It’s time to determine which of us is the real screwball: Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County public schools or Gregory Kane, curmudgeonly columnist with an attitude.
About a month ago Dance gave a speech in Baltimore County. He told his listeners that the time had come to up the ante when it comes to educating America’s youngsters.
Dance is only responsible for those in Baltimore County, but he’s already decided that, if a high school diploma from that locale is to mean anything at all, it should mean that all students graduate fluent in a foreign language. Yeah, he said it!
Dance wants students to start learning a foreign language in elementary school, not middle school. The goal is to give students an edge that will allow them to compete for—and find— better jobs and earn higher incomes.
The superintendent is on to something. I’m just surprised that few have challenged him on the notion of having Baltimore County students— or American students in any city, county or state, for that matter— graduate high school fluent in a foreign language.
There are some that feel it’s a struggle for American schools to graduate high school proficient in English, which is supposed to be our native language.
So no one’s used the “n” word, “nut” to describe Dance for proposing high school students graduate bilingual, but I sure got the treatment several years ago.
I was still a columnist at The Baltimore Sun. Unlike Dance, I didn’t write a piece suggesting that American students graduate high school bilingual, fluent in a foreign language.
I wrote a piece suggesting that Americans require our high school students to graduate fluent in at least two foreign languages, not one. No wonder I got called a “nut.”
However, I still think my proposal is better than Dance’s. If American students have the aptitude to learn one foreign language, then that means they sure as heck have the aptitude to learn at least two.
In my column in The Sun, I suggested that the foreign languages might be French and Spanish. Then I got an e-mail from a guy on the West Coast. He is an Asian American who e-mailed me regularly. (He’s a conservative living in the San Francisco area, so he immediately had my deepest sympathy.)
American students learning French and Mandarin, he told me, would make better sense than their learning French and Spanish.
We both agreed on the French. Next to English, it is probably an international language. (Most of the world’s amateur athletic bodies have French names. I’m not sure why, but I suspect colonialism’s legacy has quite a bit to do with that.)
More people in the world speak Mandarin, my Asian American pal reasoned, than speak Spanish. China, the country where Mandarin is spoken, is a rising economic, military and industrial power, he contended, much more so than any Spanish-speaking nation on the globe.
He’s absolutely right, of course. With the rising tide of immigrants— legal and illegal, not that America’s open borders crowd wishes to make that distinction— that speak Spanish coming to our nation, it might make sense to have American high school students graduate speaking Spanish.
However, considering the rising impact that the People’s Republic of China has— and will continue to have— on the world then the better choice is, indeed, Mandarin over Spanish.
That will benefit American students whether their native tongue is English or Spanish. The bottom line is that a world in which it might become a necessity to speak, or at least understand, Mandarin is in their future.