On Tuesday, the language department and academic administration released a poll to the Menlo students in an attempt to determine a suitable language to add to the curriculum. The letter assessed the fact that Menlo already has a “language of the Americas,” a “European” language, and a language from “classical” culture. From the way the letter was structured, a reader might think that a logical addition to the language department would be an Asian language, which Menlo’s curriculum is currently lacking. While certain Asian languages such as Japanese might have been logical additions about five years ago, a more practical addition today is German. German would be a suitable fourth language, yet it was not even listed on the survey sheet which was distributed to students.
It is not merely the fact that more logical choices were not presented to students; it was that a variety of languages was clearly lacking from the sheet. Presented with choices such as Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and Mandarin, students are inclined to choose one of these Pacific Rim languages as the least of the evils, rather than as a language which they would truly take an interest in. Perhaps there will be a significant number of students who are interested in learning another non-Asian language; unfortunately, however, the hope of such an addition to the curriculum seems to have been dramatically curtailed.
Of course, the language department and the academic administration are not acting
completely illogically when they assume that students have no interest in languages such as German and Italian—two years ago, the department surveyed the students regarding the issue of adding a fourth language like German or Italian, and students replied extremely apathetically. However, more than half of Menlo has never seen this survey, and might benefit from being offered a wider variety of options.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the administration has already made up its mind that an Asian language will be added to the curriculum; I do not object to the prospect of a new Asian language, and I might even be interested in taking Japanese. In fact, I am quite pleased that the administration would think to accept student input in a decision of such great magnitude. However, I find it most irritating that the poll was so shortsighted. I suggest that the administration redistribute a more general poll, offering students a choice as to which type of language should be added. Once the type of language to be added is determined, the administration and the language department should take it upon themselves to add a language of that type at their discretion. Once it is determined what type of new language the students demand, the language department should be able to use their knowledge to decide which particular language of that type would be the most practical, beneficial, and easiest to find a competent teacher for.
The problem lies in the fact that Menlo is far too concerned with its multi-cultural appeal; we must take every culture into account, or risk being accused for not being “politically correct.” What is political correctness, anyway? The administration’s blind pursuit of this vague ideal has perhaps triggered apathy with regard to student needs, which have been neglected in favor of this ideal of an acceptable public image. It seems as though we are too caught up in being cultural pioneers, to the extent that the desires of the students have taken the back seat. Menlo focuses so much on public image—appearing culturally diverse, where, in fact, the student body is a gross distortion of society’s class lines, thus drawing a great distinction between perception versus reality, and pioneering a new language frontier, where in fact, the true views of the students may or may not have been represented (who’s to tell from such a narrow-minded survey?).
It may indeed be true that an Asian language would be the most practical addition to the Menlo curriculum, and it may even be that an Asian language is the type of language students demand. However, the administration will never know this if they do not take a more representative poll from the students. Why even bother to take input from the students if this input is not an adequate representation of the students’ needs, desires, and concerns?
by Nick Feamster