If you have fond memories of your middle or high school foreign language classes, be sure to pass them onto your kids—and quickly—because the number of opportunities for them to gain the same memories through enriching language classes is steadily decreasing.
Traditionally included in most core curricula starting in middle school and continuing through high school, foreign language programs are being reduced and removed across the United States. Chicago’s Central Middle School is the most recent in a long line of cutting sprees. Officials at Central are choosing to drop their Spanish requirement for seventh and eighth graders, and are instead implementing an elective curriculum where students can take home economics, art, technology or other similar classes.
Central Middle School is not the first school to choose courses that favor the trades over foreign languages. The sad truth is, many schools no longer have the time or the resources to teach all of the material they think their students should learn. Budget restraints are causing schools all over the country to engage in fierce debates that often end in the elimination of entire programs. Foreign language programs are all too often victims of the cuts. By cutting foreign languages like Latin, German, French and Spanish, we send the message that foreign languages are no longer an important part of a middle or high school education.
It is, however, quite the contrary. Although the trades taught at schools like Central Middle School are useful, it is more important than ever to be affluent with the study of languages other than our native ones. The construct of our global society forces every country to interact with one another in some capacity. Because foreign language classes focus on culture in addition to language components, students gain important perspectives and appreciation for relevant cultural differences, diminishing xenophobia and other intolerances that hinder such interactions. In a world of international exchange, the ability to learn and utilize a foreign language is truly vital. International companies are growing, and they seek globally competent employees. By cutting off the resources with which our young students can learn languages, we not only run the risk of reducing our kids’ long-term career opportunities, but we also risk cutting off the entire country from the growing global market, which could hurt us all economically, intellectually and culturally.