By Joseph T. Cannavo
I have written numerous times about the need for parents whose children attend schools that offer Italian as an elective to take a proactive stance when their local board takes under consideration discontinuing its Italian language offering. While some school districts have done or have at least attempted to do so, many more schools and universities have added Italian to their curriculum. Until the late 1980s, school districts that offered Italian in the Delaware Valley were far and few between, being mostly districts in large Italian-American enclaves like South Philadelphia, and Vineland and Hammonton, New Jersey.
In the 1990s, there was suddenly an outburst of interest in promoting the teaching of Italian, which resulted in schools throughout the region offering Italian. Today there are vibrant programs in school districts that one would never have imagined 50 years ago. During my teaching career, I found that approximately 95 percent of parents, including non-Italos, were excited by the fact that their children could study Italian. Sadly, the 5 percent who showed no interest were Italian-American parents. I was even chastised by some of these Italian-American parents for pushing Italian, who told me they preferred that their children study a more “useful” language.
I even had students who wanted to elect Italian come to me and tell me that their parents wouldn’t agree to it, despite the will of these young Italian Americans wanting to re-attach to their roots. We as Italian Americans are fortunate that our ancestral language does have real value not solely as a heritage language of study, but as a language that is a viable in this new global economy, especially in the areas of food, wine, fashion and tourism. Other ethnic groups would be ecstatic to have their ancestral language offered in the public schools. One would be hard-pressed, for example, to find a Greek-American or Polish-American parent telling his/her child not to learn Greek or Polish. We Italian Americans should follow that example and pride.
Course selection for the 2019-2020 school year is or soon will be taking place. As this process takes place, I hope that our readers whose children have the opportunity to study Italian and want to do so will give them 100 percent support; which is one of the most important steps we as Italian Americans can take to preserve our linguistic heritage in America.