Tuesday, November 06, 2007

More on language departments

The Chronicle of Higher Education is following up on its earlier reporting about the Modern Language Association report on a possible new direction for language departments (discussed and linked here).

While I thought the earlier articles were pretty good, this one is seriously flawed, although anything that calls for change in the fundamentally dysfunctional structure of almost all foreign language departments in the U.S. is helpful. But let's just leave aside the howler about Chomsky and the cartoonish sketch of the history of language teaching. What's in here?

You get a sense of desperation in language departments (especially German), which seems to be real enough from what I hear. For lit folks, that ship sailed long ago, with some famous literature programs in utter collapse. So, maybe that opens the door to real change. Still, I predict that many lit folks will pretend that this isn't about them. Ha.

The piece also provides a big endorsement of Georgetown's German Department. I don't know the operation, but have the impression that there's a lot of hype here. I just don't know about substance. They started their big reforms 10 years ago, but we don't learn how enrollments are faring, whether they are getting better results in student performance or student course evaluations. We need to see results of some sort before we can evaluate this.

More generally, I'm not entirely convinced that this change goes deep enough. How much sense does a Department of Language X really make today?


Cassaday Rasmussen said...

There are two really interesting things in this report to me.

(1) I think this is the first time I've ever seen Chomsky misrepresented in a positive way.

(2) I'm very surprised by the reluctance of lit profs in the article in embracing the teaching of cultural aspects of the language. It seems to me that there is a huge (possibly covert) assumption that the study of lit is at least partly the study of culture when we look at how its done in an English dept. The dept there at least has the luxury that the majority of the students are familiar with the culture of the language of instruction.

Mr. Verb said...

My sense is that Chomsky has been misrepresented in EVERY possible way.