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Letter: Keep Italian Language Classes In The North Shore School District

Allow me to provide a rebuttal to the North Shore School District’s reasoning for dropping Italian. As a spokesman for Loggia Glen Cove #1016 Sons of Italy in America and an at large Italian-American spokesman, we are vehemently opposed to the dropping of Italian as a language of study from the curriculum. Education in this country is a state responsibility; New York State allows each school district a certain amount of autonomy as long as they provide a core curriculum and teach classes that are part of the N.Y.S. syllabus. This means that the district can teach N.Y.S. approved curriculum and they (the local board of education) can tailor their curriculum to reflect the needs and desires of the community they serve. 

According to the 2010 U.S. Census statistics, the North Shore School District is comprised of 35 percent Italian Americans and as such it would not be unreasonable for the district to continue to teach Italian as a language. The Italian language represents the heritage of the largest ethnic group in the district. The only ethnic group to offer scholarships every year to North Shore High School graduates is the Italian American community. I know that in many districts other languages are taught which reflect the makeup of that community. For example, the Great Neck School District offers Hebrew as a language choice. Proof of the desire of the residents of North Shore to learn Italian is that the first year it was offered (2002) it became the second most popular enrollment (of four languages offered). Today, it still continues to be number two. Surely, parents and educators know that a student’s motivation to learn is a priceless factor in the learning process. Therefore, it came as a shock to learn that the NSBOE wants to phase Italian out of the curriculum. The argument that Italian is less important than the other languages is specious and that offering Mandarin (Chinese) would better serve the students. Mandarin is only important for commercial reasons, not academic—if that were the case, why not replace Spanish with Portuguese? After all, Brazil’s economy is larger than all the Spanish speaking countries economies combined and their economy is growing at a rate as fast as China’s! (And Brazil is a democratic republic.) 

When a national survey ranks a language, it does not take into consideration any regional differences. It is important that our students be allowed to, after their requirements are met, enrich their own heritage. 

As for Italian’s academic value, may I remind the board that the university system was developed in Italy. Most of the oldest universities are in Italy. The first medical school, law school, woman to earn a doctorate was in Italy (in the 16th century)! Today, many American students attend university in Italy. Italian was the first international language when musical notation (invented in Italy) spread around the world. Shakespeare studied Italian and half his plays take place in Italy (and his sonnets were in the Italian style). The language of architecture is Italian. According to UNESCO, Italy, a country the size of New York State has the most world heritage sites. According to the New York Times, 80 percent of works of art were created in Italy. 

If a student’s own heritage is important to their education and their language is replaced with another for economic reasons, then the district should do away with art, history, world literature, and classical music and give the students magazines and Wall Street Journal to read!

We, in the Italian-American community, also see this issue as a civil rights issue. Political correctness allows the district to denigrate Italian and not consider dropping a less popular language (French or Latin) even though the Italian language is more popular. As soon as Italian was allowed on “the bus” it moved to the front. Now, they want to kick Italian off the bus and instead of the bus going to the museum and the opera, they want to commandeer the bus and take it to Chinatown! 

I beseech the NSBOE to table this vote as the community has had little time to address this issue and we need more time to respond. We have just contacted the Italian Consulate, the National Sons of Italy and the Italian-American state legislators.

John Laruccia