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Topics in American Education: The mysterious case of unilingual graduates

Topics in American Education is a weekly blog that provides criticisms, points and counterpoints, and revealing information regarding the way that we, as well as all other students in the United States, are educated.
Graphic made by Julia Moss. Topics in American Education is a weekly blog that provides criticisms, points and counterpoints, and revealing information regarding the way that we, as well as all other students in the United States, are educated.

by Peter Diamond
Different students tend to approach their secondary education from different anglessome see high school as a necessary step to get into their top-choice college. Others see these four years as (shocker!) a time during which they learn skills in their classes that have long-term benefits, regardless of the next step in their schooling.
Neither of these students’ views is necessarily correct or incorrect, but anyone would likely agree that, to some degree, we are educated in order to develop the skills that allow us to contribute to our society in some way, whether or not this achievement stands on the other side of a university education. Therefore, this school and many others strive to teach us these necessary skills, which is why I was baffled to learn that studying a foreign language is not a graduation requirement from this school.
Currently, to graduate from this school, a student must complete 20 credits of English, 10 credits of science, 15 credits of history, 10 credits of mathematics, five credits of physical education and five credits of fine, performing and technical arts. Note that none of those obligations involve the study of a foreign language.
This is 2013, people. Immigration and international relations appear in the news every day, and all educational institutions have the opportunity to guide students to be able to understand, discuss and perhaps enter career paths that allow them to help solve these conflicts. In order to contribute accordingly, one must be bilingual. This relatively simple component seems obvious to me, yet apparently it’s not as obvious to the Newton Public Schools.
Bilingualism is necessary in our society because that quality of communication can make or break any situation or institution. Problems that governments worldwide face could often be solved, or at least addressed more intelligently, with superior communication and with so many of these global issues becoming international, the knowledge of at least one foreign language is paramount.
Although institutions such as the United Nations aid cross-cultural communication, bilingualism allows the average citizen to contribute. At an even smaller scale, speaking a foreign language has plenty of social benefits in the United States, as the ability to connect with one’s neighbor, whether he is United States-made or an immigrant, will help us all get along.
I recognize the fact that there are only 28 blocks in a week, and between other graduation requirements, support classes and vocational courses, many students don’t have time for five mandatory disciplines. The part that confuses me is why the study of a foreign language becomes optional, considering the aforementioned practical and societal benefits of bilingualism.
Therefore, I propose that certain credits in other disciplines become optional in order to make room for mandatory foreign language courses. Perhaps courses that have more intellectual stimulation than opportunities for real-life application, like world history I, which explores pre-modern world history beginning with the fall of the Roman empire, should become electives so that the 28 blocks can accommodate for a foreign language requirement.
Unfortunately, I frankly view any young adult in the United States today who doesn’t speak a foreign language to be behind on the times, and in that way, the Newton Public Schools fail to fully achieve the established goal of making its students ready to contribute to society, as any system of education should.
Read last week’s installment of Topics in American Education here.

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