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September 19, 2005 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-19

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4A -The Michigan Daily - Monday, September 19, 2005

OPINION

Wbt kd:4d n 3ati

JASON Z. PESICK
Editor in Chief

SUHAEL MOMIN
SAM SINGER
Editorial Page Editors

ALISON Go
Managing Editor

EDITED AND MANAGED BY STUDENTS AT
THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN SINCE 1890
420 MAYNARD STREET
ANN ARBOR, MI 48109
tothedaily@michigandaily.com

NOTABLE
QUOTABLE
Once it reaches
the Gulf, really
everybody should
pay attention at
that point."
-National Hurricane Center
meteorologist Daniel Brown, comment-
ing on the potential severity of a new
hurricane off the coast of Florida, as
reported yesterday by The Associated Press.

MICHELLE BIEN TilE BEAN ARCHVES

Parlez-vous une autre langue?
SUHAEL MOMIN No SURRENDER

n 1997, at the
request of the Col-
lege of Literature,
Science, and the Arts
Student Government,
the LSA Joint Faculty-
Student Policy Com-
mittee issued its Report
on Second Language
k Instruction. Recogniz-
ing widespread student dissatisfaction with the
language requirement, the committee proposed
a broad series of curriculum reforms to make it
more appealing and interesting. Yet, William
Paulson, then chair of the Department of Romance
Languages and Literature made it very clear: "It's
unlikely that the kinds of changes we can make in
the curriculum will have much of an impact on the
relatively small minority who strongly resent the
LSA language requirement."
Eight years later, many of the committee's
suggestions have been implemented. Classes are
relatively small, instructors attempt to weave cul-
tural and social themes into the courses and the
four-semester sequence is effectively a two-year
language program, not four discrete and disjoint
courses. However, despite these efforts, Paulson's
"small minority" has continued to grow; acting on
cues from students, LSA-SG has approached the
LSA administration with a plan to fundamentally
change - and irreparably damage - the lan-
guage proficiency requirement.
Under the proposed change, the "fourth semes-
ter" requirement would be replaced by a "2-2"
requirement: Insteadof fourth semester proficiency
in one language, a student could instead take two
semesters in two separate languages. The benefit,
supporters argue, would be increased flexibility.
Students would no longer have to slave through a
language they don't enjoy, but took in high school,
because they placed into the third semester and
have to take only two classes to fulfill the require-
ment. Students would not be forced to stick with

a language they didn't enjoy because they didn't
wish to start over with semester one of another
language. Students would even be able to dabble
in two languages, broadening their exposure.
Unfortunately, these rationales disregard the
intent of the proficiency requirement, which is
- as the name implies - proficiency. After two
introductory semesters in two separate languages,
a student - while able to ask for water and find
the bathroom in two different languages - will
be able to effectively use neither. While four
semesters of a foreign language will not enable a
student to achieve fluency, they do provide a solid
base. Two introductory semesters do not.
In reality, the LSA-SG plan is not about pro-
viding flexibility, or enabling students to study
languages they would love to understand but can-
not find the time to take. The changes attempt to
gut the LSA language requirement, but to do so
under the guise of giving students "many more
options."
The suggestion that the current structure of the
language requirement needs to be altered because
it "punishes people who want to try new things" is
disingenuous. Yes, there may be a strong incentive
to simply trudge through two semesters of Span-
ish instead of starting over with four semesters of
Chinese. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, two
extra semesters -10 extra credit hours, at most -
is not a significant commitment, considering that
an LSA student needs 120 credit hours for gradu-
ation. If an incoming student is really interested in
exploring a new language, he undoubtedly has the
time in his four years at the University to do so.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that
the purpose of the requirement is proficiency. It is
a "fourth semester proficiency," not "four semes-
ter" requirement; superficial understanding of two
languages is not equivalent to a more thorough
exposure to one. If someone is interested in dab-
bling around in different languages, he has plenty
of time to do so after demonstrating proficiency in
one language. LSA advisors often show students a

pie chart, breaking down how they can spend the
120 credit hours needed for degree completion.
Assuming that it takes 30 credits to finish a major,
30 to fulfill distribution and 30 more to complete
the remaining LSA requirements (language, race
and ethnicity, etc.), that leaves 30 credits (often
more) that are entirely uncommitted.
Indeed, instead of providing more options and
flexibility to those students who have a legitimate
intellectual curiosity in language, the requirement
change will most benefit those who simply don't
want to deal with the academic rigor of studying
a foreign language. While the total number of
semesters required isn't changing, the proposal
makes the requirement substantially less intense
by making second-year courses optional. Because
language instruction is exponential - lessons are
built on previous lessons - the first two semes-
ters expose students to far less than the latter two.
Thus, the change dumbs-down the requirement
by allowing students to get out of higher-level
courses. This, fundamentally, is the reason why so
many students support the change: It makes things
easier.
College, however - especially at an elite uni-
versity such as this one - is not about doing what
is easy. The language requirement may be diffi-
cult and time consuming, but it is a fundamental
part of the liberal arts education that LSA aims to
provide. When the requirement was overhauled in
1997, the joint committee provided three general
rationales for mandating language instruction: It
fosters intellectual and analytical development,
cross-cultural understanding and awareness and
opens up personal and professional opportunities.
Unless LSA faculty members wish to abandon
these goals, they should not accept the watered-
down language requirement offered by LSA-SG.
Momin can be reached
at smomin@umich.edu. Discuss this column
with him on the Daily Opinion blog, which is
accessible from michigandaily.com.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

China's chronic illnesses are
another Western export
TO THE DAILY:
The Associated Press story in last Thurs-
day's Daily (Most middle-aged Chinese die
from heart disease, cancer, 09/15/2005)
reported that heart disease, cancer and
stroke are the leading causes of death among
middle-aged Chinese adults, indicating that
chronic illnesses burden not only wealthy,
industrialized nations, but also developing
ones. Common contributors include high
blood pressure, cigarette smoking, physical
inactivity and obesity. This shift to chronic
disease is strongly correlated with lifestyle

and behavior-changes that often result from
industrialization.
In the article, World Health Organization
director Robert Beaglehole urged China to
"learn from the struggles of wealthier coun-
tries" in combating chronic illnesses. Yet, it
was precisely from these wealthier nations
that China "learned" of the fabulous West-
ern life and pursued it through materialism
and the adoption of Western habits. In our
own battle against obesity and other per-
ils of industrialization, we must remember
the interconnectedness of global health and
how our actions affect other countries.
I traveled to China with a group of
health professionals and students two sum-
mers ago and gave a presentation about the

importance of healthy diets and exercise
to local high school students. Our benev-
olence, however, was met by skepticism:
"How are you lecturing us to avoid fast food
when you (Americans) brought McDonalds
to China in the first place?"
Industrialization leads to a more sed-
entary lifestyle, which, in turn, results in
chronic health problems. As globalization
continues, we must be mindful of our influ-
ential power as Americans. It is imperative
that we reflect on how "diseases of civiliza-
tion" have affected us in this country and
strive to resolve the health problems to set
an example for other nations to follow.
Alice Zheng
School of Public Health

al

VIEWPOINT
A case for judicial activism

BY IMRAN SYED
John Roberts and President Bush's rabid insis-
tence that there is no room for ideology on the
U.S. Supreme Court is an interesting argument,
one that calls for two short stories.
There was once a man, let's call him Marshall.
Marshall was born in a log cabin in a rural outpost
of his young nation. Through a mixture of skill,
intelligence and, of course, luck, he rose to a very
high position in his nation and fulfilled his duties
with such wisdom and brilliance that even centu-
ries later he is the standard by which all inheritors
of his position are measured.
Long after Marshall, there was another man,
let's call him Warren. Warren too rose to the same
high position thanks to his hard work, dedication
and, of course, luck. He became perhaps the most
influential man to hold this position since Mar-
shall and is considered far and wide as a defender
of the liberties granted by the Constitution.
But, if you believe the rhetoric being thrown
around by the president's crew, both of these men

Apparently they feel the job of the Supreme Court
is to do anything but think - just churn out deci-
sions like a machine in Willy Wonka's factory. t
But if Supreme Court justices had not been
thinking, contemplating and indeed formulat-c
ing the laws of our country, where would we bes
today? Certainly the federal government wouldt
have no right to stop Michigan from negotiat-i
ing its own oil imports with the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries, such rightst
only granted by the landmark Marshall decisiont
Gibbons vs. Ogden. Public schools might not be
desegregated, and there would be no concept of
"one man, one vote," both the outcomes of ther
Warren court's ideology.1
The truth is, the whole point of the Supreme
Court is to use its collective wisdom to con-1
template law. The concept of judicial review,1
borne of Marshall and so detested by Bush, is
one without which there would be no point to
the Supreme Court at all. Why would we putt
highly qualified and intelligent people on thet
bench if all they had to do was follow the recipe

cannot be correctly interpreted without consider-
ation for context, something Bush would be wise
to realize.
Now, not for an instant would I argue we should
do away with Congress and the Supreme Court
should make all laws. My point, instead, is that
the Supreme Court is made up of the wisest, most
insightful and most knowledgeable minds of law,
and they are qualified enough to contemplate the
true meaning of law and if needed, update it to our
times. As times change, so should the implication
and specific articulation of laws. To argue that a
220-year-old document, wise as it may have been
at its time, should be the literal law of the land is
ludicrous beyond comprehension.
And while we are at it, let me say that if the
President truly wishes to keep ideologues off the
bench he may wish to retract his statement that
Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and
Antonin Scalia are the ideal justices. They prac-
tice originalism, a concept many have argued is
the strongest form of judicial activism. Indeed,
some research has found these two men to be the

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