Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Educating Kids for the International Millenium - no lol

(see post and comment at:

My daughter just left yesterday to spend a semester in Paris. She has been studying French since she was in 5th grade, and is excited to be immersed in the culture and to master the language. She even had a French friend on Facebook, the daughter of one of my friends from my own Junior year abroad.

While we were at JFK airport awaiting her plane at the international terminal, it seemed that every third traveler must be a college student - a heartening sign that our young people are learning that, to be part of a global future, they must gain first-hand experience in cultures and languages of the world.

She emailed me as soon as she got there to say that, of the 60 students in her program, most of those she had met so far had barely passable French. That many of them saw the year as an excuse to travel. That they were looking for a break from study at home.

While our country gives lip service to the idea that preparing our children to meet the demands of the world they will inherit includes mastery of languages, respect of international culture and diplomacy, and most colleges and universities have some kind of study abroad program, I wonder if this is only window dressing - that foreign language study is still optional, that learning across cultures is scant, and that the idea of fostering understanding and mutual dialogue is non-existent.

"But everyone speaks English!" So "nous autres Americains" expect. Is this what our higher education system is preparing our kids for in this "flat" world? With a worldwide Facebook, Twitter and the ubiquitous cell phone to encourage them, shouldn't American students be as fluent in French or Chinese, as starved to learn the culture, as Chinese and Russian and Brazilian students are to study ours? Can we expect our young people to assume the mantel of leadership, innovation, diplomacy, commerce and discovery if they cannot communicate across cultures?

We learn languages best when we are taught young. While our K-12 education system is still based on local and state standards, and languages are low on the list of subjects that must be mastered, the Federal government can provide the bullypulpit to promote languages, international exchange, and stronger standards for foreign language education for the youngest scholars. Where will our world be without young people fluent in English and Arabic, Farci and Spanish - or tomorrow's emerging economy.

And let's make sure that social networks are part of that connection - where technology helps remove barriers to learning, we can all be friends. And that's a reason to lol!

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