Variety of Cultures, but not Classes

December 13, 2019

There is more to the world than many students see. Often, we see the world with a closed mind and little tolerance. We do not see how 1.2 billion people, out of the 7.53 billion people on Earth, speak Chinese as their native language. That is almost as many English speakers, which is 1.5 billion. 420 million people speak Arabic as their first language, making it the sixth most spoken language in the world. 95 million people speak German and 437 million people speak Spanish as their native language. Although Waukee is quite inclusive when it comes to different cultures, they do not teach enough of them. Learning languages is more than memorizing grammar or vocabulary; it is about learning to accept different cultures, explore their traditions, experience a world that we may not experience in our own lives. Waukee offers two languages, Spanish and German. Well, there is more to Iowa, the United States and the world than those two languages. Not to say they are not important, but there is more out there. 

In Iowa alone, almost 140 languages are spoken and only 10% of students in Kindergarten through twelfth grade are learning foreign languages in school. In the whole United States, only 20% of students in elementary through high school are learning a foreign language. Compared to some similar countries, the United States is far behind. For example, 100% of students in France learn a foreign language and 82% of German students learn a foreign language, with an average of 92% in Europe. Although English is being taught throughout the world, it does not mean that American students should avoid learning a second or third language. In fact, it is recommended to learn a language separate from English to be able to engage in a multicultural and multilingual world. According to the New York Times article, Do You Speak My Language? You Should, “If Americans want the next generation to be active participants in a multilingual world, dual-language and multicultural education is crucial.” Learning a foreign language is beneficial but what if the languages the school offers do not interest you? What if you do not feel compelled to learn those languages? If we looked at it, Waukee only offers German and Spanish, although especially useful languages in America, it would be great if more languages were offered.

The limited languages that Waukee offers are evidentiary to dwindling language education. According to the WBUR, a Boston News Station, an executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages said, “Not only is there a language learning gap in the U.S., it’s actually getting worse.” For a constantly changing world, that isn’t preferred. With so many languages spoken, so many cultures that go without understanding from others, it seems frightening that language and culture education is declining. For the students considering attending college after high school, in three years, 651 foreign language college programs have been lost, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education. There is beginning to be so little left of the exploration of foreign culture and languages. This can lead to fear, misunderstandings, stereotypes and less tolerance for the world around us. Not to say that language learning will not also cause these things but it would provide more tools to prevent these things and even spread awareness. The next generation could use a little more tolerance, in fact, everyone could use a little more tolerance. Being tolerant is not the same as being completely open and accepting, though. The Eton Institute’s How Learning a Language Build Tolerance mentioned, “Being tolerant doesn’t mean you have to embrace all the cultural aspects and values of a new culture. The idea is to be respectful towards them.”

Gaining cross-cultural understanding through education is especially important to open our eyes to the world around us and get us comfortable with being uncomfortable. It puts us in a situation where we have to be tolerant of what we do not know and accept that. When learning languages, a whole world has opened itself to us. What is in that world, we do not technically know. What we do know is that we have to get past our own mental barriers, and become tolerant of ambiguity. What is ambiguity? Well, it is being open to more than one interpretation. In other words, there is no exact answer. It is like those essay questions on tests; it can be answered in a multitude of ways. According to the University of Denver, “Learning another language will introduce you to a new culture…you might take a second look at your own culture, understanding it in a whole new way.” This can be done with the languages taught currently at Waukee High School but many students wish there was more of a variety of what they could learn. 

Waukee is a diverse community, with a variety of languages and cultures expressed. This should be reflected in our school system. Many students believe so, and one student described, who requested to stay anonymous, “There should be more [languages] offered…we can see the diversity, so why can’t we learn about it?” Some students oppose the idea, saying that it is unnecessary and would use too much of the school’s funding. It would also be difficult to find capable teachers to educate us in other languages. On the other hand, there are many qualified people ready to teach students about other cultures. For many people, that is what they would prefer to spend their teaching career doing. Waukee also receives a significant amount of funding from not only the state but also parents and families of students. Waukee, compared to other schools in Iowa, can be considered well-off. Waukee has many resources, and almost unlimited clubs, organizations, etc. to accommodate each and every student. Learning languages should not be an exception. Although we have an international club, how often in that club are students able to truly dive into the culture of their peers? What about the students who do not feel comfortable teaching others about their culture but would like for there to be more awareness? There is a terrifying world waiting for us if we decide that learning a second language is not important. It is even scarier if we decide to limit what we learn. Waukee should consider offering more languages because they would provide a door into a world that many of us may not know. A world worth exploring that goes past German and Spanish; a world full of diversity. Waukee is a diverse community itself, so why not reflect that in the cultural learning of its schools? Especially at Waukee High School. It never hurts to open another door.

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