Thanks to America’s predictably poor performance in the latest round of PISA exams the education community is abuzz about our generation’s “Sputnik moment.” Everyone’s got a take on our nation’s math, science and readings deficiencies (you can read ours here).
Getting less attention is what CIA Director Leon Panetta recently had to say about America’s focus moving forward. Speaking at the Foreign Language Summit last week, he said:
“For the United States to get to where it needs to be will require a national commitment to strengthening America’s foreign language proficiency. A significant cultural change needs to occur. And that requires a transformation in attitude from everyone involved: individuals, government, schools and universities and the private sector.”
Really? Something besides math and reading skills to power the US into the 21st century? At the summit, even Arne sang the praises of a well-rounded education.
Talk of 21st-century learning tends to toss serious foreign language study (along with most other content) aside in favor of skills instruction. So it’s refreshing to hear officials acknowledge that 21st century learning necessitates the study of other cultures.
A teacher speaking at the summit said it well: “When schools adopt programs in Arabic, Chinese, Urdu, or another critically needed language, they are affirming the role of languages in a well-rounded education as well as the importance of including students in international dialogue.”
For this reason, among others, Common Core opposed a bill in California that would have effectively eliminated the state’s foreign language requirement for high school graduation. And we’ll continue to oppose any measure that narrows the purpose of education.
Panetta argues that foreign language skills will prepare the next-generation CIA to operate effectively. Taking his argument a step further — knowledge of other cultures will prepare the next generation of US citizens to contribute thoughtfully to an interconnected world.