BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published February 13, 2013
In a stunning blow to education and diversity, state Rep. Phil Potvin introduced a bill that would remove foreign language requirements in high schools earlier this month. Potvin argued that Michigan’s current curriculum standards, which began to include world languages in graduation requirements in 2010, “forces kids into frustration,” which pushes students to drop out of high school. While Potvin believes his bill will protect Michigan’s students, in reality, his proposal will do exactly the opposite. If Michigan legislators wish to keep the state’s students competitive in both college admissions and the job market, they shouldn’t pass Potvin’s bill. Foreign language must remain a top priority for educators and students in the state.
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Under the curriculum changes implemented in 2010, Michigan students are required to take at least two credits of a language other than English in order to graduate high school. While this was a good step in ensuring global education for Michigan’s students, foreign language classes should be implemented from an even younger age — which many schools already offer — and certainly not done away with all together. Though researchers disagree on the specific time when studying a foreign language becomes more difficult, most agree that before puberty is the best time to learn a new language. The brain plasticity theory argues that the younger the brain, the more receptive it is to learning a new language. These studies suggest that foreign language studies would be more successful at younger ages, ensuring that these classes would no longer be a “frustration,” as Potvin contends.
Many colleges, public and private alike, require a foreign language when a student is applying. At the University, for example, two years of high-school foreign language is required for consideration, while four years are highly recommended by the Office of Admissions. Often, high-school students don’t begin finalizing future plans until later in their high-school career, when it’s too late to begin a four-year foreign language requirement for an application. By keeping, and even expanding the foreign language requirement in Michigan public schools, students would be more prepared for college when the time comes. Furthermore, for students who don’t plan on immediately entering higher education, foreign language skills are critical in the workforce. According to Euro London, a multilingual recruitment agency, bilingual workers can expect to earn 10 to 15 percent more than English-only speakers. Whether it’s the U.S. government or international business, experience in multiple languages attracts countless employers throughout the world. Removing this requirement in Michigan schools will not protect Michigan students as Potvin argues; rather, it will only make them less desirable to both universities and employers.
The foreign language curriculum in Michigan public schools should be reviewed to make sure that the classes teach more than vocabulary. Foreign language classes offer students an opportunity to engage in cultures that don’t otherwise fit into the high school curriculum. World language educators have an opportunity to break stereotypes, and explore identities that Michigan students may not otherwise experience. Michigan’s current language requirements can offer students exposure to different cultures — and it would be ill-conceived to remove that opportunity.