Encouraging a foreign outlook

These days, RSS feeds are dominated by breaking news updates about any of the United States’ three foreign entanglements and updates on the NIKKEI stock exchange. Businesspeople from every continent can be on the same conference call with relative ease.

And yet, a student can graduate from Harvard-Westlake having never taken a class that focused on Africa, Asia, the Middle East or South America.

Sure, ninth and 10th graders take The World and Europe I and II, but the courses primarily focus on Europe, with a smattering of the greater world’s interaction with Europe thrown in. 

Even though eighth graders take a world cultures class, a cohort of the graduating class enters in ninth grade (not to mention the fact that most people don’t remember the details of the Ming Dynasty as taught in eighth grade history).

And while French, Latin and Spanish are all bona fide foreign languages, let’s not pretend that the ratio of Western to non-Western languages offered by the Harvard-Westlake Foreign Language Department is representative of the ratio of people on Earth who speak Western or non-Western languages. In addition, unlike other courses like science and history, a student does not have to take a foreign language past level III (on average past 10th grade). This is a little disheartening compared to the fact that the majority of students in other countries are required to take extensive amounts of English throughout the entirety of their schooling.

Fortunately, the administration has taken a few steps in the right direction. The exchange program between science teacher Karen Hutchison and Eton College teacher Joe Dangerfield is an excellent way to broaden students’ perspectives on how students around the world are taught the same subjects, as well as to bring a global perspective to Harvard-Westlake when Hutchison returns from England. The Gunter-Gross Asia initiative will encourage the study of Asian cultures through teacher grants and curriculum development.

However, these initiatives should only be the beginning of Harvard-Westlake’s commitment to creating a globally diverse academic environment. A comprehensive student exchange program, which has not existed for years, should be reinstated. Harvard-Westlake classes should collaborate with classes at renowned high schools around the world to learn about the academic environments in other cultures.

A great thing about Harvard-Westlake’s course guide is the semester-long electives targeted more for the sake of enjoyment rather than the for sake of prestige and GPA boost. Instead of being limited to American-centric courses, a greater breadth of semester classes with more global focuses such as the Modern Middle East or Post-Imperial African Studies is a way to expand global understanding without sacrificing the core academics.

Harvard-Westlake boasts great academic resources and those resources should be used to give students a broader, more global perspective. That broad perspective is needed to help students develop analytical minds in a shrinking world.