Over on the home page, I step a bit outside my usual beats to argue that while there are many Department of Education programs that have outlived their usefulness, House Republicans will make a major mistake if they eliminate the Foreign Language Assistance Program, the only federal program designed to help promote and assist language education in public schools. (If the program is eliminated, schools could theoretically use grant money for other programs for language programs, but the likelihood is that extremely few or no schools would end up using other grants for this purpose.)
While many language educators would sing the joys of learning a foreign tongue, I’d focus on two conservative arguments for keeping the programs. First, the federal government spends a fortune each year – perhaps a billion dollars (hard to say precisely, since amount in the intelligence budget allocated for this purpose is secret) to teach foreign languages to federal employees in the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, etc.; in this light, the current $27 million to teach Americans earlier, when languages tend to be easier to learn, seems much more cost-effective.
Secondly, we on the Right revere our Founding Fathers, the majority of whom learned Greek and Latin as part of their primary school studies (often as early as third grade!) and many of whom spoke several languages. If they are indeed our role models, why would we not try to emulate the rigor of their educations? As we try to rectify the expensive, wasteful, and all-too-often ineffective leviathan that our public education system has become, I’d argue we’ll get better results by expecting more of schoolchildren than less.
It’s been called to my attention that Thomas Jefferson’s use of the phrase “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence is largely credited to Jefferson’s Italian friend, Philip Mazzei, who wrote, “All men are by nature equally free and independent. Such equality is necessary in order to create a free government. All men must be equal to each other in natural law.” The ability to know a bit beyond one’s native language played a key role in making our nation the free republic it is today; scrapping it as an education priority would taint an otherwise worthwhile package of education reforms.