Sunday, December 05, 2010

The end of strikes, but the start of cuts

So, France's current spate of strikes is largely over. The country was in chaos for a few weeks (months?), but Sarko did what he had to do and made those French retirements slightly less cushy (am I the only one that prefers to shorten it to "'Kozy"? He's just so cute and little when he stands next to that Amazon wife of his.). But, I digress.

The big French news story on this side of the pond is that US universities are cutting their European language programs in an effort to trim budgets to administratively-acceptable levels. From what I've been reading, it seems as though French was at the top of the guillotine list.

SUNY Albany has suspended its French program, and Winona State University (Minn.) won't allow any new French majors into its program. The French program at the University of Tennessee at Martin is hanging by a thread.

Whatever happened to going to college a relatively ignorant young'in and graduating a "citizen of the world"?

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Languages Association, told The New York Times that the cuts smacked of "Anglocentric perspective," meaning English somehow would be enough to understand the world. How far from reality these administrators are; it's truly laughable.

At least at SUNY Albany, the cuts are being made based on the number of students who have declared French as a primary major. Feal elaborated on this absurdity in The Chronicle of Higher Education last month.

I'll be honest here: I never realized how little I actually knew about the English language until I began learning French. Studying a foreign language opened up a whole new world to me - not just the Francophone world, but the world of grammar and style and nuance. In short, studying French made me want to be the person I am today: a writer; a wordsmith; a lover of the written and spoken word.

The level of ignorance that is being shown and perpetrated by the administration of these institutions is unconscionable. They are effectively choking their graduate programs off at the root: foreign languages are pre-requisities for many of the humanities at the graduate level. What will tomorrow's art history, vocal performance and - yes - English literature graduate students do when they can't even get into their desired program because they've been systematically prevented from learning?

To paraphrase Mr. Holland in Mr. Holland's Opus, "You'll be creating a generation of kids who don't know how to think."

And you can add "reason," "debate," and "understand" to that last one.

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