In an atmosphere of economic recession, budget cuts, and even failing K-12 schools, good news in the public school system can be elusive. And in U.S. schools, if the first things to be cut are the arts and music programs, the next in line are the foreign languages. Often schools may keep minimum Spanish and French (as my high school offered-- only the minimum French I and French II required to graduate) classes, and cut higher-level grammar, conversation, and composition courses, along with any additional languages previously offered.
A glimmer of hope lies in Brooklyn, NY, though, where over 400 middle-grades students are learning Mandarin Chinese. Ninety percent of Medgar Evers College Preparatory School's students qualify for subsidized lunches, yet their school is giving them invaluable tools for their future: fostering an interest in Chinese language and culture makes these students more prepared for the multi-ethnic face of the United States they know. Of course, there are also the career and opportunity benefits that accompany knowledge and skills in the Chinese language in today's global (job) market.
My own Chinese professor, who has been teaching to foreign students both in China and the United States for more than twenty years, was dismissed from Georgia Perimeter College after the Chinese language program was cut there. She now faces the same danger as higher education faces an even more severe squeeze. No matter your thoughts on education budget cuts, we cannot ignore the significance of being able to communicate in a world whose citizens are intricately connected; learning Mandarin Chinese extends these kids' potential friends by nearly 885 million people who speak it as their first language (the number goes up to 1.3 billion if including all other speakers).
I know my experience in college would have been vastly different without a Chinese program: two-month study abroad, Asian studies minor, and an intermediate level of language skills. Learning Mandarin brought Chinese history to life. This interest also led me to my senior thesis research topic, missionary Young J. Allen. Amidst the bleak backdrop of every other public education news story, this one proves there is still some hope for U.S. schools. There are still some educators who understand what is important for their students and the future.