By Stephanie Espinoza, May 4, 2012 4:24 PM
Stephanie Espinoza is a fellow with New America Media’s Youth Education Fellowship. The fellowship is a six-month long program for youth reporters aged 16-24 on education reporting. It is sponsored by the California Education Policy Fund.
The board of Kern High School District recently approved a “permissive law” that aims to give students more options for completing their graduation requirements. The move is part of Assembly Bill 1330, which is designed to offer students greater flexibility in choosing classes that will count towards graduation.
Currently in the state of California, all graduating high school students must complete one course in visual or performing arts, or in a foreign language. Starting next school year, students in Kern County will be able to take career technical education courses instead of a fine art or foreign language. While this change could lead to jobs for career-bound students, it could also cut students from needed exposure to the arts and culture.
Art education has already been eroding as a result of tight budgets, crammed classroom curriculum, and pressure to raise test scores. However, studies have shown that involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, and critical thinking. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the arts also benefit students in their intellectual, personal, and social development. This is especially critical for students from low-income backgrounds, who are generally less exposed to the arts.
The importance of learning a foreign language has also been slipping with a growing trend in the U.S. of eliminating ethnic studies and modern languages despite the diversity that defines the country we live in.
Today more than ever, learning a foreign language is crucial. Not only does learning another language improve brain function but also has the potential to open up new opportunities in an increasingly globalized society. It increases job opportunities and gives you the ability to communicate and exchange views with people from different backgrounds. In Kern County alone, almost 50 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino, most of which are Spanish-speaking only.
It will be some years before we see the full impact of this law. And while its intentions may be well-placed, for students in Kern County it could turn out to be one more challenge as they make their way forward in this world.