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Should Michigan make learning a foreign language optional?


A bill in the state legislature would drop the foreign language requirement in Michigan high schools.

State Representative Phil Potvin dismisses the suggestion that learning a foreign language will better prepare Michigan teens for a globalized economy. He says the requirement has the opposite effect. Potvin says the foreign language requirement pushes kids to drop out of school.

“It’s forcing kids into frustration…it’s forcing kids into failure….at a time that I thought we were here to set up success,” says Potvin.

Potvin says he wants to give students the option of taking more vocational courses, which he believes will better prepare them for their future.    He says, under his bill, students could still take foreign language classes if they wish. 

Foreign language teachers are criticizing a proposal to drop the foreign language requirement from Michigan’s high school curriculum.

Jackie Moase-Burke is a former president of the Michigan World Language Association.    She says school children need to learn foreign languages to prepare for their future.

“We believe it is in the best interest of students, the community and the nation…to have a citizenry that is linguistically competent in more than one language….that understands other cultures,” says Moase-Burke. 

A similar bill failed to pass the legislature in its last session.    But Potvin says there is more, bi-partisan support for his bill this year.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.