Arts and Culture / Talking Italy
Arts and Culture / Talking Italy
As many now know, the future of the Advanced Placement Exam in Italian has been called into question. Contrary to the situation with French, German, and Spanish, we have lived fifty years without it. With the launching of the Advanced Placement Exam in Italian in 2005, we overcame an obstacle.
Namely, an unintentional disadvantage to high school students who opted for Italian over the so-called canonical languages had been in play: those languages, we’ve been told, that were to have more currency within the greater United States collective consciousness.
An ad hoc committee for the AP in Italian met with the College Board this past January. At that meeting, we were informed of the low number of students who had taken the exam to date; and the financial consequences for the College Board were indeed significant. There has been growth, but the College Board launched the AP in Italian because higher numbers were expected. The upshot is that we all, together, need to do all we can to increase the number of students. To be sure, if more students take the AP Exam in high school, more students will populate advanced courses in colleges and universities.
According to a 2006 MLA survey, 77,350 students were enrolled in Italian at the college/university level. Of these, 7, 593 (9.8%) were enrolled in advanced courses. With a steady flow of AP students from high school, this number would surely increase. This is simple math. But this will not happen alone. Matilda Raffa Cuomo, together with NIAF, OSIA, UNICO, the Italian government, and the AATI worked long and hard to get the AP Exam launched.
With this special edition of i-Italy, we need to look within ourselves as Italian language teachers, parents, members of the Italian and Italian/American communities, and those of us who, simply, love all things Italian! We need to do everything possible to guarantee that the AP in Italian survives and, indeed, thrives for decades to come.
We need to get the word out; everyone must know of the AP Exam and its many benefits. We need to underscore the consequences of its cancellation. In a nutshell, we would be relegated to second-class citizenry in the world of language learning. In order to combat such a back-slide, all Italian and Italian/American organizations and associations need to join the struggle. We need to target local school boards; they should not make curricular decisions based on current trends. The study of Italian has grown exponentially at the college/university level since the 1960s, an increase of 600%. We need to let school boards know that the Italian and Italian/American communities will no longer remain silent. Italian is the fourth studied, spoken language in colleges and universities. Had Italian been available in many more high schools, how many more students would there be in college courses? The question may be hypothetical, but the situation is not.
We need to set our sights on greater numbers. In 2007, the numbers for analogous languages were: Italian, 1642; Japanese, 1667; Chinese, 3260; German, 5397. In 2003, students who took the AP in German totaled 3,973; by 2007 it had increased significantly. This, for sure, must be our goal. As we move forward with a community strategy, we also need to move forward with a professional plan. First, we need to inspire members of the future generation to look to the teaching of Italian as a professional goal. Second, we need to be sure that the means are available for high school teachers to attend workshops and seminars specifically targeted to the AP in Italian. Third, we need to secure the means for high school teachers to attend summer workshops in Italy. Other language teachers have the support of numerous organizations both here in the U.S. and in their countries of linguistic origin. Fourth, the local and national associations of Italian Studies, especially the American Association of Teachers of Italian and the Educational Offices of Italy in the U.S., need to conduct AP workshops for middle- and high-school teachers of Italian.
All of this inevitably speaks to an overall commitment on the part of the Italian and Italian/American lay and professional communities with regard to Italian culture and its many facets. First and foremost, of course, is our language. If we do not know the language, we simply cannot access a greater part of that culture. Furthermore, for the children and grandchildren of those who spent weeks in steerage, a greater knowledge of Italian affords their progeny greater knowledge to the hows and whys such immigration took place. Namely, we can – indeed, should – take possession of our own ethnic patrimony in order to, in the end, enhance our own self-awareness.
* Dean, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College, CUNY, President, American Association of Teachers of Italian