Wilton (CT) prides itself on the progressiveness of its education and high quality of the schools, but we are still teaching French, German and Latin as though our kids planned on reading the Classics in college; perfect for landing a job as a barista, or a future as a Task Rabbit.
The current political and economic condition of the world demands a broader approach than teaching European languages which can easily be translated on an iPhone app. France and Germany are (until hit with some stupid tariff) our friends and allies and first world countries. English is the Lingua Franca of the world but the future requires greater facility in languages of countries that are not friendly.
Spanish still makes sense because there are an estimated 58.9 million Hispanic people in the United States, comprising 18.1% of the population and the current humanitarian crisis on our Border is evidence that South of the Border will be a mess, requiring negotiation and nation-building (like it or not) for decades to come.
China, the champions of long-term planning, is building the One Belt, One Road around the world saddling African countries with unsustainable debt. As the Polar glaciers melt, the Chinese are looking for a Northern passage through which to ship Chinese goods and Chinese citizens. The Chinese loaned Kenya–a relatively, stable, democratic government–money to build a shipping port. When the government failed to repay the loan, China took ownership, and all the associated jobs, of the port. They now have the complete freedom and access to a modern port and a foothold in Africa. Zambia lost its international airport under the same strategy. The Chinese have built fake islands in the South China Sea and are claiming ownership of waters previously owned by Vietnam and other small South Asian countries.
The Chinese are kicking our butts globally and we aren’t even teaching their language. It’s time to stop believing in the fantasy that we are the preeminent country and economy of the world and do something to reassert our moral and humanitarian superiority. We can’t do that if we only speak European Old White guy languages.
The jobs of the future will require not only STEM skills, but languages to bridge the divide between countries. These days scientific developments spread across countries with a widget made in China and a thingamajig made in Germany. If we are to compete globally we have to be able to communicate in the language of our collaborators and competitors. Knowledge sharing is crucial if we are to even stay in whatever race we’re supposed to be in, let alone win the race.
The Russians are corrupting our elections, suppressing human rights and reverting to a Gulag state. They’ve taken over Crimea without a shot from the West. According to the Carnegie Foundation, Russia is asserting its global influence by stepping in where the US and its allies have failed to do so. (Syria and Venezuela) Russia also meddled in European politics, such as Bexit, and will continue to do so. We can’t counter the Russians if we can’t understand what they are saying.
The Mideast continues, thanks in part to the US, to be a miasma of misery and disaster. We failed to make hay during the Arab Spring, and conditions in the Mideast show no signs of improvement. There will be a major need for intelligence gathering, negotiators, nation-builders and diplomats for the foreseeable future. Except we’re not teaching Arabic.
Chinese, Russian and Arabic are incredibly difficult languages and should be started when kids are in kindergarten. French, German and Latin are languages of the nineteenth century and should be retired like coal and lead gasoline. We’re teaching STEAM like our future depends on it, but the world is becoming dominated by countries whose languages we don’t even teach. That leaves us at a distinct disadvantage, no matter how good our schools are.