Protect Language Learning at UOG
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Pacific Daily News
December 30, 2016
At present at the University of Guam, each undergraduate student is required to take two language classes (eight credits total) as part of their General Education or GE requirements. UOG offers courses regularly for Chamorro, Japanese, Tagalong, Spanish, Mandarin, French and can also offer courses in Chuukese and other Micronesian languages upon request. UOG is also home to the Chamorro Studies Program, of which I am a faculty member and this program is unique in the world in terms of focusing its courses on the history, language and culture of the Chamorro people. UOG serves and is supported by a diverse community in this region and the many language courses that are offered illustrate that.
The University of Guam is currently planning on reducing the language requirement so that in the future students will only be required to take one language course, or a single semester in order to graduate. With this change, individual major programs may require a second semester or more for their own requirements, but overall this would still impact negatively language learning at UOG. To cut the requirements in half, would mean losing a number of language courses every semester, which would mean less money to support teachers of Chamorro, Japanese and other regional languages. The loss of these classes would also mean that programs such as mine which are language focused, would have limited ability to expand or grow, since institutional support at UOG is largely dependent upon the amount of courses you offer.
In college, much of your focus is on your major courses because they are meant to reflect your chosen path in life. But as many who have attended college will tell you, your GE courses are usually the sources of your most unexpected epiphanies. In college your major is usually where you are meant to derive your most important skills or lessons. GE classes are supposed to be dreary dreaded experiences, where you are forced to take courses not because of what interests you, but because of some academic consensus about what all students should at least be familiar with before moving to the next stage of their lives.
But those GE classes are often the places where we learn some of the most important and surprising lessons, because they educate or enlighten us from outside of the comfortable confines of our discipline or profession. Your major courses often reduce the world to a basic set of theories or ideas, which in truth really apply to only a portion of what you will encounter in your work or life. Your GE classes represent a sometimes frustrating, sometimes enriching reminder that there are far more things in heaven in earth than in your degree requirements young undergraduate. This idea might be truest in terms of language learning. In my column next week I will discuss more about the ways in which learning a new language, or for many students learning your heritage language, can represent a defining moment in terms of development and eventual identity as a person.
For today, myself and several other faculty at UOG are currently holding a “Protect Language Learning at UOG” petition drive in hopes of convincing the administration at UOG to not reduce the amount of language classes required for undergraduates. If you would like to sign the petition or learn more about this issue, please head to the website www.uoglanguagedrive.com.
Language Courses are Important
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Pacific Daily News
January 6, 2017
Last week I wrote about current proposals at the University of Guam to reduce the General Education (GE) requirements for language learning from a full year of course work (8 credits) to just a single semester (4 credits). I am part of a group of UOG faculty members and concerned community members who feel that this will be detrimental to the learning of UOG students and also does not reflect the realities of our region. We have a website www.uoglanguagedrive.com and a petition which we are encouraging people to sign in order to convince the administration at UOG to reverse this course and protect language learning at UOG.
In my classes at UOG, I generally cite our president, Robert Underwood when describing the value of education, namely that it is not about memorizing facts or figures, but rather giving students a set of intellectual tools to help them confront the diversity of challenges they will face, from a position of strength. This means, that through their General Education and major courses, you cannot teach them everything or prepare them for everything, but the courses you require them to take will help them confront difficulties in their personal and professional lives with a greater sense of purpose and possibility.
Major courses are meant to prepare someone for different professional paths, but GE courses represent a deeper foundation. Each college’s GE curriculum is a mixture of established international or national norms developed over centuries and also a particular institution’s relationship to the communities or the regions around it. A GE curriculum cannot represent everything under the sun, but the local components tend to reflect certain key relationships, most notably through history, language and culture courses.
In May 2015 I helped organize a forum at UOG focused on the importance of learning second languages in today’s world. The event was attended by more than 200 community members and undergraduates. We passed out surveys and 185 out of 186 respondents expressed their support for keeping the existing language learning requirements at UOG. At that forum Dr. Laura Souder Betances, a noted Chamorro activist, scholar and educational consultant made several statements which have stuck with me today. Here is one I find particularly relevant for this discussion.
Universities exist to universalize students. And how do we universalize students? We universalize them by providing them with different universes in which to learn, to make decisions, and to operate, and to be successful. If we’re going to operate and be successful in the global reality, we need to know more than one language. Fortunately, many – most – of us are bilingual. But we need to know many languages, because in order to be successful, you have to negotiate in many parts of the world. In order to have an economic future, we need to be able to speak the languages of the people that we are trading with. Diminishing the capacity of students to learn more than one language…is diminishing the capacities of universities to fully function as universalizing places for students.
My argument is that Guam is a multicultural and multilingual community whereby languages in addition to English are essential in not just how we communicate with those in our region, but also communicate our respect for what they provide to the university, whether through taxes, student tuition or community involvement. The reduction of the language requirement in the GE curriculum means a weakening of that potential connection, which is strongly symbiotic. As communities around Guam want to see their cultures and languages reflected at UOG, so too should students benefit from the learning of languages in order to better interact with those groups or even feeling stronger connected to their own cultures through beginners courses in their heritage languages.
For me, this is something fiercely personal. When I attended the UOG as an undergraduate, I did not speak much Chamorro or care much about my culture. I took Chamorro to fulfill my language requirements and didn't think much of it at the time. But taking those courses and learning the basics of my heritage language changed me in so many ways and reshaped my consciousness. It pushed me to become fluent and to become more connected to my culture and my elders. Not all students will have that same transformative experience, but in my opinion, it is important that we use the General Education curriculum at UOG to give students from all ethnicities on Guam that chance to explore both new and familiar universes.