State House considers bill to repeal foreign language requirements

By DAN LOYD, Staff Writer

For Claire-Marie Brisson, learning foreign languages was never that foreign. Although she grew up in metro Detroit, she first experienced bilingualism while speaking to her two French Canadian grandfathers.

“My father wanted to teach me another language, so he taught me German when I was very young, and my love of language grew from there,” said Brisson.

For Brisson the decision to become a foreign language teacher was an obvious one. She is currently completing her student teaching requirements in Livonia Public Schools and will receive her certification next month.

However, she is unsure what kind of classroom she will be entering upon graduation. That is because over the past three years the foreign language requirements for high school students have been in flux.

In 2010, Governor Jennifer Granholm began the institution of a new national standard for K-12 schools known as “Common Core.” As part of the implantation of the core standards, the state of Michigan began requiring two consecutive years of a foreign language in order for students to graduate from high school.

Now, three years later, a bill is being considered by the state house that would repeal that requirement in favor of increased flexibility in students’ schedules. The complex issue has many foreign language teachers on the fence, including Brisson.

“I’m both for it and against it. I’m for it as a person who wants to see globalization [in the classroom],” but she said, “language is not for everyone.”

Brisson notes that students with learning disabilities or students who are learning English as a second language often have difficulties learning a foreign language in a traditional classroom. As a result she has seen the foreign language classes in Livonia shift to target these individuals by dropping writing portions of tests in favor of multiple choice questions.

“They’re thinking about the students who have learning disabilities and are making the test for them, but at the same time we have students with 120 or 130 IQs who are not being challenged,” said Brisson.

On the other hand, Brisson feels that in an increasingly interconnected world it will be necessary for students to have a global education.

“[We] see the world is getting smaller and smaller. Literally right now if I wanted to I could contact someone in Germany through email or through Skype.”

However, Brisson believes there is a middle ground to be reached on the issue.

“I would definitely say yes it should be a requirement, but the ways and means that we administer it is too bureaucratic.”

She suggests offering alternatives for students that are not cut out for foreign language classes, such as electives on global culture or internships that explore the global community in the metro Detroit area.

Ultimately Brisson said lawmakers will need to be flexible in whatever legislation they decide on in order to be fair to all students, as well as to prepare them for the demands of a 21st century world.

“Making sure students get a global education? Absolutely. Encouraging globalization in the schools? Absolutely. But forcing student who have difficulties, forcing an English as a second language student who might be confused or requiring students who may not even be interested? That I don’t agree with.”