Language Losses on College Campuses
For most of its existence, you could argue that UOG was a colonial institution. You could argue that it continues to be one today. When I say colonial, it is not meant to describe that it came from the outside and therefore it implicitly bad. This is something that has been and can continue to be argued over forever. When I say colonial, I am invoking it to refer to the type of education it provides. How it is rooted and what it is meant to do. All cultures have some form of education and that education comes with different intents, to teach certain things, to dislodge certain ideas and offer up others. To provide the means for someone to confront the challenges of life from a stronger position that previously.
Educational systems brought in to the islands over the past few centuries were intended to actively reduce the amount of languages spoken here. They were intended to dramatically reduce the understanding of the people of these islands about their own culture, history and environment.
It has been a long journey coming to terms with that legacy. But what is most frustrating is how that legacy continues to be perpetuated, sometimes in thoughtless and careless ways. We know this colonial character to education in the islands, we known it was wrong, it created generations of trauma and feelings of alienation and desires for assimilation, so why aren't we changing it? Why is it that in the past generation or so, the only substantive change to Guam's educational system is the inclusion of a minute amount of Chamoru language and culture classes and the celebration of Chamoru month?
Or at the University of Guam where this conversation is much more lively, where the lessons of the past are to be learned in more pronounced ways, we see the same problems. UOG has long been a colonial institution, but it doesn't need to continue to be one. UOG and many of its faculty and administrators struggle with the institution being far away from the normal centers of academic inquiry and power. That Guam is at a disadvantage because of where it is located and what it is stuck with in terms of region and resources. But these things are only disadvantages it assuming the supremacy of an American stye, Western educational system of higher education. The diversity of cultures in the region and the way in which Chamoru language and culture can bee promoted and preserved at UOG are key advantages that UOG can use to develop a stronger relationship, but how much time is spent weakening this in the name of academia? How much time is spent trying to deny this and concoct new generations of colonial fantasies?
The reduction of second language learning requirements at UOG as part of the GE restructuring is a perfect example of this. I was biased against this change of course because I teach Chamoru and I recognized that this GE change would lead to less language classes being taught overall and therefore less ability for the Chamorro Studies program to grow. But I was against it because of the larger intellectual argument. It made a clear point about UOG and its place in the Pacific, it reinforced the colonial roots, it watered them, it found a new way to give life to them, so that rather than grow with the community, the institution would continue to choke life from it. It was an unfortunate time and a poorly shaped debate. We can see how it has negatively impacted a number of different programs already and created chaos in terms of advising students, by replacing a relatively straight-forward GE system, with one that is needlessly confusing.
I was brought back to these thoughts when I was forwarded this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education and how a "stunning" number of foreign language programs across the US have been cut or reduced.
Colleges Lose a 'Stunning' 651 Foreign-Language Programs in 3 Years
by Steven Johnson
Chronicle of Higher Education
January 22, 2019