Theres a mix of good news and bad as a result of the Columbia County school systems study of foreign language instruction.
The good news? Foreign language instruction is valuable, and the committee that studied it believes lessons in a second language should begin in kindergarten and continue into high school.
The bad news? Some people believe we cant, or wont, afford it, without even knowing what it would cost.
And some people are just afraid of change.
Government agencies have a history of following a quote from H.L. Mencken: A committee is a cul-de-sac into which an idea is led to be strangled. In the school system, it often seems committees are formed to bury an idea, or place a stamp of legitimacy on a preconceived plan.
The committee studying an elected school board chairman, for example, fits both categories. If the committee or school trustees dont talk they idea to death, they may create a report reflecting the bias against the concept. The task force chairman, Don Thorn-hill, is too good a man to get stuck with busywork. I hope thats not happening.
The foreign language committee, at first, appeared to be the latter type of group - laying the groundwork for decisions that had already been made. But something happened, according to parents who participated: Com-mittee members, at first told elementary foreign language was too expensive, were later refocused by Superintendent Tommy Price.
According to those parents, Price told them to determine what was best for education and to let trustees and the school system worry about the cost.
The result was a strong series of recommendations for the way foreign language is taught in Columbia County schools:
Continue the expansion of foreign language into middle schools.
Implement foreign language in all elementary schools, starting with kindergarten, adding first grade the following year, and continuing until all grades receive foreign language instruction.
Add a conversational language program for high school students.
Youre talking about major curriculum change, Price recently told trustees. I think weve got an obligation to get this information to the community . You cant expect to put this in every grade and not have a big price tag, but if the community wants it, thats what we need to do.
Already, the school system is hiring new teachers to expand middle school foreign language next year (only after broad hints that the program would be phased out). Thats a good first step. The next step should be to continue on the committees priority list by adding foreign language to elementary curriculum.
Look, I know there are plenty of folks who say, Dont they need to learn English first? They fail to understand one enhances the other. One of those people was school board member Lee Muns. But he has become a convert, strongly supporting expansion (sometimes a little too strongly) and seeking answers on the cost of more language education - not to kill it, but to start finding the money.
Whatever the cost, where would the money come from? You and me, the taxpayers. Were getting a bargain right now for our public school system - beating state and national achievement numbers, while spending hundreds less per student even at the countys higher-cost Title 1 schools.
The committee studied foreign language, learned how valuable it is, and gave us a roadmap for implementation of a world-class educational system. All we have to do is invest in the transportation to get there - and try not to get sticker shock.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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