by Ann Abbott
"Like many teenagers, my son spends a ton of time on his computer," writes Robert Safian in his letter from the editor in "Fast Company's" September 2009 issue. "His passion is designing icons to personalize a desktop or iPhone interface. He posts sets of these icons online for people to download. He doesn't get paid for any of this. But he loves doing it."
That sounds wonderful. We want our children and students to have passions, skills and technological know-how. But Safian's next paragraph set my teeth on edge.
"I sometimes reprimand him for devoting so many hours to this: 'Have you finished your Spanish homework?' Yet I also find myself wondering, What's actually the better training for his future, high-school Spanish or honing these self-taught computer skills?'"
How many times must we explain the importance of foreign languages to Americans? Why did he pick his son's Spanish class and not his math class? Or English class? Why make it an either-or proposition? But most importantly, why, in a magazine that so often features international businesses and business people, would they present Spanish and foreign languages in this way? How can he, of all people, not understand how important Spanish is for everyone's future, especially in the US?
Yet at the same time, I do understand.
If his son is learning bits and pieces of language that don't get put together in ways that are meaningful for interactions that take place outside of the classroom, that's not useful. If culture is presented in facile ways with no critical analysis of one's own culture, then that won't make his son a valued member on today's multicultural teams. And if we tell students that Spanish will be useful once they graduate and look for a job yet we never teach them anything about how to use language and cultural knowledge on the job, that's not useful either.
This is one more reason that I think that there is a place for community service learning (CSL) in every Spanish program. I don't believe the editor of "Fast Company" would have written that if his son would have been working in the community, side-by-side with native Spanish speakers. Or if his son would have been working on a social media marketing plan--in Spanish!--for his icons. Or developing some of those icons for his community partner's website for a free download to promote their brand and awareness of their cause.
The editor wrote his letter. Anybody want to write a letter to the editor to tell him why Spanish is important for his son's future?