Should Speaking English Be a Graduation Requirement?

Jeanne Sager

speak englishThe "English as a national language" debate is rearing its head again. But this time, it has nothing to do with illegal immigration. Well, not exactly. The new battleground for fluency is centering in our schools.

A school board in New London, Connecticut, has just passed a requirement that all students attain a certain level of English proficiency before being granted a diploma. OMG! They actually expect kids to be educated before they graduate? Call the men in white suits! These people are cah-raaaazy!

Seriously folks, the most depressing part of this little news story is that it's news at all. Kids coming out of public high schools with a diploma in hand should have something to show for it. An education.

And in America, part of that education is in the language used on street signs, in office buildings, in doctor's offices, and on street corners. In France kids come out of school with a knowledge of French. In Germany with German. And so on.

And yet, every time this subject comes up, people cry out that schools are trying to quash bilingualism. Even in news stories about the New London decision, community leaders who praised the move railed against teaching kids MORE than one language.

That isn't, and should be, what English proficiency requirements are about at all. America has made great strides in incorporating additional language instruction into the curricula, and we still have a ways to go. English is not better than other languages by any means. It's never a bad thing to give our kids extra skills, skills that can be used to make them competitive on a global scale.

But the word extra denotes that there has to be a basic level in there somewhere. In this case, that's English, a building block of education in the United States. Again, in other countries, that building block is different. But we aren't in other countries, are we? We're here, in America, where there is officially no national language (check your textbooks, the Senate has never voted on English), but where life is easier if you have a grasp on English.

That's what we want for our kids, isn't it? For them to be prepared for life? For them to have it as easy as possible to enter into the "real world"? A high school diploma is supposed to represent that a child is prepared for grown-up life here in America. Without ensuring they have an English proficiency, that diploma is meaningless.

Do you think this school is on the right track? Do you know the requirements for language in your area?

Image via antwerpenR/Flickr

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