Around the Web: Now You’re Speaking My Language

Babelfish

A few weeks ago, an essay by Larry Summers in The New York Times outlined ways in which higher education will need to adapt to a changing world. Among many other observations, Summers notes that although it will be crucial for universities to foster their students’ cosmopolitanism, he is “not so sure” that mastering a foreign tongue will be essential to “doing business in Asia, treating patients in Africa or helping resolve conflicts in the Middle East.”

The point about language instruction ruffled a lot of feathers. This week, Michael Geisler fired back (Inside Higher Ed). Summers’s suggestion comes at a time when cuts in foreign-language departments prove that many universities (not to mention the federal government) do in fact consider foreign-language instruction to be supplemental rather than essential. If funding is a problem, foreign governments and institutions are often eager to endow on-campus centers or institutes. But there can be some serious strings attached: The New York Times offers a cautionary report on China’s Confucius Institutes. Meanwhile, Education Week America takes a look at how Texas is using bilingual elementary schools to help non-native speakers close the achievement gap. Another article rounds up tons of examples to suggest what, and more importantly how, we should be learning from other countries’ educational successes and failures.

Rick Santorum’s ill-advised characterization of higher education as liberal indoctrination has prompted some interesting reflections on elitism and class equality, or, to put it slightly differently, excellence and access. The New York Times op-ed page was all abuzz: Neil Gross reviewed all of the evidence proving that higher education does not fundamentally change people’s values; Andrew Delbanco argued that a little humility might help our colleges seem less elitist; and Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart, suggested four reforms in higher education that might combat the widening gap between socioeconomic classes. At Inside Higher Ed, Doug Lederman argued that developing nations might do well to think deeply about the competing claims of access and excellence as they build their higher education systems. University of Texas El Paso President Diana Natlico argues for measuring her school’s success in terms of the access: although graduation rates are low, the student body’s demographics suggest UTEP is serving students who would otherwise have gotten no college education at all. (For more on graduation rates nationwide, check out the interactive graphics and related stories at The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

If you’re wondering how to speak your students’ language–cognitively, at least—have a look at “Student Development: Solving the Great Puzzle” (a chapter, posted on Tomorrow’s Professor, from Using Quality Benchmarks for Assessing and Developing Undergraduate Programs). It runs down the list of development theories that have guided pedagogical thinking over the years: most recently, researchers are using ecological models to understand how students develop in interaction with their environments. Faculty Focus offers some practical tips on getting students to understand and act on written feedback, while Lingua Franca has some suggestions for how to get your language right when you don’t know the name of the relevant grammar rule.

This post was written by Odile Harter.

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