Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Two Birds With One Stone Or How UCI Managed to Dumb Down Students and Become a Threat to National Security

Two years ago there was a proposal being tossed around amongst the decision makers at the University of California, Irvine regarding several of the general education requirements. The thought was to cut general education requirements (including the multicultural and foreign language categories) in order to make it more enticing for students to pursue a degree in other fields (i.e. engineering, science). There was a protest in which students and faculty discussed how the particular targeting of these categories amounted to an assault on culture but it only made the university governing body flinch a bit and delay what they believed to be the inevitable based on their poor assessment of education and student needs. Subsequently, and during a month of active student protest which included a mock funeral for education on the campus, three people (an undergrad, a grad, and a faculty member) were allowed to witness about 10 minutes of a two hour meeting in which they were told by the decision makers that nothing was going to be cut, that everything out there was merely a rumor gone viral.

A year passed by and the foreign language requirement got cut in half.

Later, the Humanities faced a large budget shortfall. In order to save the faculty and the school, the Dean of Humanities proposed, among other drastic measures, that the foreign language requirement be shortened or cut (just like it was proposed the previous year), although it is still unclear how this would save the Humanities any money. The logic behind this, was the infamous "Needs Attention" memo, predicting a grim future for the Humanities at UCI.

Today, UCI's requirements in categories VI, VII, and VIII (Foreign Language Other than English, Multicultural Studies, and International/Global Issues, respectively), have been reduced to a single course per category (See UCI General Catalog Page 56), while categories II and V (Science and Technology and Quantitative, Symbolic, and Computational Reasoning) still stand at three courses minimum requirement for all undergraduates.

With this overhaul, the University of California, Irvine has managed to accomplish only three things: dumb its student population down, increase their health risks, and contributed to heightened threats to national security.

How exactly have these results come about?

The New York Times reports that according to two separate studies performed in 2004 and 2009, researchers have found out that bilingualism is a fundamental strategy for problem solving that not only increases brain function but helps people to live healthier lives:
"Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset."
Surely, a single course in foreign language is not enough to develop "proficiency" in it.

Moreover, a recent meeting from the Council on Foreign Relations which included former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and New York's former school teacher's Chancellor, Joel I. Klein, announced that threats to national security are heightened when there is an inadequate (or poor) emphasis on foreign language learning at schools. Albeit, the focus of the Council's meeting was prompting the creation of a more adequate "human capital" pool for a "volunteer army", the fact that even the military is recognizing the need for more and better language learning and teaching only emphasizes the real and immediate consequences that poor decisions by other types of capitalists like UCIs decision makers have on the future of America.

Yes we are becoming dumber, less healthy, and we are letting our poor military down... (read the sarcasm on the last point). But at what gain?

How much money has the School of Humanities really saved in all of this? How long can it sustain itself by making equally worthless decisions that will, no doubt, end up creating a vicious cycle in which there will be less students taking foreign language, thus needing less T.A.s to teach the courses, thus needing less Faculty to teach graduate courses, thus needing less of everything over and over again?

This is a race to the bottom that all of us will lose.