Parlez-vous Java? Sprechen Sie Python?
At least four states -- including Washington, home of Microsoft Corp. -- have either passed or considered measures that would delight high school students who have trouble rolling their r's. Rather than taking Spanish to satisfy their foreign language requirement, they could take a computer language.
Chris Reykdal, a Washington state legislator, said many students are more passionate about learning code than conjugating verbs. "I just don't like one size fits all,'' he said.
Proponents say such an approach will help students get jobs and businesses compete internationally. By 2020, companies across the U.S. will have 1.4 million job openings requiring computer-science expertise and just 400,000 college graduates to fill them, according to Code.org, a Seattle-based advocacy group for tech education.
In 2013, the Texas legislature unanimously passed a bill letting students substitute computer-science credits for foreign language. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has proposed a similar measure that the state Board of Education will consider Thursday.
While the idea may have a certain je ne sais quoi, it's wrong-headed, said Martha Abbott, a former high school Spanish and Latin teacher. Monolingual Americans need to up their language game, too, she said.
"We have to be able to engage with the rest of the world,'' said Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in Alexandria, Virginia.
Many techies agree. "Should geometry be substituted for history?'' said Richard Barton, co-founder and executive chairman of the Internet real-estate company Zillow Group. "It's almost an apples-and-oranges sort of thing. They don't seem substitutable.''
Reykdal said he put a hold on his bill after meeting with foreign language teachers and is looking at ways to bolster both computer science and language courses.
In Kentucky, Senate President Pro Tem David Givens hit a wall when he pushed a provision in an education bill swapping programming for language credit. A visit two years ago to Microsoft's Seattle headquarters had inspired him. In testimony on the bill, foreign language instructors let him have it, and he backed down.
"I was public enemy No. 1,'' he said. "Thankfully, I couldn't understand them when they were cursing me in a foreign language.''