Education, ESL, Policy

Generation Interrupted: A Pandemic and a Precedent

There’s no doubt that this has been a school year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted schooling across the globe. A variety of “distance learning” measures remain in place for an unforeseen future. And many worry about the long-term impacts these disruptions will have on students and their learning.

Still, it’s important to remember that, for many, schooling interruption is not a new phenomenon.

In the field of language education, there’s an acronym called “SIFE.” It stands for “Students with Interrupted Formal Education.” The SIFE label is most often applied to refugee students whose schooling was interrupted by political and economic instability in their home countries. Within the U.S., however, there are many additional causes of interrupted schooling, such as housing insecurity, punitive suspension, chronic health issues, and the school to prison pipeline. Although the SIFE label isn’t usually applied in these latter cases, research documents the many obstacles students face upon schooling reentry, regardless of what caused the interruption.

These studies also point to a systemic unpreparedness of many schools to accommodate even short-term schooling interruptions. This research reveals a system so predicated on “normalcy,” that it is unable to support even the relatively small percentage of students whose schooling is interrupted in a given year.

So what happens when that system encounters a pandemic?

We’re now seeing this system at its breaking point. And to be clear, it’s not the students, it’s not the teachers, and it’s not the families who are at fault. Instead, what this pandemic has revealed is a myopic view of schooling and the students who experience its interruption.

I wrote about these issues in a piece for Educational Researcher. In this piece, I make three arguments about interrupted schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continue reading “Generation Interrupted: A Pandemic and a Precedent”
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

ESL, Language, Policy

Who’s being “Sheltered?”

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In education, we have a popular method called “Sheltered English Immersion,” which is supposedly designed to “shelter” students who are still learning English in schools.

In my last few years of research, I’ve wondered who or what else is being “sheltered” through this approach. In my latest article, I propose four answers to this question.

1. We’re sheltering the monolingual pedagogies as the only way to teach a language.

2. We’re sheltering monolingual teachers from having to learn another language, placing the burden of change on the students instead.

3. We’re sheltering monolingual English-speaking students from having to grapple with the multilingual realities that will face them outside the walls of the school.

4. We’re sheltering monolingual policies and theories that promote all of the above as just the “norm.”

When I bring these issues up in academic circles, some wonder if the field had already “moved past” the monolingual/bilingual dichotomy. A good critique if you’re up on the latest theoretical scholarship, but less so if you spend time in U.S. classrooms where monolingual approaches still dominate. So, I dive deeper to ask “If the monolingual paradigm has largely been destabilized… what accounts for the recalcitrance of monolingual orientations in educational policy and practice?” (p. 2).

I believe the answer is that the four “shelters” above produce major advantages for the (largely white) population of monolingual, English-speakers in U.S. K-12 schools and beyond. Dive in to the article below if you’re interested (let me know if you can’t access the article). Glad to hear your thoughts!

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Chang-Bacon, C. K. (2020). Who’s being ‘sheltered?’: How monolingual language ideologies are produced within education policy discourse and Sheltered English Immersion. Critical Studies in Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2020.1720259

 

Critical Pedagogy, Education, ESL, Literacy, Research, Uncategorized

Who Gets to be “Critical?”

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Image: Burning the “Book of Sports,” 1643

This year continues to demonstrate the importance of reading the world through a critical lens. But who gets to be “critical?” Who gets access to critical approaches to literacy versus who gets timed reading tests?

Educators who use literacy to challenge the status quo often ground their work in critical literacies. This approach goes beyond reading and writing as mechanical skills, using literacy to critique power and inequity–what Paulo Freire called “reading the word and the world.”

But what does this mean when we ask students to read the word and the world in another language?

I took up this question in a recent article for the Journal of Literacy Research. In the journal’s latest issue, Literacy Research and the Radical ImaginationI wrote alongside a phenomenal group of authors working to “radically reimagine the ways in which research can reposition people and ideas to create new and more inviting spaces for literacy.” (JLR, p. 319).

No small task. Continue reading “Who Gets to be “Critical?””

ESL

“Fortunately,” We Don’t Have Language Learners Here

Writer

Note: This post was co-written with two student teachers, who wished to keep their names and institutions anonymous.

Dear Veteran Teacher,

You may not remember, but earlier today, your new student teacher asked you how to make her lessons more accessible to diverse learners.

You dismissed that as largely unnecessary – at such a high-performing school as yours – and told her, “You’re fortunate, we have no English Language Learners here.”

You probably weren’t aware of what you said. Or what it meant.

I’m sure you’d never say, “You’re fortunate – we have no students of color here,” though you have very few.

You’d never say, “You’re fortunate – we have no students with special needs here,” though I don’t see them either.

So I’m wondering, how did such an unfortunate comment could roll so effortlessly and unabashedly off your tongue? Continue reading ““Fortunately,” We Don’t Have Language Learners Here”

ESL, K-12

Are Language Learners a Disadvantage in the Classroom?

Language Learner Pic

At a recent forum, I listened to three regional secretaries of education discuss their states’ different approaches to education. While each took a variety of stances on big educational issues like standardized testing, charter schools, and “Race to the Top” funding, they all agreed on one thing – that having more English Language Learners (ELLs) in their states has created challenges. 

Someone had asked a well-intentioned question about how each state addresses the needs of its ELLs, but what followed was a general tirade about all the difficulties schools were now having because of “these kids’” increased presence in the classroom. The discussion was off-putting – not because meeting the needs of linguistically diverse students isn’t challenging – but because no one thought to ask about the advantages of having ELLs in schools. 

Think about it – we wouldn’t discuss other forms of diversity this way, with a laundry list of negatives. An influx of racial diversity, for example, can also bring complex challenges, but school leaders embrace these changes as an asset to their schools (as they should). They wouldn’t be caught dead making comments about how hard it is having “these kids” come into “their” schools.

So why is it ok to talk about ELLs this way?

Time ran out during the forum discussion, but I was curious how other educators would answer questions about linguistic diversity as an asset. So I asked a group of high school teachers I work with, and we came up with an extensive list of answers. Continue reading “Are Language Learners a Disadvantage in the Classroom?”