There has been a lot of ink sacrificed lately about the proposed Spanish language immersion program known as HoLa. Despite now living in San Antonio, I thought I’d take this opportunity to toss in my two cents.
I am a great believer in language immersion programs. I ask people to recall the old joke that someone who speaks three languages is tri-lingual, someone who speaks two languages is bi-lingual and someone who speaks one language is an American. The lack of fluency in languages other than English is a national disgrace.
As I understand it, much of the discussion centers on the proposed staff, their relationship to Jack Raslowsky and whether the money could be better spent elsewhere. I have no opinion on the staff and their relationship to Jack, and I think a language immersion program is an excellent use of education funds. However, I think this is a case of right church, wrong pew.
I would like to suggest that the school district immediately begin an immersion program in English. Heaven knows the students need it. All one has to do is look at the verbal and essay scores on the SAT. In 2007, the last year for which data are available, the average verbal SAT score for Hoboken High students was 398. Compare this to an average of 488 for similar districts and 491 for the State. The comparable essay scores were 394 for Hoboken, 483 for similar districts and also 494 for the State. Clearly Hoboken’s scores can be charitably described as atrocious. I suggest there is more than enough work to do teaching English before embarking on an immersion program in another language.
Even if the district decides to do a language immersion program, Spanish is simply the wrong language. The district should be teaching languages that will make college admissions officers and employers sit up and take notice. To put it mildly, Spanish ain’t it. Imagine you are a college admissions officer. Would you rather see “fluent in Spanish” or “fluent in Arabic” on an application? How about “fluent in Chinese”? Arabic and Chinese are the languages of the future, and the demand for them will last for years. Offering Arabic and/or Chinese will also serve as an excellent marketing point for parents deciding where to enroll their children.
In summary, I applaud the goal of a language immersion program. First the district ought to make certain that all students are at least semi-proficient in English and then select a language that will give students a real advantage after graduation.
Jonathan R. Gordon