Open Letter To Save German Language Education in the Iowa City Schools

As a German instructor and an alumnus of the Iowa City School District (’00), I feel obliged to post this open letter of protest against the closing of the German program in the Iowa City Schools.


April 11, 2014

Dear Superintendent Stephen Murley and the Board of the Iowa City School District,


We the undersigned request that you cease plans to phase out the German program in the Iowa City School District starting in the 2014-2015 school year. We understand that the district has a temporary budget shortfall, but can assure you that the disastrous effects of phasing out German would be permanent.


German is a language widely recognized as a foundation for excellence. There are economic, cultural and historical reasons for this fact. Germany remains not only one of the most robust economies in the European Union, for example, but also one tied into a productive international network of innovations and ideas. Over 1 million Americans work for German companies. A March 11, 2014 editorial in The Economist argues that students who choose to learn German are better positioned to supply their skills in a market over-saturated with Spanish and French-language speakers. German-speaking cultures have significantly contributed to modern thought and, with only 3-5% of contemporary German works being published in English translation per year, volumes of new research and fiction are being overlooked by an English-language-only market. Given the fact that not only 15% of Americans are of German ancestry but also that German is the fourth most frequently spoken language (other than English) in American homes, the relevance of German to our local and national heritage is indisputable.


Phasing out German is akin to directly denying economic and academic opportunities to your students from the Iowa City area. Numerous German-speaking alumni have gone on to successful careers in academia, law, medicine and finance. The primary author of this letter has just become an assistant professor in German Studies at a research I university. Alumni have been able to immediately major in the language in institutions of higher education, and create active intercultural connections while studying abroad on grants or other programs. These opportunities simply would not have been available, had the Iowa City School District not provided the baseline support for German language education from 7th through 12th grade. Students learning German in middle school, high school  and college have an incredible advantage in securing a job in our global society over students who possess no foreign language skills. It is a well-known fact that the study of German at grades 7-12 exposes students to numerous higher-order thinking and study skills they urgently need to prepare them for  a successful college experience and an enhanced quality of life. All evidence points toward this program remaining a good investment.


Lean times usually cause us to re-assess priorities. Yet German language education remains a fairly inexpensive and reliable way of keeping the Iowa City School District “child-centered” and “future-focused,” as advertised on the website. Indeed, money should be invested in opportunities for children and their future, and keeping German is a solid investment. Canceling the language signals a move within the district toward other priorities, namely the support of the administration over the needs of the students. It also signals a most regrettable neglect of foreign language skills needed by our students to stay competitive with the worlds’ economies. In many, if not most, countries outside the USA, most children start learning foreign languages at age 10. The US simply cannot afford to deprive  our children of the same advantages most students receive in most European countries as well as in China and many other countries.


Thank you in advance for considering our letter, and we hope you make the right decision to maintain support for German language education in the district.



Dr. Evan Torner
Gabriele Auerbach
Pam Peters
Heidi Galer

Margy Winkler
Bev Humphrey

Neva Christensen
Dr. Johanna Schuster Craig

Dr. Glenn Ehrstine

Dr. Vance Byrd
Dr. Dan Reynolds

Dr. Berna Gueneli
Dr. Sigmund Barber

Dr. Jennifer Michaels
Dr. April Eisman

HeeJin Lee
Dr. Mary Larew

Dr. Lauren Stefaniak

Dr. Felicia Kruse Alexander

David Gerlits
Susannah Lewis

Kara Kimm
Cindy Opitz
Eleanor Price
Gary Shullaw

Kate Hawkins
Ben & Carolyn Van Zante

Linda Muhly
Phillip Rademacher
Lizzy Ronana
Ute Brandenburg
Hannah Twitchell
Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba
Sonia and Ronald Ettinger
Jeneane O’Toole Stepan
Justin Preuschl
Brian Burkhardt
Nancy Pacha
Kimberley Swanson
Robin Torner
Jay Torner
Dr. Jonathan Skolnik

Dr. Larson Powell

Dr. Henning Wrage
Jenny Gringer Richards
Dr. Caroline Kita
Jenny Hilsenrad Graff
Christine Øien
Eirik Fatland
Lisa Anne Scism
Andrew Evans
Natoshia Askelson
Dr. Erin Alice Cowling
Dr. Carrie Shanafelt
Beth Richards
Denise Tiffany
Maryann Askelson
Melissa Villamil
Sarah Karniski Rasch
Shannon Toomey
Lilly Brown
Stanley P. Nuehring
Sara Neymeyer Eisenberg
Laura Hoffmann
Keith Collins

Lauri Deninger

Anne Hesse

A.K. Traw

Jean Dobyns

Carilyn Gardner

Margaret Clancy

Carla Durkee

Suzanne Soderberg

Reingard Jordan

Horst R. Jordan

Patricia Gauron

Susan Soderberg

Mary Jo Hockmuth

Nathan Gibbs






9 responses to “Open Letter To Save German Language Education in the Iowa City Schools”

  1. Shannon Toomey Avatar
    Shannon Toomey

    Great letter, Evan. Save the German program!!!

  2. Roland Fuhrmann Avatar
    Roland Fuhrmann

    Don’t guess: German language is the official language in Germany, but also in Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium… and working language in the European Union. There are about 120 million native speakers.

  3. Keith Collins Avatar
    Keith Collins

    I wholeheartedly agree with this appeal to prevent losing German in the Iowa City school district. Understanding in another language brings perspective to everything you learn and broadens your ability to problem solve. I have no stake as an teacher of German, but I speak as an Iowa citizen concerned about overall educational excellence in our state. I know from my professional experience that German is an important world language and Iowa City students in particular should have a choice to learn it.

  4. Cindy Edwards Opitz Avatar
    Cindy Edwards Opitz

    Please add my signature to the list! I’m a professional translator and have a German husband and three amazing children, all because of my start in German language learning in Iowa City schools in grades 7-12.
    Cindy Opitz

  5. Felicia Kruse Alexander Avatar
    Felicia Kruse Alexander

    Please add my signature to the list. I studied German at Northwest Junior High and West High (1975-79). Thanks to the ICCSD German program, I was awarded a Fulbright to study at the University of Hamburg in 1983-84. Thanks to the Fulbright, I was admitted to the Ph.D. program in philosophy at Penn State and had a 22-year career as a philosophy professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati. My life was enriched immensely by my study of German in junior high and high school.

  6. davidgerlits Gerlits Avatar

    Please add my name to the list. Because I took German at West, I have been able to communicate freely with German engineering colleagues, and even was able to translate a handwritten German techical calculation from the 1970s with just a dictionary at hand.

    Dave Gerlits, Class of 1973

  7. guyintheblackhat Avatar

    Another comment received via e-mail:

    We think it is anti-intellectual to reduce foreign languages at 7th grade and to eliminate German altogether! absolutely the wrong direction for the schools to be going.
    Sonia and Ronald Ettinger
    230 Magowan Av

    1. Nathan Gibbs Avatar
      Nathan Gibbs

      Add me to the list Evan. The foreign language and music programs in ICCSD were invaluable in my development

  8. Pamela S. Saur, Ph.D/ Avatar
    Pamela S. Saur, Ph.D/

    I have always been proud that my high school, Cedar Rapids Washington, taught 5 languages. Now it has more. I went on to enjoy a junior year abroad in Vienna (a very attractive German-speaking city with wonderful theaters) and receive my Ph.D. in German from Iowa (another program that has been cut) and have been a German professor in Alabama (Auburn ) and Texas for 30 years.
    Don’t forget that Germany is also one of the most popular places for tourists to visit. German may seem superfluous to many, but I frequently encounter people who work for a German company like Siemens or BASF, are being transferred to Germany, or urgently need personal or business translations. Often they wish they could learn German in a jiffy and would pay a great deal for instant proficiency. Unfortunately there is no such thing.
    High schools in Houston are currently advertising for quite a few German teachers.
    Good luck to protestors,
    Pam Saur

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