Curricular Planning along the Fault Line between Instrumental and Academic Agendas: A Response to the Report of the Modern Language Association on Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World1


  • Ingeborg Walther

    1. (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is Associate Professor of the Practice of German and Associate Dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University.
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  • 1

    This essay is based on a paper presented at the MLA Annual Convention in Chicago on 30 Dec. 2007, as part of the AATG-sponsored panel “How Revolutionary Are We? Current Issues on Curricular Shifts at Private Institutions.” It grew out of my work on curricular implications of sociocultural and ecological models of second language acquisition for lower-level language courses, articulated in an article in the ADFL Bulletin. This essay refers to some of the material in the earlier article but addresses larger issues of (inter)disciplinary cohesion, governance, graduate education, and institutional values. While it is distinctly written from the perspective of a Research I PhD-granting institution, I hope it may also be of interest to colleagues in other types of institutions, if only to validate the work of teacher-scholars who teach at all levels of the curriculum in departments that are not (necessarily) characterized by the same kinds of divides described in the MLA Report.


In calling for new governance structures and unified curricula, the MLA Report distinguishes between instrumental and constitutive views of language that characterize our often schizophrenic agendas of language acquisition on the one hand, and disciplinary knowledge on the other. This paper explores some common theoretical insights from the fields of language acquisition and cultural studies that interrogate these views, providing a basis for sustained collaboration around curricula among faculty on both sides of the divide. While these have already yielded the kinds of curricular innovations recommended by the Report, a case is made for more radical changes in hiring practices, distribution of teaching and service, reward structures, and graduate education — changes which have the capacity to transform the institutional values upon which they will also depend.