[lg policy] Washington lawmakers want computer science to count as foreign language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Feb 7 16:48:23 UTC 2015

 Washington lawmakers want computer science to count as foreign language If
bill passes, two years of comp sci would count toward university admission.

by Cyrus Farivar <http://arstechnica.com/author/cyrus-farivar/> - Feb 6
2015, 9:25am EST


  Mircea Turcan <https://www.flickr.com/photos/sincretic/2127209535>

Two Washington state legislators have recently introduced a bill that would
allow computer science class (e.g., programming) to effectively count as a
foreign language requirement for the purposes of in-state college
admissions. On Wednesday, the bill was presented before the Washington
State House of Representatives Committee on Higher Education.

House Bill 1445
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1656974-1445.html> would
amend current state law, which only recognizes “any natural language” that
is “formally studied... including a Native American language, American Sign
Language, Latin, or ancient Greek.”

This isn’t the first time that such a bill has been attempted: in fact,
Kentucky legislators have introduced
a similar provision this year, too.

The bill’s author, Representative Chris Reykdal
<http://housedemocrats.wa.gov/roster/rep-chris-reykdal/> told Ars that
while he does believe in a “well-rounded” education including foreign
language, most students end up studying a language for the first time in
high school—far too late to usually be effective.

“If we were serious, we would put language in our elementary schools when
the brain is mapping in a different way, and we would have kids fluent by
6th or 7th grade,” he said. “By high school it's just a way for kids to get
into college. If we're serious about language, we should embed it earlier.”

But, he pointed out, high-paid computer science jobs are growing far faster
than people can fill them. So why not take advantage of the labor disparity?
Ein bisschen Deutsch?

to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of computer and information
research scientists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022,
faster than the average for all occupations.”

“We consistently hear about kids that are not getting jobs as they're going
overseas,” Reykdal added. “It strikes me that we don't give kids a
meaningful shot in getting some computer science basics before they go to

The bill's co-sponsor, Representative Chad Magendanz
<http://houserepublicans.wa.gov/chad-magendanz/> (a Republican, software
developer to boot, and Ars reader), described his interest in the bill as
being as “less enthusiastic" than Reykdal.

Magendanz just wants students to “have a conversation” about the merit of
high school language education and isn’t necessarily as sold on the bill’s
passage. “We have a mismatch between our priorities—claiming that world
languages are an important requirement for going to college—but there's a
drive to make that as a graduation requirement and yet there's not a
commitment at K-12 or higher education to make that happen,” Magendanz said.

Some, though, are worried that making computer science classes serve as an
incentive for college admissions will automatically have a negative effect
on traditional foreign language classes.

“I’ve nothing against students learning more about programming, but I think
it’s a disingenuous way of getting around foreign language requirements,”
Patrick Cox, an editor on PRI’s *The World*, and the host of The World in
Words podcast <http://www.pri.org/collections/world-words>, told Ars by
e-mail. “It’s an indication of the low value that many American
politicians—and unfortunately, educators—place on foreign language
learning. No linguist I know of buys the argument that a computer
programming language is even close to a natural language and should be
treated as such.”

So what languages do the bill’s co-sponsors speak? Reykdal said he has
studied "three years of German in high school, and I can barely speak a
lick of it today!"

Magendanz <http://houserepublicans.wa.gov/chad-magendanz/> has studied “a
little German, took Spanish and Italian in high school, and I learned
survival terms in southeast Asia."

“I’ve been a software developer for 20 years, which certainly wouldn't help
me communicate as I’m trying to do business in other countries,” he
added. “We introduce our kids to foreign language at a late age, we don't
have the opportunity to become fluent.”


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