In recent months, many of my Facebook followers, friends, and family members have expressed their disdain for Louisiana in various ways — whether it was for the recent article circulating about Louisiana being ranked as the worst state in the union (which I keep having to repeat was based on responses to a survey, not raw data) or the current road construction, levee problems, budget arguments, or even just the heat. While I continually defend my state and all that she has to offer, one area I will always detest is Louisiana’s poor perspective on international relations. Particularly, Louisiana’s lack of support for foreign language education.
Although our state is world-renowned for its French, Spanish, German, Native American, Cajun, and Creole heritages, we are also a linguistically diverse desert. It is through the efforts of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, various K-12 and higher education faculty members, some parents, stakeholders, and a handful of lawmakers that French and other language immersion programs are thriving. In the bigger picture, it is through the efforts of the state Department of Education, various dedicated teachers, parents, and other stakeholders that world language education, in general, is holding strong. But when will we actually catch up to the other states?
Each semester, when I receive students who are from other states, they tell me elaborate stories of how they studied a world language for years at their high schools, middle schools, and sometimes at the elementary level. They brag and boast about all of the support and inclusivity of language education in the larger school curriculum. It is known that Louisiana has a general teacher shortage. This shortage is worse in foreign languages. Many schools have opted to use Rosetta Stone and other online software knowing that they will not guide students to fluency. Just as we put so much effort behind STEM education, refining English as a second language standards, building elaborate football stadiums, baseball diamonds, and having squeaky-clean basketball gymnasiums, why are our Louisiana students not allowed the right to linguistic plurality?
Although many monolinguals push for a “Speak English, we are in America agenda,” it is this perspective that also answers the question of “Why are all the good jobs leaving American soil?” It's because the people taking them were raised to speak English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Persian, and many other languages that our students were not.
Jerry L. Parker