There are several ways to kill a language. One is from non-use. Another is bleeding funding. The worst of all ringing, public, grammar deaths is the refusal to test for language competency — because then nothing is ever at stake in the acquisition and practice of the language and the student need not learn to correctly use the language in a context of consequence and deepened meaning.
New York is filled with people who either cannot speak English or who can speak nothing but.
Next week, students across the state will take Regents exams in foreign languages for the last time, as the state is dropping its tests in Spanish, French and Italian.
This will save $700,000 a year, or to put it another way, roughly the cost of policing a homestand at one of the baseball stadiums.
Do not be confused, dear citizens and students: the state still believes that it is important to learn foreign languages and culture before graduation.
Just not $700,000 important.
That is sad and staggering news from New York State. Siphoning off money for the formal testing of language competency dumbs down the entire notion of creating higher minds and expanded learning. Mastering more than one language is an invaluable gift that the State must always bestow upon its students — even if the cost becomes prohibitive — because to not do so is to give in to monothinking and non-pluralistic engagement in the world.
We owe it to our students to set high standards and then challenge them to meet those missions. We only know if the successes have been achieved by using standardized testing — and there is no grey area in language learning.
You are either syntactically correct or you are not. You either know the word for “cat” or you do not. There is no wiggle room in language mastery.
The language of our lives is necessarily mathematical and precise and we need that sort of unbending and strict clarity of purpose in language learning, and testing, because anything less plays down to our lower demons where “almost” and “trying” are preferred to “finishing” and “getting it done.” The State of New York should know the difference.