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Spanish classes full?

Original post made by Middle School Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Aug 28, 2007

My 7th grader has just got home from school. His first choice elective was Spanish which he hasn't got. I have called the school and it seems that they can't change him into Spanish for a couple of weeks, until new students have their schedules all changed. The reason he didn't get in is probably because there isn't enough space. There is no saying that there will be space in a couple of weeks of course.

I am really appalled at this. We shouldn't be talking about increasing immersion programs, or even FLES, until we have the mess in the language courses at our secondary levels sorted out. Learning a language is a graduation requirement, to do it at the middle school level two years must be done to count as one year of high school. Language is a crucial educational requirement and it is essential that all those who want it get into the classes at middle school. Spanish is obviously popular and if there isn't enough space, then there should be. I am really upset about this and if any school board candidates are reading this then I hope that they will be able to ensure that this does not happen in the future.

My eldest child did German at middle school. We asked the same for our next child, but they stopped teaching German. He then had to start Spanish in high school, too late in our opinion. For our third child we chose Spanish because it makes sense for two siblings to learn the same language. If we can't get in and have to start a different language, it makes a mockery of the system. To have three children go through the system and have to learn three different languages is just not on.

Comments (31)

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Posted by agree
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2007 at 6:37 pm

Completely agree..first things first. Make sure all kids who want to study a foreign language starting in 6th grade, get it. Support them with summer classes. Once that is done, THEN we can think about going into lower grades.

We need to make the program more cohesive.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 28, 2007 at 8:05 pm

I am truly sorry your child didn't get into the Spanish class - but one of the great things about PAUSD middle schools is there are many wonderful electives besides foreign language. This could be an opportunity to take art, music, web design, video production, journalism, drama, cooking, forensic, etc. broadening his life in another way.

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Posted by Too Bad
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2007 at 10:33 pm

They'll have 5 more years to take a language. Let them do something THEY want, not something YOU want. Who's going to school, you or them?

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 29, 2007 at 6:56 am

I'm curious if the middle and high schools offer Latin. They used to. It has been indipspensable for me.

As for letting the students go hog wild on whatever they want to study, wow "Too Bad". First of all, maybe the son WANTED to study Spanish. Second, if a parent feels a second language is important an it is offered by the District, why shouldn't every child who wants to be able to take it? Otherwise foreign language as a whole becomes a lottery program, except that kids have to take languages and now when they try to do that they aren't allowed to.

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Posted by Diane
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 29, 2007 at 8:48 am

Hate to be nit-picky, but a second language is NOT a requirement for graduation. Granted, most 4-year colleges require it, but technically to graduate you do not need one. My 2 daughters took (or are taking) Spanish at Paly (didn't take it in middle school so they could try other electives) and have had no trouble getting into classes.

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Posted by Middle School Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2007 at 8:55 am

My apologies.

I have since been told by my son that he altered his electives choice sheet after I had signed it. He did get the class he really wanted which he changed to his first choice. He also got the class he was hoping to get for second semester as his other elective. He didn't get Spanish because he changed the order himself. He doesn't like what he got and now we have to try and change things.

He was keen to do Spanish and still is. He was just very concerned to get the other "fun" class he wanted. He has learnt his lesson and is living with the consequences.

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Posted by anonymous parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 29, 2007 at 9:32 am

It's quite customary to study a foreign language in middle and high school. Why do some not recognize that. It's not an extraordinary request.

Many kids start in 7th grade (not 6th grade as mentioned above -- I believe that's Castilleja School--, actually in our district foreign language instruction starts in 7th grade)and want to continue through the rest of their high school years with that language-both of my kids have done that. That seems reasonable and there are several reasons for this: starting a language and learning up to a reasonable level; some kids find a certain language appeals to them and they wish to continue; being consistent with high school students across this country in terms of what you've studied when you apply to college; getting education that will help in your future studies/career (studying language isn't just a whim for some -sometimes it's actually helpful).

It's nice that there are various elective choices out there; though in fact I believe a majority of students will keep foreign language as one of their consistent choices through their PAUSD education.

I think they don't offer Latin anymore because they can't find anyone to teach it. I think it would be a great idea to offer it.I took two years at Gunn and appreciated it (in addition to many years of another foreign language).

As for waiting until high school to start the first year of a language, sure that's an option, but why wait? There will be obvious limits on what one can learn when they start as late as high school with a language. When some parents are so worked up about their kids needing to start Mandarin at a young age, why should others be told to wait until high school age to start another language?

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Posted by British Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2007 at 9:43 am

Just as a comparison, for those of you who may be interested.

When I was in the equivalent of 7th grade, many years ago, I had no elective choices at school. The subjects I took were as follows, 3 languages (one was latin), English, maths, general science, history, geography, singing, art, p.e. I had no choice, these were mandatory. Latin was for a minimum of 2 years. After four years, I could choose to give up subjects and if I was good at language I could take on another, and general science was altered to three subjects, biology, chemistry and physics of which I could take all or some.

This is how it was then, I am sure it is pretty similar now although I know that technology is taught as a subject in its own right. It is interesting to know exactly how other countries are educating their children.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2007 at 9:51 am

If PAUSD parents hadn't pushed so hard for limiting class size to 20 students, there would be more flexibility in the system. So what if a couple of additional students are taken into a class making it 22!!!

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 29, 2007 at 11:31 am

Limiting class size to 20? I was under the impression from earlier threads that language classes in middle and high school were not limited in that way, so far more than 20 kids were crammed into some. Are they actually limited in size or not? Just curious.

Also, how sad not to be able to find Latin teachers. M-A has a great one, I'm told. But we have enough problems in this district without worrying about that I guess. Latin Immersion? "[Palo Alto] is a whole divided into three parts . . . "

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Posted by Isabelle
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 29, 2007 at 11:57 am

It is a shame that foreign languages are offered only starting in the 7th grade. They should be offered in elementary school and at least 3 times a week. Then a child will pick it up naturally. 7th grade is too late. I come from Europe where people usually speak more than one language. America is so self-centered around English it is a disgrace! Web design, cooking and forensic electives will never provide the cultural exposure to the extent that foreign languages offer.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 29, 2007 at 3:57 pm

Uh, Isabelle,

Most of us would LOVE foreign language instruction in the elementary schools. In fact, it's kind of a sore point--okay a BIG sore point--that a small group of kids get immersion Spanish and, starting next year, Mandarin and the rest of the elementary kids get nothing.

In defense of the USA, though, one we're relatively isolated--we have two neighbors, not dozens. Also, given that we're a nation composed of generations of immigrants, the focus on a common language serves to unify (sort of) the population. We don't all look alike, we don't share a state religion, so I think the idea is we all sort of sound alike.

Though thanks to fast food, we're starting to look chubby together.

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Posted by Never Too Late To Learn
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2007 at 5:05 pm

I started studying Thai when I was 30. I immersed myself in their language by working and living in Thailand for 5 years, and enrolling in an inexpensive language programs for non Thais in Chiangmai.
The best way to learn is by immersing yourself in their country.
I actually learned more Thai out of class than in class, since I needed to communicate with those around me to survive. My accent became so good that many Thai people did not realize I was not Thai when I spoke on the phone. Once you surround yourself with people who do not speak English, you learn the language quickly. Thai is a tonal language with simple grammar. The slang was slightly more difficult to learn, but watching Thai movies with friends helped.
Learning a tonal language was fun and opened many doors for me while I lived there. Unfortunately, I had to leave just as I was beginning to learn to read. Learning to write was fun and easy. Learning Thai gave me an appreciation of the many complexities of our English language, both grammatically and idiomatically. It always amazes me how well the many new immigrants quickly learn English by immersing themselves here.

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Posted by another proud and grateful immigrant
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2007 at 5:08 pm

I am an immigrant here...shame on Isabelle, another immigrant, who is obviously HERE, not in her native country, who fails to see that the greatness of the "English" centered Americans is their acceptance and tolerance of the many, many different languages and cultures who immigrate here from around the world, including yours, Isabelle...and who become instantly "American" the moment they become citizens. Here, unlike most of the rest of the world, including my original European countries, once you are American, you are American, accent and all. No other country is like this. In most of the world, your accent or your color marks you as "foreign", no matter how long you have been in the country..not here.

Europeans learn different languages out of necessity, not out of some idealistic and improved sense of what "should" be learned that Americans lack. Without English, countries cannot enter the world market, so they learn English. And, since most European countries are smaller than some of our States, there is the necessity of learning other languages out of the necessity of international business. It is as if Nevada or Oregon spoke other languages, can bet the the people who wanted to "trade" with those states would learn their languages.

This is not something that is a tit for tat subject. It is not " I learned your language, so you have to learn mine or you are arrogant or self-centered"..It has always been that people learn what is necessary to learn.

When America needs to learn other languages out of necessity, it will. It is already happening with Spanish, in this State, out of will happen if other languages become important.

sign me just..

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Posted by joe
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 30, 2007 at 12:50 pm


You could fit how much of Europe into the US if you superimposed them? That's what I tell people when they trash Americans for "not traveling outside of their own country."

That said, I think the more foreign language study available, the better, as long as it doesn't punt out other solid subjects. I mean, cooking, really, that will be a big help getting into Harvard. What a waste of school time, spending it on something anyone can learn at home.

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Posted by Waste of Time?
a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Learning should be about having fun. If they happen to learn somthing, then that's a really good sign. Saying cooking is a waste of school time is ignorant. If that's what the child wants to do, let them. They're going to only grow up once. If they do what the parents want them to, then they're going to have a hard time in school, and not have fun, thus not learning anything, all because parents pressuring their kids to take a language, or take upper-track math.

That's the problem with this community. Igornance like what "joe"'s displaying is exactly the situation students should NOT be in. They should learn what THEY want. Who knows, joe, your kid could grow up to be a world-famous chef. Don't restrict their learning to what you want. After saying that, joe, do you know how to cook?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2007 at 1:33 pm


Nice points, and yes you make some valid points. However, what do you do for a living and can you speak another language? If you can, did you learn it at school? If you can't, how are your English skills?

Unfortunately, academic language skills are important. School is used to get an education whereby you can function as a fully fledged member of society at a later date. If you are unable to do the basics, then the likelihood of getting anything other than minimum wage jobs is unlikely. I am sure that there are many cooks out there who had the ambition of being a world famous chef, and failed. Having a dream is one thing, but luck is also required. Don't give up your dreams, but get a decent education just in case the dreams fizzle out.

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Posted by Isabelle
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 30, 2007 at 3:40 pm

Proud Parent,
Your response to my posting does not come across as civilized exchange of ideas or opinions, but rather like insinuation and insult. I wrote not about (in)tolerance or superiority of one nation over the other. And I do not mind having one state language and common tradition.
Purely from educational perspective, I believe foreign language must be taught (and not just to be able to order in Spanish in a taqueria, but to develop a more "open mind" culturally, though I have long lost hope that school kids these days would be reading Don Quixote or Borges in the original, even if they take AP Spanish:( Though in Spain and Argentina they are required to:). In any case, my point is languages should be taught and they shoudl be taught early. And yes, I do believe that they should be given priority in funding compared to cooking and home economics classes.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 30, 2007 at 4:26 pm

While foreign language is important - and I agree with Isabelle that increased cultural awareness is a vital part of that - there are other reasons for the electives offered both at our middle and high schools. Not every child is strong academically nor is every child interested in school. That can change from year to year and sometimes its the art, music, computer, glass blowing or drama class which gets a student thru a year. Keeping a child engaged in learning, even if it is not a "core subject" is important.

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Posted by A little prickly, yes, but tired of being dumped on
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2007 at 4:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Proud
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Isabelle: I was reacting to this sentence of yours

"America is so self-centered around English it is a disgrace!"

That is what led to my response. Perhaps it is a language issue, but "self-centered" is NEVER a good way to describe something in even a neutral way.

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Posted by a little prickly, but more so now
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2007 at 5:40 pm

You must be kidding, you deleted my "Are they required to learn Shakespeare in AP English Classes in Spain and Argentina?".

Then, you must delete what that was in response to which was the following comment by Isabelle

"though I have long lost hope that school kids these days would be reading Don Quixote or Borges in the original, even if they take AP Spanish:( Though in Spain and Argentina they are required to:)".

Both original Spanish by Cervantes ( Quixote) and original English by Shakespeare are extremely hard on modern readers, being languages from 400 years ago.

So, it was a fair question...are AP level English students in Argentina and Spain required to read original Shakespeare since she wishes our AP Spanish student would be required to read original Quixote?

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Posted by Isabelle
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 31, 2007 at 2:56 pm

By all means AP English students in Europe read and even memorize Shakespear's lyrics. I still remember a number of his sonets: "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes I all along beweep my outcast state. And trouble deaf heavens with my bootless cries ..." from school.
Whether it is relevant to today's youth is another question. Probably not at all. Which is very sad, of course.
I find school reading lists focused too much on political correctness of its content (main character is most always a disabled kid or a girl or a black child) but it is hardly "literature". I am sure there are ways of addressing these important issues but based on good literature by writers such as Proust or Joyce (for high school, obviously).

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2007 at 3:08 pm


You raise a really good point. As a non American parent, I find it hard to read some of the literature (?) my kids are bringing home. Huckleberry Finn, is one example, is this actually written in English? I do not understand it at all. Another one, Roll of Thunder, when the children are not alowed to read allowed what is written in the text and are told to say N instead, just asks them to question why? The language of books like Catcher in the Rye, actually teaches them words they would never learn about otherwise and they can leave learning gutter language to places other than school. I would rather some proper literature read in schools. There are many better examples.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 31, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Well, one man's meat is another man's poison (though I'm sure Shakespeare said it more elegantly). As a high schooler and still today, I'd take Twain and Salinger (an incredible writer imho, try his short stories) over Proust and Joyce (both of which I did painfully pick through in high school, not to much benefit I'm afraid).

Above said, I would said there is a "democraticization" of literature in the US, with a preference for the vernacular and uniquely US fare (which Joyce, Proust, and Hardy are not), that includes Twain, Salinger, Steinbeck, Harper Lee (Mockingbird), etc. It is not the world's fanciest literature, but I would say reading all of those is part of the American school experience.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 3, 2007 at 10:53 am

Hmmm...just asked my French cousin who just graduated from the L ( Literature) track of High School, "majoring" in English, ( the equivalent of our AP English) and she read no Shakespeare.

Just a comment on Isabelle's "European" comment.

Other than that, I completely agree with Isabelle's comment on the "pc" nature of our English class "literature". I am grateful that my eldest went to private schools until High School..where he read all the classics I had in High School, and then some..including Shakespeare. Since Gunn, his "Honors" English classes have had 1984, several war books ( only of of them the classic All Quiet on the Western Front, the other of them filled with the F word that they "read aloud") one Shakespeare ( Midsummer night's Dream, I believe) and a bunch of books that are clearly and absolutely designed to influence the political thought of the kids..indoctrination, pure and simple.

Luckily, these kids are smart and recognize propoganda when they see it and laugh at the teachers who try to pass this off as teaching how to think and read.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2007 at 1:05 pm


What books do you consider to be "indoctrination, pure and simple"?

I don't know what's being taught now, but I was taught at my crummy public high school Twain and Shakespeare and Joyce. I'd be surprised at Proust being taught at the high school level in the U.S. simply because his work really is one huge novel and was, of course, written in French.

Parent, the use of dialect in Huckleberry Finn is considered to be masterful and the book is considered an American masterpiece, dealing with the big issue of slavery. I disliked reading it, myself, but I understand why it's taught. It's a big influence on later American literature.

Other writers that I remember as being part of the H.S./AP curriculum: Hawthorne,Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Hardy, Ellison, Eliot, Dickinson, Richard Wright, Wallace Stevens. A woman novelist--Austen or a Bronte--would have been nice, though I think Toni Morrison's Beloved (not a book that thrills me) is probably used as a triple threat--female, African-American and historical, thus effectively usurping a spot previously occupied, variously, by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright and Alice Walker.

I think there's been a move to put in a Hispanic, preferably magical realism, work.

That said, there were always some crummy novels in the curriculum that were supposed to appeal to us young'uns. Okay, they weren't crummy, just annoying--I vaguely remember something by Paul Zindel. And then there was a Separate Peace (whose prep-school setting seemed completely alien)and Lord of the Flies. Given that stuff, I don't think Catcher in the Rye's that bad a choice.

So, what's going on now?

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Posted by Tortured
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 5, 2007 at 9:29 pm

I hated almost every book rammed down our throats in high school. What did I learn? "Literature" is a dirty word.

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Posted by Amen
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2007 at 12:31 am

Well said, Tortured

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 6, 2007 at 11:56 am

A teacher at Jordan, after having the kids read Tom Sawyer, had them debate whether Huck Finn should be read by a middle school kid. (The teacher made it clear that she thought is should be taught in 7th grade) One of the girls in my son's class was the only one brave enough to disagree and say she felt it was not appropriate for that age group. She was given a really hard time by the teacher for the remainder of the year.

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Posted by Thoughts
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 8, 2007 at 10:20 pm

Taking a language at the middle school doesn't have anything to do with being accepted into college nor high school graduation requirements.

Here's the lowdown: If you take two years of a language in middle school, you start at the 2nd level during your freshman year. This means you're taking 4th level language during your Junior year. From experience, the 4th year of a language is a huge jump from years 1-3.

Those students that don't take a language in middle school start at level 1 as a freshman. They take the "easier" three years and then have the option for Language 4AP during their Senior year.

I always recommend that students take Language 1 as a high school freshman. To 8th graders that haven't taken a language in middle school, I often encourage them to take Language 1 during their 8th grade year EVEN THOUGH they will not receive any credit or advancement for high school Language. At worst, they'll be a step ahead of the class, have a better foundation for Language in high school, earn better grades, and thus have a better transcript grade-wise. The only downside is that they'll be unable to take Language 5AP, which, unless they're a real genius in the language, is going to be a big mistake anyway.

My advice for middle school would be to take a "fun" elective and focus the student time that would have been spent on a language on their math/science/English/social studies classes. Better yet, get a paper route and donate their earnings to charity.

Also, elective request sheets are just that... a request. There is no promise you'll get your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice. There are many factors that go into the scheduling process.


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