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Indiana Strikes Again: Why Removing World Language Requirements From Hoosier High School Diplomas Could Be Detrimental

06/16/2015 03:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

Earlier this month, the Indiana Department of Education proposed new diploma guidelines that would be implemented for the 2018-2019 school year. While the Core 40 and Core 40 Honors diplomas remain similar, there is one startling change in the fine print: students pursuing the Core 40 diploma would no longer be required to take 2-3 years of a world language class. Instead, the world language classes would fall under the electives category, meaning they would be merely "suggested" for college-bound students.

For the many students who sit in Spanish, French, or German class every day and resent having to memorize vocabulary words and learn new grammar rules, the change initially seems like a positive one. After all, it allows students to decide for themselves whether or not they are ready to face the challenge of learning a new language. However, it seems rather alarming how easily the Indiana Department of Education is dismissing world language as a dispensable part of a holistic educational experience. Somewhere along the way, world language lost its place amongst English, math, science, and social studies as a "core" class. While you could argue that learning a world language is not necessary for certain careers, let's be honest --neither is Algebra II or Chemistry. Yet, no educator would ever consider dropping a math class or any other "core" subject from the diploma requirements.

The common thought is that world language classes only teach students the bare minimum in order to endure in a foreign country. It is true that the first skills students acquire are conversation fundamentals: how to say "hello," "how are you," and "where is the bathroom." World language classes, however, teach more than the fundamentals. While students learn vocabulary and grammar, they simultaneously learn foreign culture and history. Students learn to find the hidden cultural contexts that can be present in language itself. By learning the culture and history that can shape a language, students are able to become worldlier.

While everyone student's post-secondary experience is unique, it's safe to say that there are many benefits to learning and knowing a second language in today's working world. Just being able to list a second language on your resume can be enough to set you apart from other applicants similar to you. Over 60 million people in the United States speak a language other than English at home; just knowing the basics of a second language can help significantly in today's job market.

Not to mention, there are immersion programs designed specifically for high school students to experience foreign language in real-world settings. These programs, however, require a certain level of second language proficiency, but by participating in these programs high school students can prepare themselves for the study abroad opportunities that are bountiful in most collegiate universities.

As an alumnus of the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Language (a high school program which offers students the opportunity to spend seven weeks in Mexico, Spain, Chile, Germany, France, Austria, or China), I can attest to the importance of world language requirements. The curriculum I learned in my high school Spanish classes encouraged me to study abroad in Mexico for a summer, which in turn fostered my current passion of the Spanish language. Without my required high school Spanish classes, I don't know if I would have had the opportunity to travel and fall in love with another culture.

It's also important to recognize that this issue stems far outside of world language. Classes involving the arts and music are rarely required beyond a student's elementary or middle school years. While there are countless studies boasting the educational and intellectual benefits of the arts on young minds, they have yet to escape the vast world of electives themselves.

The Indiana Department of Education's proposal will essentially replace world language requirements with more math credits, new Personal Financial Responsibility credits, and new College and Career Readiness credits. While a class devoted to learning how to make smart financial decisions is a luxury for a high school student to have, it is not necessarily more important than a high school world language class.

Most universities offer students financial responsibility classes, however students have the choice of whether or not to pursue them. Most colleges also require students to take two placement exams: math and foreign language. Colleges require students to have world language credits in order to receive a diploma. Since high schools are pressured to prepare students for college, they should do so in all ways possible, and that includes making world language credits required.

In reality, every class you will take in high school is important. However, different classes have varying levels of importance depending on the needs of the student. A possible solution to the Indiana Department of Education's problematic proposal? Give students more freedom to choose their paths. Certain math, science, English, world language and social studies classes should still be required, but only to a certain extent. Once a student meets these requirements, he or she should have the option to pick classes that suit his or her needs. This way, a student interested in English won't be stuck twiddling his thumbs in Astronomy, and a student interested in Calculus won't be forced to sit through yet another World Civilizations lecture.

It's your move, Indiana.