ago, and over time the need for businesspeople to become much more sensitive to other cultures and languages has become all the more acute.
Personally, I think we do a disservice to children if we don't require some sort of language fluency when they graduate from the public school system.
Even if a child doesn't have an interest in the global economy, this would have incredible value at home. In the airport last week, I saw an airport ticket agent translating information for a Chinese tourist. Later, when I was visiting a family member in a Florida hospital, several of the nurses switched back and forth between English and Spanish multiple times during the few hours I was there.
Which language to learn is a much thornier question.
Spanish is the second most widely used language spoken in the United States but the influence of Asian and Pacific island languages is on the rise. In mid-2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that approximately 20 percent of the population speaks some language other than English at home.
Should language choices be made based on the demographic make-up of the district in which a public school is located or focused on what might be helpful in a future career? That's a question that more schools will be pondering in the future, along with all the other choices they will need to make.
Sep 10, 2012
Two years of a foreign language is now a requirement for graduation from Michigan public high schools. As well as a requirement for admission to major universities nation wide. My son was really ticked that his high school only offers Spanish because they've had a hard time recruiting teachers in any other language. He'd love to learn german, chinese (either dialect), french... anything other than run-of-the-mill spanish! LOL!
Foreign language study used to be standard for high school students who intended to go on to a university. It was a good idea then & remains so now. Most students will not go on to a university, with a few exceptions among the many districts around the country. Foreign language study is a part of a bigger question of how grade schools should adjust their curricula to that reality. Mandating the study of 1 particular language is unusual. A language that looks useful today may not be 10 years from now. And Mandarin, unlike Euro languages like Spanish, has nothing in common with English making it harder to pick up.
How about addressing the violence and disapline problems before you get all excited about teaching Mandarin. http://www.schooldigger.com/go/GA/district/00420/search.aspx http://www.gpb.org/news/2012/09/07/violence-in-bibb-schools-underreported http://www.macon.com/2012/09/06/2165875/report-blasts-bibb-county-school.html
My northern kindergarten class included Spanish lessons - in 1960. Sadly we moved to a new home in another less progressive school district before those beginner's lessons could evolve to something meaningful. Look where we are today. Many nations require English in their schools. And those nations do a ripe business in the English speaking world. I have no problems with a school district including Mandarin in their cirricula.
My wife and I like watching Bollywood and Korean movies and TV series. Most of these are sub-titled, although a rare few have been dubbed into English. The Bollywood films in particular are very interesting - the characters will be speaking back and forth in Hindi, and then there will be a string of English words embedded in the conversation. Very intriguing. Learn a second language? You bet, and the choice of which one is just about as important as the commitment of learning it. A lot of that choice can be based on what one's career aims are, but that doesn't really help the youngest children. This sounds to me like judgment calls all around. Some will be more relevant than others, but the important thing is to make the call.
What matters is that they're exposed to one, or many foreign languages and cultures. Myopia is tugging this nation in one direction, opposite of a global society.
I'm in 80% agreement with you. We (USA) are myopic and it's killing us. However, exposure to foreign languages is not enough. HS students should be functionally fluent in one language as a college entrance requirement. ...and WHICH languages does matter... I've never been a fan of localizing for illegal aliens. My wife and daughter are foreign speakers and localized driver's manuals helped them, but they entered the country legally. My opposition to "localizing for illegal aliens" has more to do with the politics, policy, and pressure than anything else. As a talkshow host in the mid-70s, I advocated learning the languages of the people immigrating to this country. We clearly need to be teaching Spanish, Putonghua, and perhaps one more relevant language. Hindi ain't it. The Indian people I work with communicate among themselves in English because they all speak different and mutually exclusive dialects, so learning Hindi isn't very beneficial as a practical matter.