Education, ESL, K-12, Language

Whose Ideal (and Who’s Ideal)?

A post summarizing my latest article in Teachers College Record.

As some readers will know, I did my dissertation on “monolingual ideologies” in education. The idea of “monolingualism” made sense to me at the time (and still does in many cases). I was writing about states that had “English-only education” policies, despite evidence of the many benefits of bilingual education. To me, this was best explained by a deep-seated English-only bias of “monolingualism” (and the racism/nationalism that so often goes along with it).

The more I’ve written about the idea, however, the notion that all of the linguistic discrimination going on in schools was driven by “monolingualism” started to feel incomplete. Don’t get me wrong, there are far too many contexts where overt language oppression still takes place. But in other contexts, it began to feel too simple to explain all of it as a bias toward (English) monolingualism.

The history of U.S. education is often written as a long march toward monolingualism. This is appropriate in most cases: Schools have far too often been places where students were (and are) forbidden to speak languages other than English and overtly taught that learning English was the only avenue toward professional success or proving their knowledge.

However, it turns out that U.S. education has always encouraged multilingualism for some while forbidding it for others. Take renowned polyglots like Ben Franklin who were lauded for their cosmopolitan multilingualism: These figures gained fame at the same time that U.S. policies were attempting to forbid indigenous populations and enslaved people from speaking languages other than English.

So I realized I had to start thinking and writing about this in more complex ways. I’m trying to think less along the lines of “monolingual” and more along the lines of which language practices become “idealized” (and for whom). I bring out these ideas in my recent article for Teachers College Record. I write that,

“In addition to monolingualism as a language ideology, I argue that there is much to gain from a related, but broader framework of idealized language ideologies. Monolingual language ideologies uphold one specific language practice as the norm (e.g., so-called standard English). On the other hand, a framework of idealized language ideologies highlights the malleability of these supposed norms—involving (1) a set of idealized language practices (2) mapped onto an idealized speaker (3) in relation to certain institutional interests or power dynamics (see Figure 1). This framework helps to explain the entrenchment of problematic language hierarchies, whether through restrictive monolingual language policies or within educational programs ostensibly geared toward bilingualism.”

This has been helping me to articulate more clearly the underlying racism and anti-immigrant bias that informs whose langue practices are idealized–whether it be in monolingual or bilingual educational spaces. My thoughts on this are still being shaped by by engaging with related work from linguists, educators, and linguistic anthropologists (see article for massive list of name-drops, but here are two on my bookshelf at the moment). I’m looking forward to writing with this idea of “idealized language ideologies” more to see if it can help me better sort through the entanglements of language, racism, and nationalism in language education. Hopefully the idea that language practices can be “idealized” in different ways, for different individuals, and in different contexts can also help to better expose the host of other problematic ideologies that are ever-present in educational contexts and in society more widely.

For those interested in the full article, you can find it here (or a here for those without access to the journal).

Chang-Bacon, C. K. (2021). Idealized language ideologies: The “new bilingualism” meets the “old” educational inequities. Teachers College Record. 123(1). https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=23558

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