A Test to Nowhere

The College Board just published its 2019 summary of the high school Advanced Placement Tests. The Italian AP still hasn’t broken 3,000 student test-takers.  In fact, it lost 268 students and 39 schools since last year.

The Italian AP test was made available in 2012 after our community and the Italian government ponied up $3 million to the College Board. The deal was that we had to maintain 2,500 student test-takers each year to keep the test alive, in perpetuity.  The Board charges students $94 to take an AP test, which means the Board needs to earn a minimum of $235,000 annually to profit from the Italian test. The AP can earn a student college credits and increase his/her chances of college acceptance.  The incentive is there, but what’s the lure of Italian?

The Italian AP yielded 2,658 in “sales” this year, barely above the 2,500 minimum.  Those sales grew from 1,806 in 2012 and only broke 2,500 in 2015.  Last year, it hit a high of 2,926 but this year’s incredible drop means the Italian AP is heading in the wrong direction.

There are two things undermining the Italian AP: the loss of high schools around the country offering advanced Italian, and our community’s innate resistance to Italic studies.

As schools drop Italian language, fewer students can take the AP. Schools drop it because of low demand, even in heavily Italian American school districts.  Schools can also blame budgetary problems for dropping Italian.  At one time, the Italian government subsidized American schools to kick-start Italian courses.  But when the money dried up, so did the Italian classes.  No one else is filling the breach.

In New York City, the Columbus Citizens Foundation proudly proclaims that it donates millions for local education. However, those millions have sustained the Roman Catholic parochial school system which rarely offers Italian language classes.  Yet, the Foundation champions the Italian AP.  With any strategic thinking it could increase demand for the Italian AP by tying its largesse to establishing Italian language classes throughout the parochial system.  But who is willing to dictate to New York’s Irish cardinal when he blesses the Foundation’s money-making Columbus Day Parade?

But, the biggest disappointment is a pervasive lack of interest in Italic studies among Italian Americans.  The last time I wrote on this subject I referred to some issues of Atlantica Magazine in 1930.  The lament back then was the same as now:  Italian kids weren’t interested in studying the language of their immigrant parents, nor were those parents encouraging their own kids to do so.  One article cited only 1,606 students taking Italian in New York City while 6,602 were studying German, 30,411 studying Spanish, and 43,964 taking French.

While we had our Aurora Youth Program for 5th and 6th graders in operation in Metro New York, we saw a steady decline in Italian Americans taking the course, even though it was offered free.  Italian American boys were the hardest to enroll, their Saturdays were taken with video games, karate, or apathy.  Peruse the AP summary report and you’ll see the same thing – girls taking the Italian AP outnumber the boys 2:1.  The Chinese AP is 1:1, as is the German AP, and the Japanese AP.  Even the Latin AP is has gender equality.  Perhaps, it’s a Romance language anomaly as both the French and Spanish APs have twice as many girls than boys.

But regardless of the boy/girl proportions, the lesson is that neither our community’s 17 million population nor its wealth can save Italian language in schools. More schools in America offer Japanese than Italian – over 200 more. The Japanese AP is our nearest competitor at the bottom, with only 179 fewer students.  The Latin AP has 3,425 more students than Italian.  Even our ancient ancestors are doing better than us!

Despite the unvarnished truth of these statistics, you will still hear some Italian American leaders and newsletters extoll the efficacy of Italian language around the world. The thousands of scholarships offered to “Italian American” students around the country are rarely tied to Italic studies.  Scholarships exist as a membership tool, not a cultural tool.

For too many Italian Americans our ancestral language is not the Florentine dialect but that spoken at feasts and in Godfather II.

If we can only get an AP test for goombah street talk! -JLM

3 thoughts on “A Test to Nowhere”

  1. Actually you’re asking for too much from our ignorant citizenry to include the 2nd+ generation American Italians . . .

    As an ethnic group we join the Hollywood crowd idolizing fake ‘tough guy’ actors. And we take pride with much bravado in having a MAFIA ‘connection’.

    The results is a huge disservice to our ancestors and the great history and accomplishments of Italy – for which the entire world should be forever grateful . . . even if they are ignorant of the accomplishments.

    1. To quote a friend of mine, who loves quoting a truly great aphorism: “Charity begins at home.”

      So does a sense of pride.

      Having toiled in both the local and national Italian American community for over twenty years now,
      I have developed brain blisters trying to understand the disconnect between our so-called “pride”
      and the absolute lack of will-power in promoting that stated pride publicly, in any major way.

      Anyone who has attended galas, banquets, parades, etc. notices (if they look for it) the same thing:
      groups and individuals wearing red-white-and-green shirts, waving red-white-green flags, etc.,
      all loudly proclaiming their pride in being Italian. And yet, when the dinner plates are collected and the TV cameras turn off, these same people are nowhere to be found the rest of the year when it comes to either opening their checkbooks to fund projects or even to speak out against media defamation.

      In short, this once-a-year pride is trotted out so people can makes speeches, make profits (for their businesses) or make their kids or grand-kids get on TV.

      And where is the Italian government in all of this? Like everyone else, they, too, play the shallow pride card. There is a reason that Chinese (that musical language!) is the #1 foreign language being taken by American students across high schools in America. The Chinese government is paying for it. And, certainly, Asian American students are taught (as are Greeks, Jews, etc.) that pride is a good thing, a message taught at home. They know how their cultures have contributed to America’s greatness.

      We, alas, do not. The proof is in the Italian pudding; that is, by what Italian Americans do promote: food products and mob movies. We can’t get past “Nonna’s meatballs” or Scorsese’s mob epics. Sad.

      1. The Italian American community came together to rectify the situation in which St. Frances Cabrini was denied a well-deserved commemorative statue in NYC. We saw the combination of political clout (via Governor Cuomo and various congressional figures), grass roots involvement (via a 1000-person march), the Catholic Church (via involvement of Bishop DiMarzio and other clergy) and an IA organization (Columbus Citizen’s Foundation). This could be the right formula for dealing with future issues as well. Maybe NIAF and OSIA can take time away from planning the menus for their next gala to get involved too.

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