When I first got word that the Washington State Legislature was considering a bill entitled “Using computer sciences to satisfy world language college admission requirements.” (HB 1445 – 2015-16 http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?year=2015&bill=1445), I thought to myself, well, that’s a BAD idea. Our new state World Languages Program Supervisor reached out to colleagues in the National Council of State Supervisors for Language (NCSSFL) to hear what’s been happening in other states. There were some great responses:
We have had this provision in Oklahoma for many years (since 1991). No one was making the case that computer technology was a “language” per se. It was primarily done because the many rural schools in our state could not find language teachers that would be hired just to teach 2 courses (levels 1 & 2—our high school graduation requirement), and it was easier to find someone who could be hired to teach full time combining a content level with computer technology. That is the crux of the problem here—language teacher shortages and rural schools having to juggle their student needs with their inability to staff their schools adequately due to their circumstances. This, too, will have to be addressed in any advocacy efforts.
– Desa Dawson, Director of World Language Education, Oklahoma State Department of Education
I keep going back to the State Standards that need to guide learning in every subject area. If computer programming is being considered a language, I would simply ask how well it addresses the Washington State Standards for learning languages – with all 5 goal areas: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. And to go one step further – the goal area of Communication is not about grammar and syntax – it is about interpersonal communication (interaction and negotiation of meaning); interpretive communication (understanding and analyzing a message received); and presentational communication (knowing the audience, purpose, and task). The World-Readiness Standards have explicitly embedded literacy strategies (and Washington is a Common Core state) and 21st century skills (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity). So, how does computer programming address these language standards?
– Paul Sandrock, Director of Education, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
Programming languages are not the same as spoken or signed languages. They are expressions of logic, similar to mathematical proofs. As such, it would be much more appropriate to give students math credit for successfully completing a programming language course.
– Article in the Huffington Post co-authored by Marty Abbott, Executive Director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), “Computer Science Is Not a Foreign Language.” Posted 2/20/2014 http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4823691 (retrieved 2/7/2015)
Kentucky Senate President Pro Tem David Givens has filed a bill that would allow students to get foreign language credit for studying a computer programming language.
This is an incredibly bad idea.
I learned a foreign language before I learned English and then went on to study three more foreign languages in high school, college and graduate school so I know the differences between learning a language as a native speaker and learning it in a school setting.
Furthermore, as a computer scientist for over 30 years, I have studied, used and taught a wide variety of programming languages. Though both kinds are “languages,” they are very different. Our children need to study both.
– Article in the Lexington-Herald Leader, “Language of computing, language of cultures not comparable.” Posted 2/3/2015 http://www.kentucky.com/2015/02/03/3676508_language-of-computing-language.html?rh=1 (retrieved 2/7/2015)
So, it seems I’m not alone in thinking that this is a bad idea. And I myself am pretty familiar with both human languages and computer programming. I’ve learned to communicate in over 8 languages (besides English) and I have a Ph.D. in Slavic Linguistics. But I also spent twenty years as a computer programmer/systems analyst. In fact, to be honest, after finishing my Ph.D. general exams, I needed a “real” job and a friend suggested that I try computer programming. I called the large insurance company that had the best reputation for training new programmers (ahem… back then computer science did not even exist on the university campus) to apply for a job. Actually, I called several times a week all summer long until they finally interviewed me. I claimed that having demonstrated that I could easily learn new languages, I was confident I could master computer languages too. They hired me. Fortunately, I was right, and I did become a very good programmer and eventually systems analyst and trainer.
No question that this bill is a bad idea for Washington.
Then, I decided to take a closer look. In reading the actual language of the bill, I realized that the purpose of the bill is to “facilitate a dialogue” and “produce a report to the Legislature by November 1, 2017.” The fiscal note would partially fund the State World Languages Program Supervisor in 2015-2016 to make that dialogue happen. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?year=2015&bill=1445 (retrieved 2/7/2015)
So, is that such a bad idea? There’s unlikely to be much other state funding for the World Languages Program Supervisor at this time. And, if a “dialogue” really happens, could it actually be an opportunity for legislators and key educators in the state to pay attention to World Languages for a change? Am I so confident that we are “right” (that is, world languages are not the same as computer languages), that I’d be willing to risk setting the stage for that dialogue? And suppose people end up agreeing with me?
This bill is all about college admissions because Washington does not have a high school graduation requirement for world languages. When the state updated the high school graduation requirements a few years ago to 24 credits, 2 credits of world languages were included in the “Career and College Ready Graduation Requirements” that go into effect in 2017, but they are considered “[f]lexible requirements… [that] may be substituted according to a student’s High School and Beyond Plan.” http://www.k12.wa.us/GraduationRequirements/Requirement-Credits.aspx (retrieved 2/7/2015) In other words, students will already be able to substitute computer programming for world languages in order to meet high school graduation requirements in our state.
If HB 1445 required the state to have a “dialogue” about whether world languages are really the equivalent of computer programming languages for the purposes of college admissions, maybe, just maybe we could have that dialogue about high school graduation requirements, as well.
Maybe this bill is a good idea after all…
Blog post by Dr. Michele Anciaux Aoki,
Member of WAFLT (Washington Association for Language Teaching), and
ACTFL American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and
NADSFL (National Association for District Supervisors for Language), and
Associate Member of NCSSFL (National Council of State Supervisors for Language)