Albert Einstein once mused that, "In the middle of difficulty lies
opportunity." That lesson holds great value when applied to handling and
reacting to public wants and desires - especially where education and money
The Columbia County Board of Education finds itself in an unenviable
position where a majority of parents want to implement a countywide foreign
language program; however, the school administration insists it's not
affordable. Herein lies the difficulty.
Faced with this challenging situation, perhaps the trustees should approach
this decision as it would any policy decision by asking two very
straightforward questions: "'Is this endeavor realistic?' and 'Will it truly
benefit our students?'" If the answer to both is "yes," then our Board
members should weed through the inevitable naysayers and aggressively seek
out the best way to make it happen. Plain and simple. You'd be amazed how
quickly school administrators fall in line when a majority of the board
Few would deny that Americans fluent in other languages enhance our nation's
economic competitiveness, improve global communication and maintain our
political and security interests. This position is seemingly not lost on the
Columbia County school system mission statement, which boasts of striving to
develop world-class citizens. That's a splendid sentiment, but we should
probably do more to fulfill this lofty goal than simply write about it. We
must aggressively support curricula that actually look beyond county, state
and national boundaries.
Leading research shows that learning a foreign language is easier when
taught at a young age. Dr. Susan Curtiss, a noted professor of Linguistics
at UCLA, studied the way children learn languages. She concluded that in
language development, the power to learn language is so great in the young
child that it does not seem to matter how many languages you expose them to.
Their brain is "ripe" for this learning. She found that when children wait
until high school to start studying a foreign language, the job gets much
harder. The task then involves learning the rules of grammar, translating,
reading and trying to develop language learning strategies.
I respectfully submit that our school leaders are long overdue in providing
a clear commitment to growing the foreign language program to include not
only a select few, but for all children in our system. Let us not forget
that elementary foreign language instruction has been used successfully as a
pilot program in our county for over seven years, all accomplished without
the need to eliminate any P.E., music or art classes.
The real question before the board is not whether the school system can pay
for a comprehensive K-8 foreign language program, but rather, how can it
afford not to? The board should consider examining the budget to find
opportunities for funding - literally line-by-line, if necessary.
There are a number of cost-cutting measures that can be explored: reducing
administrator travel and associated dues and conferences; restructuring
future sales tax allocations to relieve general budget items such as bus
expenditures; revising our energy consumption plan to include negotiating
lower utility rates; not filling non-essential personnel positions as they
become vacant through attrition and retirement; and better use of
professional grant writers at the county level to secure federal, state and
local funds and/or endowments for the benefit of our schools.
Admittedly, these ideas are neither new nor comprehensive. But why
shouldn't they be a part of an objective process of identifying viable
funding solutions? Keeping the status quo and rubber-stamping administration
recommendations is no longer an option during these tough economic times.
Einstein also said insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and
expecting different results." As good as our student achievement results
are, we can do better. While we currently exceed many state and national
testing standards, we should insist that our school system take the next
step and offer a more comprehensive, global perspective to academic
offerings for our K-8 students. To do so, our elected officials must respond
to constituent wishes and provide definitive leadership that implements a
countywide foreign language program without further delay.
A genuine, world-class education hangs in the balance.
(Donald Porter, a Martinez resident, is guidance coordinator and statistical
analyst for the Guidance, Testing and Research Department of the Richmond
County Board of Education, and father of two children who attend Stevens
Creek Elementary School.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.