This is part of a series of posts on my reflections on The Laboratory Charter School in my neighborhood — specifically how other urban schools could learn a few things from the way it models its program.
Make foreign language mandatory.
Proficiency in both French and Spanish is mandatory for every student in the Laboratory School. Instruction in these foreign languages starts in kindergarten, and fluency in speaking, reading, and writing is achieved by 8th grade. If you also consider technological literacy another kind of foreign language, that’s three additional languages that students are expected to learn. (The site director made a point to mention that their kindergartners can make Powerpoint presentations).
The official line we were given for this is that this anticipates the increasing competitiveness and diversity of a globalized world. True enough. There are even more compelling reasons, I believe, that this feature of this school is appropriate, though.
For one thing, studying foreign languages gives you an insight into languages in general and your own language in particular. This metacognitive insight is enormously helpful in understanding grammar, syntax, even vocabulary.
I also think that an umbrella requirement for learning foreign language could be a boon to a school’s balance of unity and diversity. Undergoing an ordeal as a community that’s unique to that community certainly binds everyone together and solidifies the individual’s identification to the school. I would also think that it levels the playing field among those students who are more proficient in English with those that are less so, perhaps allowing some recognition of the value of diversity in talent and culture.