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The White House is asking for feedback

Written By: lorenzsr on March 8, 2011 1 Comment

Admin note: An email announcement posted to the Berkeley Language Center mailing list earlier today, and re-posted here:

Dear Berkeley colleagues,

The White House has sent out a call for advice on education reform. The comment period is open until March 11 (Thursday). They promise every message will be read. During this small window of extra attentiveness, I thought some of us might like to speak up for language, writing and humanities instruction. Obama keeps mentioning math and science whenever he discusses reform—he’s leaving out the equally essential verbal skills. The reform initiative is focused mainly on high school education, but, as people who teach the immediate products of the high school system, our voices could make some impression.

The comment form is at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/advise


This is what I sent:

Thank you for putting the spotlight on education as the key to a strong future for America. The President has frequently stressed the importance of math and science education. These two fields are important, but I ask the President to recognize that language and writing skills are equally crucial; so are the skills of critical thinking and analysis that we must use in order to formulate a written expression of our ideas. I teach freshman reading and composition at UC Berkeley, and I see a difference between students educated in the US and international students educated in Asia, where it seems that more emphasis is put on rote learning and set models. I had a student from Singapore, for example, who was surprised that I expected him to come up with his own argument for his essays, decide for himself what evidence to use to support the argument, determine himself how many paragraphs he needs to make his case, etc. My point is that we often think of math and science as facts that can be drilled into students. But our math and science students will not become innovators if they do not also think for themselves. And writing instruction is a major area where we teach such critical thinking and independent analysis. Furthermore, writing, of course, matters for its own sake—clarity of communication lubricates the workings of everything we accomplish in our society. I also strongly urge the president to promote foreign language instruction. (I happen to teach German and Russian.) Besides the practical diplomatic and economic benefits of knowing a second (or third) language, numerous studies have shown that studying ANY foreign language increases facility in one’s own language. I hope that in the future I will hear the President mention verbal and critical thinking skills alongside his much-invoked math and science. We must promote all fields of education, so that we turn our children not into robots, but into agile-minded and free-thinking citizens.

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One Response to “The White House is asking for feedback”

  1. candida mccollam on: 8 March 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. It’s outrageous! My comment to the WH:
    I comment under this category both as a parent, grandparent and a small business owner in the localization/translation industry who is not myopic to relatively recent administration laments over decades of federal cutbacks in foreign language education which federal officials directly attributed as a significant factor in America’s diminishing global competitive posture. Nowhere in your message do you solicit or enlist advice from the private sector, yet it is small businesses like mine which federal statistics show are leading in job creation, so I feel I have earned the right to comment, even though you haven’t solicited the private sector for advice. Having had the advantage of growing up abroad in a government service family, I intuitively knew the value of language at a young age. Today, as a specialty language service provider to global market research companies, and a polyglot myself, I hear what the world says about America’s linguistic inferiority and cultural ignorance. It is shameful. I beseech you on behalf of all professional language experts in the US, educators, students, translators, and business sector, to review the myopic position of language which the White House is dangerously straddling and consider the consequences for global competitiveness.

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