Surrendering Foreign Language Education

This past week, the University announced it was eliminating introductory Spanish classes and putting them entirely online. Although the university recognizes that students taking a foreign language online will not have an opportunity to speak the language and therefore will not learn it, they justify the move by pointing to the much lower cost of online courses. If the program is successful, they say that other Romance languages might follow.

UNC’s romance language courses have never been strong, and they exist primarily to allow students to fulfill their foreign language requirements. The university offers other, more rigorous language programs such as German or Arabic which contain motivated students who actually want to study the language. However, rather than increase the quality of its romance language programs in a time of severe  budget cuts, they are cutting their quality to the bare minimum needed for students to pass their general education requirements.

In America, students don’t learn a foreign language in the classroom. Instead, they learn how to take language tests. With this move towards online courses, the University is virtually conceding this point. Rather than try to improve the scope of the course with more emphasis on learning and less on testing, language courses are now focusing entirely on getting students to pass language tests.

What this really means is that the University is giving up on foreign language education. If that is the case, then the University should also drop the foreign language requirement from its general education curriculum rather than force students to take worthless subpar online courses that are a waste of everyone’s time. The foreign language requirement is already weak. No one will attain fluency by a level 3 language course, and fluency cannot be taught in a classroom, so students are being forced to learn half a language just to check off a box marked “FL level 3” on their academic worksheets. Now, they aren’t even going to be learning half a language or getting the opportunity to stumble through speaking that language regularly in the classroom.

Good language programs could continue to be maintained for majors and as electives for students who wish to learn a language, but requiring all students to take foreign language classes is quickly become a waste of everybody’s time and energy.

18 thoughts on “Surrendering Foreign Language Education

  1. Credo te iustum esse. At least the Classics Department is not only strong, it’s arguably one of the best in the country.

    1. First of all, your umbrella of ignorance would cover fields such as German studies (one of my two majors), film studies, comm studies, American studies and, as Chris points out, Religious Studies as well.

      But I don't think you really want to get rid of those fields of study (at least not all of them), so I'll assume you direct your antipathy to the more modern academic fields, like the ones you name (African American and Women's studies, cultural studies, etc), which brings me to my second point, which is that you're displaying a curious combination of academic elitism and old-school dipshit Philistinism and bigotry. At the very least you're forgetting the massively important historical role that African American and Women's studies have played in bringing the contributions of black Americans and women into the academy in the first place, which in the Ivory Tower days were almost completely ignored. That fact alone is enough to prove the world of good Af-Am and women's studies have done for the academy, even if now those fields have been mainstreamed enough to incorporate into the traditional categories.

      Not to mention the fact that some of the most important scholars working in American today teach in these departments.

      Not to mention the fact that the faculty and administration of every important university (you'll understand, of course, why I exclude schools like Bob Jones and Liberty University from that category), including all the Ivies and Public Ivies, who are all infinitely more attuned to the significance of different fields of academic study than you are, think that African American and Women's studies are perfectly legitimate fields.

      As for cultural studies, I'm curious who you're familiar with in this interdisciplinary field. What are some specific reasons you mock it? Any particular theorists you disagree with or disapprove of?

      On a similar note, I would like you to list the classes you have taken at UNC in the Af-Am and women's studies department. Course listings, titles and professors please.

      1. "the grand tradition of the liberal arts?" "Egads?" At least you have a bright future ahead of yourself as a speech writer for Edmund Burrrr… oh wait. He's antiquated, dead and mostly forgotten. And, to borrow a phrase from Burke's demonstrably superior rival, Tom Paine, the academy is for the living, and not for the dead. That's the problem with classicists who think they retain their monopoly over the liberal arts. Updating our studies is not a betrayal of the past, and even if it was, the living always take precedence.

        D'Souza writing a book about how the academy has been taken over by leftists is hardly noteworthy or authoritative here. I'm not saying his book is factually inaccurate; I'm sure he got plenty of his facts right. But if his historical analysis is as simple as you paraphrase it ("Hey Ann, these administrators don't have any balls. Guffaw!"), and you actually buy it, then, well, I just hope you don't take any history classes at UNC. They can be a little more exacting in their analytic demands. Sure, particularistic politics played a huge role in the origins of African American and women's studies. But if you, or D'Souza for that matter, really think that studies related to black Americans and women had a proportionally equal representation in America in the 1960's, then you're clearly not attuned to the contours of American history. Of course the contributions of black Americans were excluded from the academy. Just like black people themselves were excluded from the academy. Therefore the movement to include black Americans and their contributions in the university setting was a very, very, very good thing. Even if today one claims they are outdated. I personally would like to see American Studies departments absorb Af-Am Studies, and women's studies to become sub-categories in multiple different departments, but I can still recognize the important historical role they played.

        As for German studies making a mockery of "the real disciplines" being taught here, all I can say is that I've had German studies classes that were far more rigorous, enlightening and worthwhile than classes in your so called "real disciplines." I also learned more about classical rhetoric in my Feminist Rhetoric class (in the women's studies department, of course) than I have anywhere else. It's only anecdotal evidence, I know. But I have to point out that you lack even that.

        Finally, I'm amazed that you would conclude with such a transparently stupid analogy. Of course I've read books by conservatives. I can criticize conservative ideas because I have read books by conservatives and I engage in debate with conservatives as I am doing right now. (If you really want titles, I would be more than happy to provide them to you.) I don't approach the subject with blinders on. Even if I didn't read books by conservatives, however, your analogy is still totally off base. You are not merely criticizing an academic field of study, nor asserting that the findings of certain fields of study are wrong. You are actually denying the fundamental legitimacy of entire fields of study in the academy. I am obviously doing nothing of the sort. I have never said it is an illegitimate academic endeavor, under the rubric of the liberal arts or not, to read Buckley, Friedman, Kirk, or any of your other luminaries. I am not saying that people should not read Jonah Goldberg if they want to be taken seriously. You, on the other hand, are saying that universities should not offer Af-Am classes if they want to be taken seriously. Whether you justify this by a slavish devotion to an outdated definition of the liberal arts, or a plain old prejudice, you're wrong, and the academy has very rightly left you behind.

        Have fun in the academic backwaters.

      2. "It makes no sense that you create a whole new department. If the English Department ignored black literature, have them teach Zora Neale Hurston and others. Why create a whole new department? That's stupid."

        By this logic we should also get rid of the Classics department, and the Peace, War & Defense curriculum, and the Archaeology curriculum, and any other interdisciplinary major.

      3. How are Classics different from History/Languages in a way that Af-Am studies are not?

        And we all know that you're arguing that film studies is not appropriate. What we don't know is WHY you are arguing that.

      4. "Classics are different because they provide the foundation for all Western thought."

        They obviously do no such thing. A brief stroll through the work of the Romantic poets, the traditions of the Catholic church or the annals of American political thought is enough to prove the immense and indispinsible importance of non-Classical folkways in shaping "western" culture. Nothing in history happens in a monocultural vacuum, even if that vacuum is in classical Greece or republican Rome.

        "What do Af-Am or Women's studies departments provide?"

        Take a class and find out.

        "you were factually wrong in your assertion that they were not the product of student revolts."

        Quote me from above. Where do I assert this? Did you read the part where I said that particularistic politics (i.e., the student rebellions of the 60's) played a role in the creation of these departments? What I am asserting is the fact that D'Souza's analysis, as you have paraphrased it, is wildly over-simplified. Because if blacks and women are under-represented in the academy, and face resistance from tenured professors and administrators, then they are naturally going to strive for a realm of their own in the academy. (A separation that is, in the long run, unproductive. At the time, however, it proved necessary.) Therefore, to account this merely to angry students and ball-less administrators (a rather unimaginative metaphor on your part, I might add) is simplistic to the point of obvious stupidity. There is a clear historical complexity that you are missing here.

        "What do these departments provide that the English department couldn't?"

        As I have said, if you were actually reading, I would like to see Af-Am and women's studies absorbed in other fields, because in the long run, in a world where the academic realm is open to all equally, they offer nothing that cannot be offered in the broader categories. They had their time and place in an earlier America, but I think it would be a great service to re-integrate them into broader categories. (Specifically American Studies, English and History.)

        As for Hitchcock and Jane Austen, you have once again proven why conservatives are under-represented in the academy. They are too often reactionary Philistines who are prepared to extrapolate a dictum for all of Academia from their own personal prejudices. You don't like Hitchcock as much as Jane Austen? Oh, well that must mean that film is a lesser medium than novels from the turn of the 18th century. A real argument would be nice next time.

      5. "I never said I didn't like Hitchcock."

        You said "To compare studying Hitchcock's films (while they were good) to reading and discussing Jane Austen is laughable," which strongly implies that you think more highly of Austen than Hitchcock. The issue isn't whether or not you like Hitchcock, and I never claimed it was; the issue is whether or not you're prepared to pretend that your personal tastes in art can be taken for an objective standard of quality. And of course, they obviously cannot.

        "will you deny that Shakespeare is harder to understand and more difficult go get through than Hitchcock?"

        What a terrible standard for establishing a cannon. If that's the best you can come up with, then let's dump Shakespeare, Austen AND Hitchcock, and spend our whole lives trying to decipher "Finnegans Wake." Difficulty and unintelligibility are not the best reasons to study anything.

        "if you understand Shakespeare, you can understand Hitchcock."

        Completely untrue. One can understand Shakespeare without any knowledge of the techniques of film, and then one cannot understand Hitchcock, can they? Film is obviously a different medium, and the medium obviously affects the message. Hence the need for film studies in the first place…

      6. I grasp the concept of an analogy quite well, actually. Enough to realize that you drew an analogy between my questioning of your experience with Af-Am and Women's studies, and your questioning of my familiarity with books by conservatives. (If you cannot criticize entire departments without taking classes in them, your analogy runs, then I cannot criticize "the conservative tradition" without having read books by conservatives. If your muddled analogy can mean anything else, then please explain it.)

        I then pointed out the fact that your analogy is inappropriate: not only have I read books by conservatives (and therefore can criticize or defend them with more authority than you can criticize an entire department in which you have taken absolutely no classes), but we are engaged in two totally different activities. This is not about you and I both criticizing different sets of ideas without having first-hand knowledge of their quality. This is about you denying the legitimacy of an entire field of study about which you know absolutely nothing first hand, and probably very little second hand. (On that account, I would never take my most "authoritative" second hand knowledge about the history and content of Christianity from an atheist, as you have done with D'Souza's book on "leftist" education.)

        So you have drawn an analogy between different classes of activities, and as a result your analogy does not cohere. If you are going to claim that an entire field of study is illegitimate, the very least you could do was audit a class in that field. Similarly, if you want to draw an analogy, wait until I claim that the act of reading Buckley is illegitimate: that's the time to analogize to my argument.

        "4. I'm still curious to see an argument as to why film or communication studies are so integral to the mission of a liberal arts university."

        Film is an art form, no less than painting or poetry. If it is integral to the mission of a liberal arts university to study painting and poetry, then it is integral to study film.

        "Are these classes part of the "update" of the liberal arts?"

        Yes. Pretty self-evidently.

        "5. I'm not sure what your anecdotal evidence of your German Studies classes attempt to prove."

        It proves that German Studies does not make a mockery of your imagined distinction of "real disciplines." To answer your question, the German Studies department is necessary in the way that any other department is necessary: it allows people to specialize in one field of study and to receive credit for it. If you really think German Studies is a mockery of the history, philosophy and language departments, the least you could do is provide some argument to that effect.

      7. "One should not specialize"

        Then away with majors all together, is it? Because German Studies is no more specialized than the Classics Department (in fact, it is probably less so). So either we dump History and Classics majors along with all other specializations, or we accept all qualifying specializations on an equal footing.

        "They are not intended to merely hand out degrees, but to allow unrestrained inquiry to free man from the dogma of his past."

        Yes and yes. But as to the second, it begs the question, why the slavish devotion to the classics?

      8. "I'm not quite sure how you can say that German Studies is equally specialized as History."

        -You

        "Because German Studies is no more specialized than the Classics Department (in fact, it is probably less so)."

        -Me

        I hate to revive an old insult, but it does appear that you are illiterate.

      9. If you didn't have me, who would point out to you that you have once again missed the point? That you didn't use either the word "less" or the word "more" in the passage in question? That you in fact mistakenly transposed the word "History" in your reading for the words "Classics Department" in mine? That, finally, your argument does not lack merit because you made a single mistake, but rather that your argument, in so far as it is set in opposition to mine, is greatly cheapened by the fact that you do not read my (and apparently your own) statements very closely?

      10. “I'm not sure why his race is such a terrible concern…”

        Well, apparently you thought that his race was a concern seeing as you made a point to mention it…

        “[H]e was a Berber, so, I suppose one could have an argument as to what constitutes being ‘black’…”

        Well, don’t you think that that’s important? What does constitute “black”?
        Would you consider Zinedine Zidane black? He’s a Berber. Check out the following website:

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-484176/Th

        If you search the internet even just cursorily, you’ll find that the Berbers are not black in the colloquial sense.

        This doesn’t even mention the fact that pretty much all traditional pictures of St. Augustine depict him as a whitish-looking old man.

        “[H]e was from Africa…”

        So are Afrikaners…

        “…I don't think I'd be too far off in agreeing with scholars that we could
        consider him black…”

        What scholars? I figured you would have sourced them to begin with… Also, why would you want to “consider” him black? Either he was, or he wasn’t, and so far you haven’t made much of a case to support your reckless, premature, and “heartwarming” claim. The only reason anyone would want to consider him black is so that politically correct whites can pretend that blacks actually make up a part of the Western Canon. Nice try.

      11. “Two things because I could frankly care less:
        1. Are we really going to have a debate about whether Berber means black?”

        Don’t get all huffy and puffy. You’re the one who made the indefensible claim. As a “liberally educated” man, you shouldn’t have a problem with my inquiry. What? Is it too politically incorrect for your sensibilities? Just as you thought it was important initially to mention St. Augustine’s race, so I think it is important to be accurate in describing his race now.

        “Most portraits of Jesus depict Him as a white man, even though he was Semitic. Europeans like to paint people in their own image, which they obviously did with St Augustine.”

        True, but Semitic people look pretty darn white, even though they’re technically not. Also, the fact that Europeans “like to paint people in their own image” makes perfect sense—they understood that people identify with their own kind a lot more than they identify with “others,” so such practices are best seen as a spiritual aid. As a white man, you are practicing a radical, even anti-white, method of propaganda that was originally used to weaken the Faith of the average Christian.

        “…which they obviously did with St Augustine.”

        No, it’s not obvious to me, since you haven’t even come close to proving your case. It doesn’t look like the liberal arts have served you very well—either that, or you aren’t as liberally educated as you think you are.

        I do, however, appreciate the website that you provided. I encourage people to use their racial/ethnic identity to strengthen their faith, and it looks like The National Black Catholic Congress is attempting to do that. Unfortunately (and I would never tell them this unless they asked me directly), they are confusing the terms “African” and “black.”

  2. Jonathan,

    While I can’t speak from experience about African American Studies, I can about Women’s Studies. I took something like Women’s Studies 101 (I can’t remember the exact number, but it was the first semester of generall Women’s Studies). I got an A- (mainly because I spit out what I knew they wanted to
    hear).

    That class was one of the stupidest, most brain dead courses I have ever taken (and that counts elementary, middle, and high school courses). I was mainly shocked at the worldview that the course promoted. And, of course, this worldview is completely revolutionary and destructive toward (particularly) Western Civilization. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I took the
    course because it opened my eyes to what leftist radicals really are. I now know my enemy. But I don’t respect my enemy.

    The course essentially denied that genetics and sex have anything to do with what it called gender. “Gender identity,” apparently, is completely separate from biological sex. Hormones/hormone levels, which are
    genetically based, apparently, don’t affect the way in which people act.

    This course essentially taught that everything is socially constructed, and the sole purpose behind that social construction is so that white men can control everyone else.

    In other words, non-Jewish white men are the group that really needs to be cut down to size. And, of course, they maintain that it is possible to do this without destroying “civilization” for two reasons. First, feminists
    don’t care about preserving traditional civilization. They want a new one. As long as we are living in “peace” and “equality,” they don’t care about anything else (like our religion, history, literature, etc.). Second, they assume that women can do everything that men can do, despite sexual, hormonal, and biological differences generally speaking that DO affect the way in which we behave.

    They ignore the fact that women don’t compete alongside men in athletic competitions, they ignore the fact that women are the only ones who can bear children, they ignore the fact that women don’t have the testosterone level that men have, etc. Instead, they claim, essentially, that
    testosterone doesn’t really make you more aggressive. The thing that makes men more aggressive, so they claim, is that we have been trained to channel the emotions that testosterone causes toward aggression, anger, and general
    machismo. Apparently, with the right social engineering, we could just as easily channel those emotions towards sugar, spice, and everything nice.
    Third Wave feminists see a world in which there are just as many single fathers as single mothers, everyone makes the same amount of money,
    50-year-old women (who can’t get pregnant) are the objects of sexual gratification for heterosexual men, there is complete tolerance for
    virtually any sexual desire (except sexual desires that lead to one group dominating another), people are encouraged to relieve their sexual tension through such
    conduits as masturbation (so as not to treat women or others as sexual objects and instead to treat their own genitalia as the ultimate source of their gratification—the idea of self-“loving” so that everyone else can be thought of as equal to yourself).

    But you know, the best way to shut down a feminist is just to ask her to provide scientific backing for her (or his, according to Third Wave feminists) ideology. She can’t. The fact is, feminists completely ignore biological realities because they are too bitter to accept the fact that they are women, and they will never be as powerful as men. Boo-hoo.

    1. Riley,

      Obviously I wasn't in your 101 class, so I can't contradict you on what they said or taught there. I have personally heard that WMST 101 at UNC is boring, routine, and a little too…introductory. But then again, its a 101 class at UNC. Sounds like all 101 classes to me.

      All I can do is offer my own anecdotal evidence to yours, which was the Feminist Rhetoric class I took sophomore year. English 363, I believe, cross listed with a 300-level Women's Studies. We had two textbooks in the class: the first was an anthology of important speeches, letters, diaries and reflections by women writing on issues of women's rights, and the second was a textbook on classical rhetoric. Basically, we tapped into the Greek (and a little bit of the Roman) tradition of oration to analyze how women in the 19th and 20th centuries articulated their demands for equal rights. How did they continue the traditions of the past, and how did they form new ones? I learned a great deal about classical rhetoric and enjoyed the class. There was no hostility towards males , and no more liberal political bias then there would be in any other class.

      The point that I'm trying to make is that some classes are shitty. Intro levels especially. That doesn't mean that entire fields of study are illegitimate.

  3. Jonathan,

    I’ll agree with you on most of your analysis of first year courses at UNC. I would only part with you on one thing, and that is the fact that the values they try to instill in WMST 101 (and all similar classes) are not contradicted in later courses. In my view, the only reason why those values are not restated in more advanced courses is simply because they are assumed to be held by a person taking a 300-level Women’s Studies course. It’s the same problem I had throughout my time at UNC—everyone assumes you
    have the same egalitarian, aren’t-we-all-happy-in-our diversity-and-equality opinions that seemingly everyone else holds. Little did everyone else know (until my senior year)—I didn’t value diversity (not the kind that they valued, anyway) and I was no egalitarian. But because I was a UNC student, I was prejudged as a liberal.

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