Languages are important. Las lenguas son importantes. Les langues sont importantes. Sprachen sind wichtig. This is the message that foreign language teachers were suddenly feeling the urgency to make clear about two months ago. In an ever-increasing technological world, some states have already implemented a curriculum change that would allow computer science and coding to take the place of a foreign language requirement in high schools and colleges. Foreign languages are required at many schools because of the cultural awareness, communication skills, and global perspective they give to kids. But as the country and world become more tech based, some argue that computer science is as much a necessary “language” for kids to be learning as they enter into the career force. Our representative to the state legislature Chris Reykdal recently introduced his version of the bill that would allow computer science to be a foreign language credit or substitution, to The House.
Part of Reykdal’s reasoning stems from the late introduction of foreign languages in kids’ education. “If we were serious, we would put language in our elementary schools when the brain is mapping in a different way, and we would have kids fluent by 6th or 7th grade,” he said to arstechnica.com. “By high school, it’s just a way for kids to get into college. If we’re serious about language, we should embed it earlier.” He also addressed the fact that well-paid computer science jobs overseas are growing rapidly, with not enough people educated to fill them. By offering an incentive or reward, kids will be more likely to take computer science classes, preparing them for tech jobs and degrees. However, many supporters of the foreign languages are angered and concerned about the possible ramifications that this bill could have on future learners. International Careers Expert Staci Nevadomski Berdan argues that “Programmed languages are not the same as spoken or signed languages. Students who study a foreign language will develop the critical skills of adaptability, empathy, communication, and relationship building.” Skills that “increasingly help people get jobs and can help fast track careers.”
Although many people are not supporters of the replacement, many foreign language teachers feel that their subject is being personally attacked. Our very own German teacher Dawn Williams, in a letter to the editor of The Olympian, strongly disagreed with Reykdal’s proposal, writing, “reducing our mission to the mere molding of widgets who will dutifully drive the gross national product is akin to training only the right bicep. Public education should introduce our young to all the possible pathways that might lead them to discover their own interests, talents and gifts. It is not our place to pave this path for them.” Many worry that by allowing foreign languages to be “swapped out” for computer science, kids will receive the message that foreign languages are “useless” or unimportant. Williams reiterates her belief in well-rounded education, stating “I defend not only foreign language, but every discipline which has been the target of some politician’s attempt to blithely exterminate, deeming it of ‘no use.’ All learning is useful. All learning has merit.”
Even strong computer science supporters and technicians find faults with the idea. The Computer Science Teachers’ Association, obvious supporters of computer science education in high schools, thinks this supplement is the wrong way to go about encouraging coding and technology. They argue that “counting computer science as a ‘language credit’ completely obscures the fact that computer science is a complex discipline with deep roots in both mathematics and science.” Both sides find this bill undermining the importance of both subjects. The CSTA does however defend the ideology behind the bill, saying. “It is critical to point out that there are no bad guys here. The people proposing and supporting these legislative initiatives are just trying to figure out how to make computer science more accessible to students. There are, however, better solutions that will, in the end, be far better for computer science education and, more importantly, for our students.”
However, in a surprising turn of events, Reykdal has dropped his bill after a meeting held for the public to share their feelings about the bill. When a large amount of people showed up with negative feelings toward the bill, Reykdal listened to his people and the bill is no more.