A push for a global education in Iowa

by Hanna Russmann & Peter KaspariStaff Writers

The state of Iowa is currently working to implement a core curriculum for K-12 school districts across the state to follow.

According to some educators, one key thing is missing, a foreign language requirement.

Now, supporters of language studies are working to have a foreign language component included in the state’s required courses for elementary and high school students.

“Currently, there is no state core curriculum,” Tracy Dinesen, assistant professor of Spanish, said. “Curriculum is decided at the local level. The majority of schools have access to some kind of language. Generally, that language is Spanish. At some of the larger institutions that might be German or French. It depends on where the district is and what resources the district has.”

To develop consistency across all schools, the state will soon be deciding on a proposal that contains a core curriculum that must be followed.

“(The proposal) stems from a curriculum for the 21st century that a group of educators and states got together and said, ‘This is the skill set that these students need for the 21st century for survival,'” Dinesen said.

The part of the proposal that has many concerned is the removal of the world languages component, which was a part of the original document, but was removed. The reason for its removal is not entirely clear.

“That’s our entire question, especially when Iowa signed a document where world language was part of the core curriculum,” Dinesen said. “Languages in the state of Iowa have been searching for representation at the state level for years.”

The Iowa World Language Association (IWLA), which believes that world language, as a part of Iowa’s core curriculum will help raise global awareness, helps students compete for jobs in the future, and keeps and brings business to Iowa, is working hard to get languages back into the core curriculum proposal.

“The IWLA has been writing letters in order to get what is called a ‘language czar’ in the State Department of Education, which the majority of states have, but Iowa does not,” Dinesen said. “Because there’s not a representation there (…) we as an organization have written a position statement and have written letters to different businesses, organizations, institutions, including giving one to President Byrd, to support the world language community and putting world language back as it was in the original document.”

Jill Rossiter, interim director of career services, is a strong supporter of the movement to add world language to the core curriculum.

“The key to becoming proficient in any language is learning it from a very early age,” Rossiter said. “I think it would make our students more marketable. I think it would help business in Iowa because we are becoming more global.”

Rossiter said knowing other languages will provide students opportunities when looking for careers.

“This is a global economy, and if you know another language or more than one language and if you’re fluent, especially, you will be amazed at the opportunities you will have,” Rossiter said. “It really can make a difference in your career.”

Senior Rebecca Varner is double-majoring in biology and Spanish.

She believes this change could be good because of the economy, and it will help the learning process.

“I think more and more people are seeing the benefits of learning a language at an earlier age, because it’s easier to learn and you’re already immersed in it when you start college,” Varner said.

Varner believes this change would improve the Simpson College world language program.

“I think it will improve it drastically, because when students come in, they will have more background knowledge, allowing professors to teach at a higher level,” Varner said.

Dinesen said that if world language is put back into the core curriculum proposal, it will give younger students an advantage, not just academically, but professionally as well.

“Language teaches you how to think in a way that you might not be able to get in other disciplines,” Dinesen said. “We’ll have more students that will be exposed to different cultures at an early age, speak the language and have more of an interest in language. I do not believe for a moment that languages will completely disappear from the primary and secondary education system. It is required to get into colleges nationwide, since a lot of them have requirements to take a language before they enter.”

In the event languages are not put back into the proposal, Dinesen sees it as only hurting elementary students.

“I don’t think that will hurt us if it’s not there, I think it hurts the state of Iowa and the education that’s being offered,” Dinesen said. “I don’t think you can survive in the state as it’s changing now as effectively without world language. It gives you a skill to understand other cultures on a different level.”

The core curriculum is still in its proposal stage, and has not been approved by the state of Iowa.