Cooperation between North Coast districts could widen offeringsThe governor and Oregon's state lawmakers continue to do a disservice to today's schoolchildren - who are Oregon's tomorrow - by failing to properly fund K-12 education.

The latest casualty in Astoria, which is strapped by a shortfall in state funding coupled with declining enrollment, is languages.

In brighter years, Astoria has offered Latin, Russian, Japanese, German, French and Spanish. But next year only a three-year Spanish curriculum will remain. Other districts are working hard to give priority to languages. Seaside offers four years each of Spanish and French; Warrenton-Hammond provides a year of American Sign Language plus various level Spanish classes.

Some school leaders will say school boards with limited money must set priorities, and that means cutting languages in favor of more basic topics. It is a false economy. As teachers quoted in Leanne Josephson's story in Thursday's edition pointed out, offering foreign languages in high school isn't just enrichment. Language equips today's teenagers for challenges in the adult world. The cliche of the global village isn't just a concept, it's a truism, brought about by ever-changing information technology.

If the reality is hard to grasp, let's bring it down to base, economic and nationalistic terms. Do we want the Germans and French to beat the heck out of the United States in business? More properly, the question is, can we afford to let them beat us? It's happening right under our noses. We have the means to compete, if we have the will.

But it takes a long-term view. In Germany, students begin a second language in fifth grade, and a third in seventh grade. In France, foreign language curricula begin in sixth and eighth grades. All British students learn French in grade school and have other languages offered in high school.

Experts agree that the earl-ier a child starts, the more likely he or she will learn, which is why is it pleasing to learn that Broadway Middle School in Seaside is leading the way with earlier introductions to languages.

If money is the key issue, it is clear the time has come for some creative thinking. If individual districts cannot offer a class on their own, maybe they need to join forces with their neighbors. The Portland School District has pioneered some distance-learning opportunities with many topics, including languages. There is no reason Astoria and its neighbors cannot do something similar. Clatsop Community College can play a role in this partnership too.

One of the most poignant comments in Josephson's article came from teacher and poet Jon Broderick, who teaches French at Seaside High School. In an era when Islamic fanatics are volunteering in droves to blow themselves up to show their animosity toward Americans, a little more international understanding on our part can't hurt.

"Learning a language really teaches us empathy, which is in short supply," said Broderick. "You can begin to see the world behind someone else's eyes. Americans are not well known for seeing life behind any other lens than their own."

All North Coast school leaders need to look beyond the "now" of the bottom line and build a better future by creative thinking and cooperation.

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