Engaging the world

By Dave Porter of Portland, Oregon. Dave is a retired health administrator who live in SE Portland. He is an advocate for expanding Mandarin and study abroad programs in China for Oregon public school students.

The movie "Lions for Lambs" directed by Robert Redford and starring Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise, is just out on DVD. It's a political thriller about the war in Afghanistan, but the dialogue raises many issues. Rent it, see it.

In the middle of the movie there is a scene which slips in a profound proposal for US education. Because I am now developing similar legislation, several component proposals for a high school study abroad program, I found the scene riveting. Let us in Oregon take the movie proposal seriously. Let us not mandate it, nor limit it to the Junior year, as in the movie, but let us see what parts we could make as options for our students.

In that scene, two minority college students, played by Michael Pena and Derek Luke, make a presentation titled "Engagement." They say "Like do away with your Junior year of high school. And there are three options instead of just going to school."

1. Peace Corp year abroad.

2. US Ameri-Corps in one of the 500 poorest zipcodes.

3. ROTC apprenticeship in US or Abroad

"Everyone picks. No one gets a note from Mom."

And further on several students ask "What about costs? And how ridiculous and infeasible would they be."

Pena and Luke answer: "Not as ridiculous as the $9 grand per student per year we spend."

And still further on: "Who wouldn't want to be part of an experience that is not about your race, not about your wealth, not even about where you come from. Common only because we're Americans. And the shame is we don't get that type of level playing ground. Not in this country.... unless there is a draft."

Maybe not initially a Peace Corp year abroad program, but a high school study abroad scholarship program could be quite simple. State legislation could simply authorized school districts to use public fund to pay for study abroad scholarships. My current draft of concepts is here.

There are existing academic-year-long study abroad programs that cost less than the per pupil spending in many Oregon school districts. For example, using data from the Oregon Department of Education's Open Book website for a recent year, Portland's per pupil spending was $9,442, Salem-Keizer's was $8,288, Beaverton's was $7,607 , Hillsboro's was $7,499 , and Eugene's was $8,440. Portland-based Education, Travel and Culture (see here) offers academic year abroad programs with fees ranging from to $5,500 to $7,950, not including airfare, from countries ranging from Brazil to Sweden. China is $6,950 (plus airfare) for an academic year. Portland based Andeo (see here) offers an academic year in Mexico for $6,000 plus airfare. There are many other study abroad programs currently existing and others could be created specifically to use this funding.

For little or no additional costs, Oregon could have many more high school students studying abroad. Some school district could save money by sending students to study abroad.

Further, there is a national organization, the Council for Standards on International Educational Travel (CSIET) (see here) that "identifies reputable international youth exchange programs." So, to be eligible for public funding, the basic list of eligible study abroad program could be those listed with this CSIET. There could be provisions for each school district or the Oregon Department of Education to approve additional programs.

And note, our national government has identified "critical need languages." (see here) They include: Arabic, Azeri (Azerbiajan), Bengali (Bangladesh and part of India), Chinese (Mandarin only), Farsi (Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan), Gujarati (state of Gujarat in India), Hindi (northern and central India), Korean, Marathi (western India), Pashto (parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan), Punjabi (parts of India and Pakistan), Russian, Tajik (Tajikistan and parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and China), Turkish, Urdu (Pakistan, similar to Hindi), and Uzbek (Uzbekistan).

One theme of "Lions for Lambs" is that our privileged young are not being called to public service. We need to tell today's students, our next generations, that we, the United States of America, face enormous international challenges in the years ahead. And I put the challenges that China presents as the most strategic and critical. We need to tell our students that they can serve their country by studying foreign languages (especially those "critical need languages") and spending time in foreign lands learning to understand foreign peoples. If we have the wisdom and political will to create such programs for them, I am sure some, seeking to serve or seeking adventure, will respond.

See the movie, note that scene, and think about how we could and should change education in Oregon!

  • Ahad (unverified)

    I just wanted to mention that Uzbek language is spoken in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan (order in number of people speaks) and in addition to that 20 mln Uyghur's language is also identical to Uzbek (both of which must be called Turki, not Uzbek ir Uyghur language).

  • tl (unverified)

    As a student, I spent one summer in Finland and a year in Germany, one semester in West Germany and one in East Germany (it was the last year before The Wall came down). My family has hosted and known many foreign exchange students and my mother taught English as a Second Language at a community college. I have always believed that the world would be a better place if every student spent at least 6 months in a country where a different language was spoken. I think it is particularly crucial for US. Here we may drive for hours and days and still be speaking English and using the dollar currency whereas a comparable trip in other parts of the world could encounter many languages and several currencies. Both the student and the host country benefits from these experiences.

    I have to understand the details of the proposal and I will seek out the recommended movie. But at first blush, it sounds like a great idea. -tl

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