Monday, January 28, 2013

Global Orientation

At the last Board of Education meeting, in addition to dealing with the critical issue of security, we also continued our discussion of FLES—the teaching of language at the elementary school level as well as our discussion of a world languages orientation. Often, at the college level, students look to minimize their course work in foreign languages. But in a global environment, where English is not the only world language, such an orientation is clearly short sighted.

The recommendation of the Superintendent, which we accepted, was that students would begin learning Mandarin in kindergarten. From kindergarten until third grade, Mandarin would be the only foreign language option, after which a student could decide to take Spanish instead of Mandarin. Both are key world languages and both are being taught at an ideal developmental time for our kids. Then in seventh grade, students would once again have a choice, this time between continuing with Mandarin or Spanish or beginning French, Italian, or Latin. Each of the additional language options is an important and valuable alternative that works well strengthening the academic preparedness of our students. For me, my priority in an extricably interwoven world would be the world languages that will dominate the 21st century. But there are other good and valid reasons for studying other important languages and as a school board member, I am pleased we are providing these language options. All serve an important purpose.

In making this decision, there is another important part of the equation that needs to be factored in here, as it does for the security issue that I discussed last week. We are living in a time where resources for schools are constrained, often as in this area, via a tax cap that effectively limits increases. As we increase our options in and commitment to foreign languages, are there areas where we will be less able to provide the options or the commitment that would also serve well the needs of our kids. Will we be able to do less in the vital STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas? We know how competitive the world economy is today; doing less in STEM would not be a wise strategy. Will be need to offer less in the arts or music? Will athletics suffer? All have a tremendous value in the education of our children. Should we let class size increase? Reduce the time in class for various subjects, etc? Or will we do less than is called for in the security area? In addition, there are recommendations to increase the length of the school day or the school year that we are hearing more frequently. How compatible are these with the constraints we are facing?

I am an advocate for not raising taxes and not raising government spending but I am also a realist. Important priorities for our children or our country should not fall victim to arbitrary taxing and spending constraints.

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