A Response to Jim Cummins

Prominent bilingual education scholar Jim Cummins has been a critic of my work since his 2017 article that sought to challenge some of the basic arguments of the 2015 article that I wrote with Jonathan Rosa introducing the concept of raciolinguistic ideologies as a critique of appropriateness-based approaches to language education. He has also suggested at a raciolinguistic perspective doesn’t pass the “classroom reality test,” a critique that I have responded to in a previous blog post. More recently he has been raising a series of questions at conferences that I thought I would take some time to answer here. I am only speaking for myself here and not for my colleagues who I have co-written with on topics focused on translanguaging and a raciolinguistic perspective over the years. I hope these answers help to clarify my perspective and on these issues and the stakes that I see in this debate for the education of racialized students.

Flores (2020) is not claiming that certain approaches to teaching academic language are problematic, but rather that academic language itself is a raciolinguistic (i.e. racist) ideology. Does this mean that teachers who attempt to teach academic language are inadvertently implicated in raciolinguistic instructional practices.

I think we are working from different theories of language here. You seem to be working from the perspective that “academic registers” are a set of disembodied linguistic practices that exist as separate from the people who use them. I reject this premise and have pointed in my research to the ways that one’s social status can shape the perception of the same linguistic practices. From this perspective, any dichotomous framing of language is going to be applied such that those with higher social status are perceived as engaged in normative linguistic practices while those with lower social status are perceived to not be engaged in these linguistic practices. In response to this oppressive dynamic I have proposed language architecture as a non-dichotomous view of language that might serve as a point of entry for anti-racist work in the classroom. From this perspective, a teacher’s goal is not to “teach academic language” but rather to help racialized students see that they already possess the necessary cultural and linguistic knowledge to successfully complete school tasks. I have written more about my thoughts on academic language in a previous blog post.

Flores and Rosa (2015) critique Olsen’s (2010:33) pedagogical recommendations that instruct for long-term English learners should focus on “powerful oral language, explicit literacy development, instruction in the academic uses of English, high quality writing, extensive reading of relevant texts, and emphasis on emphasis on academic language and complex vocabulary. If it is problematic for teachers to focus on powerful oral language, what should they focus on instead?

My reading of the Olsen report is that she means “powerful” as more complex than the supposed “simple” oral communication skills of students who are classified as “Long Term English learners.” I reject the premise that the home language practices of these students are any less complex than those required in schools as would the decades of anthropological and sociolinguistic research that has clearly shown the cultural and linguistic complexities of all speech communities. I also reject the idea that any teacher coming from the perspective that their home language practices are less complex and need to be fixed is going to develop the type of culturally sustaining pedagogy that you also seem to be advocating for in your work. Yet, powerful also has another meaning that focuses on issues of domination. This definition seems like a more productive point of entry into developing culturally sustaining pedagogy. Framing powerful in this way shifts the pedagogical approach away from seeking to fix students supposed linguistic deficiencies, to raising their critical language awareness in ways that allow them to reflect on the relationship between language and power and make decisions as to how they would like to position themselves in relation to this relationship. Here the goal would be to support students in exploring the politics of language rather than to fix their supposed linguistic and cultural deficiencies.

If extensive reading of relevant texts is a problematic instructional goal, how should teacher’s expand students’ literacy skills?

I assume based on my understanding of the Olsen report and your work that by “relevant texts” you mean texts that engage in “academic language” and by “expand students’ literacy skills” you mean “teach them academic language.” If students are engaged in extensive reading in order to do this then the implicit message that they are receiving is that their home language practices have not place in the schooling context. Another meaning of “relevant texts” would be texts that explore and build on the existing cultural and linguistic knowledge of students. I welcome the inclusion of such texts in the classroom as a way of helping students to see that the content that they are learning in school is not incompatible with the knowledge that they bring to the classroom and that, on the contrary, this knowledge is integral to successfully engaging in school tasks. In this vein, “expand students’ literacy skills” becomes helping them to make connections between their home literacy skills and the literacy skills required in school in ways that break down rigid dichotomies between them and offer students space to transform both of them in ways that reflect their unique voices and perspectives.

Are all academic registers infused with discourses of appropriateness and raciolinguistic ideologies (e.g., the writing of Ta-Nehishi Coates or Toni Morrison)? If not, what are the criteria for deciding whether a textbook, novel or article is problematic in this regard?

To suggest that authors like Ta-Nehishi Coates or Toni Morrison are simply engaged in academic registers when they have strategically used their entire linguistic repertoire in their writing is both a disservice to the brilliance of their writing and a missed opportunity for teachers of Black students to have the opportunity to reflect on the fact that their students engage in similar rhetorical strategies on a daily basis that are often dismissed as “non-academic.” More generally, to suggest that some texts are academic and others are non-academic also obscures the rhetorical strategies that every author uses in constructing a text. So the short answer to your question is to introduce students to a range of texts that include a range of rhetorical strategies and support them in connecting these rhetorical strategies to their existing language architecture in ways that help them to develop their own unique voices as authors.

Are teachers who provide conceptual and linguistic feedback on students’ writing complicit with ‘discourses of appropriateness?’

It depends on what type of conceptual and linguistic feedback they are providing. If the feedback is primarily focused on correcting their use of their home language practices (including English) so that they are engaged in language practices deemed appropriate for school then they would be complicit in reproducing discourses of appropriateness. If, instead, their feedback is focused on helping students to critically reflect on the rhetorical politics of style and helping them to further develop their own unique voices as authors that strategically deploys their entire linguistic repertoire in ways that match their goals then it would not be.

Anti-Blackness is a Dual Language Issue

I originally wrote the below text for the fall newsletter for the American Educational Research Association Bilingual Education Special Interest Group and thought I would share it here with links as well.

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At its core, anti-Blackness has always sought to question the full humanity of Black people. During the time of slavery, questions about the full humanity of Black people were framed within discourses that suggested that they were property before they were human. In our contemporary society, these questions are typically framed within discourses that suggest that Black people are culturally and linguistically inferior to “normal” humans (i.e. white people), which justifies their continued oppression. These contemporary framings of anti-Blackness have their roots in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that concluded that segregation produced psychological damage to Black children, which prevented their social mobility. This damage-centered narrative was subsequently taken up by the 1965 Moynihan report that pointed to purported cultural and linguistic pathologies of Black families as their primary barrier to social mobility and by the 1966 Coleman report that suggested that integration would help to alleviate these cultural and linguistic pathologies.

It is these anti-Black discourses that also provided the foundation of institutionalized forms of bilingual education in the Bilingual Education Act (BEA). Relying on the discourse from these two reports, at the core of debates around the passage of the BEA were the supposed cultural and linguistic pathologies of the primarily Mexican and Puerto Rican students who were understood to be the primary beneficiaries of the programs. The basic argument was that bilingual education would offer one tool for fixing these cultural and linguistic pathologies. These deficit discourses with roots in anti-Blackness became even further entrenched by the accountability systems associated with the BEA. As schools receiving BEA funds were mandated to assess students in both languages to identify eligibility for the programs and monitor student growth, many Latinx students were determined to be not fully proficient in either English or Spanish. These students were originally described as semilingual. The consensus that gradually emerged was thatthey were proficient in Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) but struggled with the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) that was necessary for school success. 

As a product of this history, dual language programs have inherited these anti-Black discourses. While some attention has been paid to the ways that anti-Black discourses have led to the systematic exclusion of Black children from these programs, deficit discourses with roots in anti-Blackness also serve to marginalize the bilingualism of both Black and non-Black Latinx students. Most notable is the widely circulating discourse that suggests that these programs will provide Latinx children a “strong foundation” in Spanish CALP that they can transfer to English. This discourse is often used to remediate Latinx children, and sometimes even exclude them from these programs, while the bilingualism of white children in these programs is universally celebrated and positions them as gifted.  

In short, anti-Blackness provides the foundation of the deficit discourses that dual language education programs often reproduce. This means that efforts to dismantle anti-Blackness should not be understood as separate from struggles to promote equity in dual language education program but rather as foundational to these struggles. Anti-Blackness is a dual language issue.

Nice White Parents and Dual Language Education

The first episode of the recently released podcast Nice White Parents documents the experiences of a school that experienced an influx of white parents in response to its efforts to create a French dual language program. What happened next is something that those of us who have worked with schools with dual language programs in gentrifying neighborhoods know all to well—white parents enthusiastic to be involved in the school community to ensure that their children receive a quality education steamrolled the existing leadership structure led by people of color and transformed the school in ways that made the families of color who had long been the primary clientele of the school feel unwelcomed and unheard.

With the increasing popularity of dual language programs with white parents, this dynamic will likely continue to emerge as schools trying to attract white parents market programs that were once intended to serve racialized bilingual communities into programs that are framed as enrichment programs for white children. Yet, these dynamics are not inevitable. In line with what the reporter concluded in her exploration of school integration, ensuring that dual language programs do not simply become a new tool for the maintenance of racial hierarchies requires white parents interested in dual language education to be willing to give up some of their power ins service of the greater good—something that the report pointed out hasn’t often happened.

In this spirit, below I lay out some principles that white parents might consider when thinking about how to engage with schools that have an existing dual language programs or (as in this case) how to engage with a school to advocate for the development of a dual language program.

  • Leave your savior complex at the door. A discourse documented in Nice White Parents that I have also come across in other gentrifying contexts are the ways that white parents have convinced themselves that they are somehow saving the school and is the first time that anything positive has happened in the school’s entire history. Guess what? Families of color have been attending these schools for a long time and have been pushing these schools to do right by their children. To suggest that these schools were some kind of urban wasteland before you arrived is not only racist but completely self-serving since it then allows you to promote an agenda that is completely focused on the needs of your child while pretending that you are actually trying to bring positive change to the school community. I’m not sure how your privileged white child receiving a dual language education is helping the many students of color who are either excluded from the program or forced into it because they have not been given another choice. How about instead of positioning yourself as the savior of the school you take some time to listen to the experiences of the families of color who have been attending the school and develop a cross-racial alliance focused on benefiting all of the children in the school, not just yours?
  • Respect the existing leadership structure of the school. One of the most painful moments of the first episode of Nice White Parents are the recorded interactions of the new white parents completely undermining the authority of the Puerto Rican PTA president in a series of tense meetings. Though we don’t hear their perspectives explicitly, I imagine that these white parents experienced the PTA president as overly defensive and perhaps even ill-informed. With this framing as their point of entry, they most likely experienced her as a barrier to their vision for the school. This not only led to her silencing but also worked to undermine the goals of the dual language program by making the families of color even more suspicious of a program they never asked for and didn’t want. Just imagine if white parents interested in a dual language program had met with the PTA first to discuss their ideas and to solicit feedback in the hopes of developing a plan that the entire school community was on board with.
  • Consider the existing languages of the school community when selecting the partner language for a dual language program. In Nice White Parents, the white families unilaterally decided to implement a French dual language program. This was despite the fact that many of the existing students came from homes where Spanish and Arabic were spoken. The result was that white students were celebrated for becoming bilingual or maintaining their heritage language while the longstanding racialized bilingual student population continued to have their bilingualism ignored at best and treated as a barrier to learning at worst. Just imagine if the nice white parents had bothered to do research first and develop alliances with the Spanish and/or Arabic-speaking community to develop a program that offered their children the opportunity to become bilingual while also building on the existing bilingualism of the school community.
  • Don’t ignore the many students who are not in the dual language program. While it is true that dual language programs have unique needs and challenges that need to be addressed, in this case, and in the case of many such programs, it is one program within a larger school community. This means that when developing plans to support the school it is important to think about the entire school so as to avoid the creation of a competitive dynamic that leads families and students not participating in the dual language program to feel like they are getting the short end of the stick. This requires a shift away from discussions of “what is best for my (white) child?” to “what is best for our children (of many different racial backgrounds with a diverse set of needs)?”
  • Understand that you will have to prove yourself to the school community. It can feel demoralizing to be treated with suspicion when you feel like all you are trying to do is to develop an innovative program that will benefit your child and perhaps others in the school community. But what you have to understand, and what this podcast shows over its 5 episodes, is that white parents have been experimenting at the expense of families of color for decades. The only way to show that you are different is through the hard work of community building and compromise—something that white parents have historically not been particularly good at. If you aren’t willing to do this work then you actually are just like all of those nice white parents throughout the history of US education and shouldn’t be upset when you are treated as such.

The podcast does end on a somewhat positive note by pointing to how the school eventually did take stock of the power dynamics that had emerged and worked to consciously work to challenge them in the name of racial equity. Part of this entailed the scaling back of the French dual language programming at the school. While advocates for bilingual education might feel like this was a loss, I would argue that this was a gain. Dual language education is not inherently socially transformative and in this case seemed to be doing more harm than good. Should the school be interested in revisiting a dual language program I hope that they work to develop the program from the bottom-up in ways that ensure that the program fits into a broader vision that ensures that the school is working to service all of its students equitably and with an anti-racist agenda always at the forefront.

Fighting Anti-Blackness IS Real Linguistics

As somebody who does research at the intersection of language and race I am often accused of not doing “real” linguistics. These accusers imagine linguistics to be an objective science and language to be a series of disembodied features separated from actual people. For these people, any political advocacy work is at best something that is done outside of one’s identity as a linguist and at worse a liability that is a threat to one’s objectivity. Aligned with this perspective, these accusers would argue that the current political protests occurring in response to the police murder of George Floyd is outside of the scope of linguistics as an area of scholarly inquiry. I would argue that it is not only well within the scope of linguistics but also offers an opportunity for us to critically interrogate the anti-Blackness that permeates the field.

The current political moment points to the inherent anti-Blackness of frameworks that suggest that language can be studied separately from the bodies who use them. This is seen very clearly in the contrasting perceptions of the predominantly white people protesting stay-at-home orders and the predominantly Black people protesting George Floyd’s murder. In one notable case, a group of armed white protestors were permitted to enter the Michigan statehouse to protest the governor’s extension of the state’s emergency order with no violent response from the police officers there charged with protecting the building and the politicians inside. President Trump even tweeted in support of the protestors through calls to “liberate Michigan!” and calls for the governor to “give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry.”  In contrast, the police response to Black protestors has been much more aggressive with police officers refusing to engage in the de-escalation strategies that they quite effectively used in response to white protestors. In addition, President Trump referred to these Black protestors as “thugs” and threatened violent retaliation through the use of the phrase made famous by the white supremacist presidential candidate George Wallace “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

In these examples, both the police officers and President Trump are inhabiting the role of the white perceiving subject that frames Black bodies as inherently criminal and white bodies as inherently good even when they are engaged in similar behaviors. By white perceiving subject I am not referring to individuals per se but rather their institutional positions. That is, while not all of the police officers involved in these contrasting responses may be white, their position as agents charged to protect the interests of dominant elites who have accumulated their wealth through white settler colonialism and the enslavement and continued exploitation of Black populations, socializes them into these same hegemonic modes of perception. While these hegemonic perceptions are not new, they have been further legitimized and emboldened by a president who has directly and explicitly embraced white supremacy.

It is the anti-Blackness of the white perceiving subject that provides the foundation for the raciolinguistic ideologies that frame Black language practices as deficient and in need of remediation. By Black language practices I do not solely mean features that have historically been associated with African American Language as documented in sociolinguistics—one of the few areas of linguistics that has grappled with issues of race. After all, white people often appropriate these same linguistic features in order to gain social currency in their predominantly white social networks. Instead, what I mean is any language practices that a Black person uses. That is, the inherent criminality associated with Blackness by the white perceiving subject frames any utterance a Black person makes as potentially dangerous and in need of regulation. The logical conclusion to these raciolinguistic ideologies is state violence against Black people.

Insisting that such an analysis is outside of the scope of linguistics is anti-Black. It is anti-Black both in the ways that it refuses to grapple with the inextricability of language and race and by the ways that it serves to keep out of the field Black people who refuse to accept this erasure of their experiences. The apt question that we should be asking as a field is not why Black people don’t feel comfortable in linguistics but rather why white people feel so comfortable in linguistics. The short answer is that the foundational assumption of the field that you can remove language from bodies is steeped in whiteness and allows primarily white linguists to avoid grappling with their own complicity in maintaining white supremacy.

Like everybody else, there are many things that linguists can do to fight back against anti-Black state violence. We can participate in protests. We can engage in conversations with families and friends. We can donate money to Black-led community groups who are leading the organized resistance. But we must do this in ways that also acknowledge our fields continued complicity in reifying the anti-Blackness that makes this state violence possible to begin with. It is not enough for linguists to assume that anti-Blackness is an ideology that exists “out there” making it optional to address in our own backyard.

 

The Bilingual Revolution Will Not Be Funded

Below I share some preliminary notes on a chapter I am working on for my book project examining the ways that the institutionalization and professionalization of bilingual education in the post-Civil Rights era served to maintain racial hierarchies. One dimension that I will be exploring is the role of federal and philanthropic funds in supporting this process of political incorporation. You can get more information on the issues described below in a report based on my research at the Rockefeller Archive Center that explores the role of the Ford Foundation in moderating Latinx community demands for bilingual education in ways that maintained the white supremacist and capitalist status quo.

In July of 1969 the Board of the recently created Southwest Council of La Raza (SWCLR) had a meeting about whether to change their priorities. In their one year of operation they had primarily supported local grassroots struggles focused on improving the lives of Mexican Americans with one of their primary focuses being to support struggles for bilingual education. Yet, supporting these grassroot political struggles had often put them into conflict with the Ford Foundation, who was their primary funder. The Foundation was pressuring the SWCLR to move away from supporting grassroots political struggles. The meeting was tense and became heated as board members debated whether to comply with the Foundations request or risk losing their funding with the Board reluctantly agreeing to the request leading radical members of the Board to resign. Their resignation alongside a $1.3 million-dollar grant from the Ford Foundation led the organization to rebrand itself as a professional advocacy organization known as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) far removed from its grassroots origins.

The pressure put on the SWCLR by the Ford Foundation connects to the broader role that philanthropic organizations played in moving racialized communities away from militancy and toward professionalized forms of advocacy within the context of the Civil Rights Movement. In the case of the Latinx community, the Ford Foundation supported these efforts through funding the creation of professional organizations, supporting the creation of ethnic studies programs and supporting bilingual education and other educational innovations that promised to improve educational outcomes for Latinx students.

The biggest Foundation support for bilingual education was in the American Southwest with the bulk of this funding being funneled through the Southwest Council of La Raza (SWCLR).  SWCLR’s decentralized model provided space for radical activists to gain leadership roles within the organization and use the funding available to support militant political action against the white establishment. These political actions led the Foundation to be accused of funding militant extremists. Most contentious was the SWCLR’s decision to subcontract funds to the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO). MAYO’s primary focus for community organizing work was challenging what they believed to be the educational genocide occurring within San Antonio area public schools with a major priority being abolishment English-Only school policies and advocating for bilingual education. MAYO’s confrontational tactics were condemned by mainstream white and Mexican American politicians, most notably Congressman Henry González who openly condemned MAYO on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The Foundation found itself increasingly under pressure and, in turn, placed pressure on the SWCLR to reign in MAYO and other radical elements connected to the organization. One way that it sought to do this was through imposing stricter rules on SWCLR that mandated the organization to divert its efforts away from community organizing and advocacy toward the development of “hard programs” with measurable objectives that would be pre-approved by the Foundation. As SWCLR began to adopt this new “hard program” approach it also sought to expand its efforts beyond the American Southwest by becoming a national organization focused on advocating for Mexican Americans across the country. This led the organization leaders to change the name to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and gradually shift its focus toward serving as a professional liaison to federal government agencies and corporations primarily through the release of public statements on pending legislation and through a focus on business projects within Latinx communities. As it relates to bilingual education, a great deal of NCLR’s efforts focused on compiling research related to best practices along with federal policy analysis intended to inform and persuade lawmakers on issues related to bilingual education.

 In short, while having experienced a few road bumps on the way, the Ford Foundation achieved its overall objective in serving as a moderating force in the American Southwest. It did this by first providing funds to Mexican American leaders who were seen as more moderate to fund the SWCLR. When these leaders used funds to support controversial grassroots political action, the Foundation used its funding as leverage to change the direction of the SWCLR and its subsidiaries away from supporting grassroots community organizing toward supporting professional advocacy work focused on technical expertise. In the case of bilingual education, this led to a movement away from local community-led work focused on dismantling the racist structures and practices of schools as part of broader efforts to dismantle the white power structure toward a focus on sharing professional expertise about the value of bilingual education with a particular focus on federal level policy. More radical elements of the Mexican American movement found other avenues for entering into local community work primarily through electoral politics. Neither of these tactics were particularly successful with most of the most prominent Mexican American activists absorbed into the Democratic Party by the 1980s just as bilingual education began to be systematically dismantled with the rise of the Ronald Regan presidency.

This points to a catch-22 that confronted many Latinx activists working to promote bilingual education within the context of the Civil Rights Movement and its aftermath. On the one hand, financial support provided necessary resources that could be used to mobilize communities in support of bilingual education and other policies that will have a meaningful impact on their lives. On the other hand, accepting this financial support came with certain strings attached that pushed activists to compromise in ways that they felt were politically necessary if not necessarily philosophically aligned with their true vision of bilingual education. Reliance on federal and philanthropic funds led advocacy work focused on bilingual education to become divorced from grassroots political struggles through its professionalization. The result was the emergence of a cadre of primarily Latinx professionals charged with advocating for and implementing bilingual education programs. The ascendancy of this new professional class occurred alongside the ascendency of neoliberalism as the structuring logic of the global political and economic order and, in turn, the structuring logic of educational reform in the United States. The bilingual revolution had become neoliberalized.

 

Are People Who Support the Concept of Academic Language Racist? An FAQ

For the past several years I have been presenting at academic conferences and offering workshops to educators challenging dominant conceptualizations of academic language in educational linguistics from a raciolinguistic perspective. In this post I thought I would offer a FAQ about my perspective based on conversations that I have had over the years.

What are your concerns about the concept of academic language?

I have three major concerns about the concept of academic language. The first one is that it continues the logic of European colonialism that frames the language practices of racialized communities as inherently deficient and in need of remediation. The second one is that it is currently taken up in schools and classrooms in ways that relegate many racialized students to remedial instruction. Finally, its dichotomous framing does not map on to the fluid language use that characterizes the real world that schools are purportedly preparing students for.

But was academic language ever intended to be really be treated as dichotomous with non-academic language?

The introduction of the concept of academic language into language education is typically attributed to Jim Cummins who originally proposed the distinction between Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). In 1980, he argued “CALP is defined as those dimensions of language proficiency that are strongly related to literacy skills, whereas BICS refers to cognitively undemanding manifestations of language proficiency in interpersonal situations.” Not only does this sound like a dichotomy to me but based on this definition when somebody describes children as having BICS but not CALP they are essentially arguing that they only engage in cognitively undemanding language practices. This deficit framing isn’t entirely surprising since Cummins had originally used the term semilingualism before introducing the BICS and CALP dichotomy. It also isn’t surprising that this framing would lead to remediation.

How does this dichotomous framing play out in schools and classrooms?

 There are three unfortunate consequences of this dichotomous framing. For one, it inevitably positions teachers as language police who have to surveil and correct the supposed non-academic language practices of their students. Because of the broader racialized history of US society, it is racialized students who are disproportionately impacted by this type of policing. Secondly, it overdetermines the home language practices of racialized students to be non-academic in ways that overlook the vast amounts of linguistic knowledge that racialized students bring to the classroom that are very much aligned with the knowledge being measured by state standards. Finally, it denies students the opportunity to bring their entire identities into their interactions with classroom texts in the ways that we all do outside of classrooms on a daily basis. Indeed, some of the most gifted racialized authors are celebrated precisely for their ability to utilize a range of linguistic practices in their writing. Why should we deny this opportunity to our children in the name of teaching them academic language?

Are you against the promotion of academic literacy?

I am against the promotion of the normative conceptualization of literacy and biliteracy that undergirds the construction of academic literacy. In my work, I am particularly interested in critically interrogating how children who engage with written texts across two or more languages on a daily basis are framed as illiterate because of their supposed lack of  a “strong foundation” in “academic literacy” in any language. I imagine if affluent white children were engaged in the same exact biliteracy practices they would not be positioned in this way. It is this inequity that I am trying to make central to the conversation.

What do you suggest as an alternative to academic language?

Any dichotomous framing of language will inevitably be taken up in ways that reinforce deficit perspectives of racialized communities. In response to this dilemma, in a recent article I proposed language architecture as a non-dichotomous framing of language. Language architecture takes as its point of entry the assumption that racialized students can already engage in the types of complex linguistic practices desired by state standards but that their knowledge is being misrecognized because of the pervasiveness of raciolinguistic ideologies. Using this as a point of entry can allow for new pedagogical practices to emerge. Yet, it is also important to transform the racist structures that constrain the types of practices that can emerge in classrooms.

Aren’t you using academic language in your critique of it?

This question comes from the perspective that academic language is a set of disembodied empirical linguistic features. I reject the logic that undergirds this perspective in favor of one that treats academic language as an ideological construction shaped by the social status of the speaker in relation to the listener/perceiver. As an example, I recently wrote an article that a reviewer recommended for rejection because their perception was that the tone and tenor was not sufficiently academic. When the article was published another person immediately critiqued it for engaging in academic language even as it sought to critique it. It would seem from this example and many others than academic language is in the eyes and ears of the beholder. It is this shift from the speaker to the listener/perceiver that lies at the heart of the shift I am working to facilitate.

Are you calling people who support the concept of academic language racist?

I don’t know most of them personally, so I don’t know if they are racist or not. But that isn’t really the point I am trying to make. Instead, my point is that the discourses that we use have histories and it is important for us to be aware of these histories when we mobilize them. This can be especially important for those of us who seek to promote anti-racism. In the case of academic language, the logic that undergirds it connects to a broader colonial history that was used to construct and maintain racial hierarchies. It can be difficult to fully meet our potential if we continue to rely on this logic in our efforts to promote racial equity. I am hoping to engage in conversations about how to develop new logics and welcome others to join me in that conversation.

 

 

Do We Need a Revolution in Educational Linguistics?

Educational linguistics as a field has historically and continues to promote language education as a tool of social transformation. Yet, the theory of social change (i.e. the theory that identifies the root of the problem and how to fix it) has often remained underdeveloped. In this post, I lay out five different theories of change associated with language education and their implications for educational linguistics.

The most socially reproductive theory of change in language education is assimilation. This theory of change suggests that the most effective way for language-minoritized children to become productive members of society is for them to replace their nondominant minoritized language practices with dominant societal language practices. In schools, this typically comes in the form of a strict imposition of dominant societal language practices and prohibitions on the use of nondominant minoritized language practices. The idea is that this approach will be most effective at assimilating language-minoritized students into the mainstream and eliminating their marginalization. Educational linguists have historically and continue to reject this theory as misguided at best and oppressive at worse. Unfortunately, it still remains a common approach around the world.

A slightly less socially reproductive theory of social change in language education is accommodation. This theory suggests that the most effective way for language-minoritized children to become productive members of society is to master the dominant societal language practices while maintaining their nondominant minoritized language practices in their home. In school, this typically looks similar to assimilation with perhaps some superficial acknowledgement of the existence of nondominant minoritized languages practices. The difference is that it adopts a more laissez-faire attitude toward language use in the home. In this way, the assumption is not that language-minoritized communities have to completely assimilate into the mainstream society, but rather that they must learn to accommodate the mainstream society when engaged in public spaces outside of their homes. As strong advocates for societal multilingualism, educational linguists typically suggest that accommodation is not enough and that we should actively promote language diversity. The fact that a tolerance-oriented educational program is quite similar to an assimilation-oriented educational program provides evidence to prove this assertion.

Moving to the next level we get a theory of language education that explicitly brings issues of power into the conversation. I call this theory of language education evolution. Evolution moves beyond accommodation by suggesting that teaching language-minoritized students dominant societal language practices from a more critical perspective will empower them to become agents of social change. Providing them access to these dominant language practices is important in providing them access to mainstream institutions. Offering them a more critical perspective is important in ensuring that they can become institutional change agents who are able to effectively transform these institutions to better serve their communities. In school, this might mean supplementing the mainstream curriculum with opportunities for critical reflection about the relationship between language and power. The goal would be to provide students with access to “codes of power” while offering them frameworks for challenging the privileging of these codes over nondominant minoritized languages practices. This approach remains relatively popular within educational linguistics.

A step above evolution is transformation. Like evolution, transformation suggests that providing language-minoritized students with access to dominant societal language practices from a critical perspective can equip them with the necessary tools to advocate for social change. Yet, it moves beyond evolution by suggesting that language-minoritized students should not simply master the supposed “codes of power” but should instead transform them by strategically blending them with the nondominant minoritized language practices of their homes and communities. In this vein, transformation would extend the school curriculum beyond simply critiquing the privileging of dominant societal language practices toward the opening up of space for language-minoritized students to transform these dominant language practices even while they work to master them. While existing within composition and rhetoric for many years, this approach is just starting to gain traction within educational linguistics through discussions of translanguaging and translingualism and other parallel frameworks.

The final level that has not been taken very seriously in educational linguistics or the broader society is revolution. According to this theory, the foundation of mainstream schooling has historically and continues to be oppressive to language-minoritized students. Therefore, the only way to truly empower language-minoritized students is to completely restructure the institution. What this looks like in practices remains to be seen. That said, it does seem like it might be a worthwhile thought experiment to think through what schooling that rejects societal linguistic hierarchies might look like. Barring broader societal transformation, such schools may not be possible. Yet, it is important to take time to think about what we are fighting for, not just what we are fighting against.

This is especially important to do considering the fact that the other four levels laid out here focus primarily on modifying the linguistic practices of language-minoritized communities. Indeed, even levels three and four, which are currently the most widely utilized by educational linguists frame the root of social change being in modifying the linguistic practices of language-minoritized communities. To be clear, providing spaces for language-minoritized students to critically reflect on the relationship between language and power is extremely important. In addition, offering them space for transforming language in ways that reflect their fluid linguistic realities is even more important. That said, I refuse to live in a world where the best we can do is prepare language-minoritized students for a racist society.

What might it look like to treat institutional racism as the problem that needs to be modified rather than the linguistics practices of language-minoritized communities? What role might educational linguistics play in exposing the working of this institutional racism? How might educational linguistics help to lead a revolution that works to dismantle this institutional racism? These are all questions that I believe are worth pursuing.

Why a Raciolinguistic Perspective Passes the Classroom Reality Check

It has come to my attention that a senior scholar in the field has been encouraging his audience to figure out who I am and to give my work the “classroom reality check.” His basic argument is that the frameworks that I have developed alongside my mentors and colleagues have little bearing on the lives of actual classroom teachers. If you have decided to do this homework and have actually found me (since he apparently refers to the concept of raciolinguistic ideologies without citing those of us who coined the term), I would like to take this opportunity to make the case for how the concept does, in fact, pass the classroom reality check.

My journey into developing the concept of raciolinguistic ideologies emerged out of my experiences as an ESL teacher at a high school in the Bronx. The majority of my students were born in the United States and felt quite comfortable communicating in English, with many even reporting to me that they felt more comfortable communicating in English than in Spanish. Using the knowledge gained from my teacher education, I hypothesized that subtractive bilingualism had prevented them from gaining a strong mastery of academic language in either English or Spanish.  I determined that my job was to promote additive bilingualism by teaching them academic language. Yet, as I got to know my students more, I began to experience a big disconnect between the discourses I had available to me to describe their language practices (as lacking) and the fluid bilingualism that I observed them engaging in on a daily basis. Eventually, I began to wonder how it was possible for students who I observed using English and Spanish on a daily basis to be considered deficient in both.

It was this question that led me in collaboration with Jonathan Rosa to coin the term raciolinguistic ideologies. Raciolinguistic ideologies point to the ways that within the context of European colonialism and its aftermath that language and race have become co-constructed in ways that frame the language practices of racialized communities as deficient and in need of remediation. A key aspect of our raciolinguistic perspective is the shift from a focus on the speaking practices of racialized students toward the listening practices of the white listening subject. From this perspective, there is nothing about the language practices of racialized communities that make them deficient. Instead, the problem lies in the ways that they are taken up by listeners who have been socialized into hearing the language practices of these communities as deficient as a legacy of European colonialism.

Providing spaces for classroom teachers to reflect on the ways that their listening practices and the listening practices of their colleagues reflect the hegemonic position of the white listening subject is immensely important. Indeed, when I introduce this shift from the speaker to the listener to bilingual educators, it instantly resonates with their own experiences as teachers working with low-income Latinx students. They witness firsthand the disparities between the ways that the bilingualism of their students is framed versus the ways that the bilingualism of more affluent student populations is framed. They report their frustrations at the ways that other teachers argue that dual language education is not right for “our kids” and that it should be reserved for gifted students in more affluent schools who can already speak English well. The concept of raciolinguistic ideologies provides them with discourse to call out this double-standard and contextualize it within a broader history of colonial relations of power.

In my work with teachers, we push the conversation even further than this. We reflect together on what to make of the fact that contemporary framings of the language practices of racialized communities sound so eerily similar to the ways that the language practices of racialized communities were discussed within the context of European colonialism. We struggle with the ways that dichotomous framings of language into “academic” and “non-academic” seem to imply that the “non-academic” home language practices of racialized communities have no place in the modern educational system. We work to contrast this with a close examination of the ways that students from racialized backgrounds negotiate socially constructed linguistic boundaries on a daily basis. We reflect on the unique affordances these students have for developing an understanding of the importance of considering your audiencewhen making language choices as well as the impact of particular language choices on meaning. We brainstorm what it might look like for teachers to shift their goal away from teaching students academic language toward helping them to make connections between their existing knowledge and the seemingly unfamiliar tasks demanded by the standards. This opens up the possibility of challenging us all to develop new ways of listening/reading that recognizes that the home language practices of racialized communities as inevitably aligned with as opposed to dichotomous with the language demands of school.

The teachers I have engaged in these types of conversations have almost always embraced the conversation with open arms. They feel validated by the acknowledgement of the real structural constraints that they confront as educators working with low-income racialized students in under-resourced schools. They also appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the biases in their listening practices and the space for developing new pedagogical approaches that resist these biases. They express a genuine desire for alternative discourses that help them to name the linguistic dexterity that they observe their students engaging in on a daily basis and the ways that this linguistic dexterity is devalued in school and the broader society. But perhaps most importantly, they appreciate being able to discuss how to navigate the tension between pressures to meet the language demands of their curriculum while positioning the home language practices of their students as legitimate both inside and outside of the classroom. Though there are no easy answers or magic bullets for how to resolve this tension I can’t imagine anything more connected to classroom realities than that.

Stop Making Cases Against Latinx, Start Making Cases for Gender Equity

Every few months my social media explodes with debates related to the increasing use of the term Latinx as a gender neutral alternative to Latino. Most often it is prompted by rediscovery of this case against Latinx published a few years ago or a more recent article making similar arguments. I have been surprised at how often people share these articles as if they are making a useful contribution to the debate over developing more inclusive language. In reality, these cases against Latinx are usually trolling women and non-binary people while hiding behind seemingly woke language.

There are five major critiques of Latinx that I have gathered from these various cases against Latinx. While they may seem reasonable at face-value, on closer scrutiny they point to the real agenda of most of these cases against Latinx—to derail discussions of the ways that patriarchal and heteronormative ideologies are reproduced through language by suggesting that the term Latinx is the problem as opposed to patriarchy and heteronormativity. I will examine each of these critiques below and point to their major flaws.

  • Latinx was a term developed in the US that is being imposed on Latin America. I have seen this argument resonate with many people conscious of the long history of US imperialism in Latin America that continues today. That said, debates about how to make Spanish more inclusive also has a long history in Latin America that continues today. In fact, there is strong evidence that suggests that the term Latinx actually emerged in Latin America. Whether it did or not, the fact of the matter is that it is now used within feminist and queer communities throughout Latin America. To, therefore, suggest that the term is somehow a tool of US imperialism is to erase the many women and non-binary people living in Latin America who use the term as part of broader efforts at demanding equal rights
  • The term is unpronounceable in Spanish. It is true that the pronunciation of the term is in a state of flux. I have heard Latin-ex, Lateen-ex, and Lateen-equis. I am sure that there are also other variations as well. That said, I have never come across a Spanish speaker who wanted to use the term who was not able to pronounce it in a way that was functional for their purposes—namely identifying themselves as connected to a broader political movement for gender equality. In addition, this argument is irrelevant to describing the use of Latinx among bilingual/English speaking Latinxs living in the US. As far as I know, nobody has claimed that the term is unpronounceable in English so the critique is irrelevant to the use of Latinx in this context.
  • There is a slippery slope from the use of Latinx to the complete degendering of Spanish. The basic argument is that adopting Latinx would eventually lead to the imposition of a completely new grammatical structure on Spanish so that terms like escuela and playa would now be escuelx and playx. To my knowledge nobody has called for the complete degendering of Spanish. Indeed, to suggest that degendering the way we describe people will lead to the degendering of inanimate objects is dehumanizing to women and non-binary people whose gender identities are being conflated with the grammatical gender of inanimate objects.
  • Latinx is an elitist term that is only available to highly educated people with access to privileged spaces. While it is true that Latinx may not have wide circulation yet to claim that this makes it elitist is misleading at best. Many terms that marginalized people use to describe themselves begin on a small scale and gradually become more widely used. As an example, when I was in college a similar critique was made about the use of the term queer. Over the past 15 years the term has become more widely used with many young people now identifying as queer either in addition to or instead of as gay or lesbian. Whether the same process happens with Latinx remains to be seen. That said, efforts to promote more inclusive language will continue and to suggest that these efforts are elitist serve to derail this important conversation.
  • Latino is already gender neutral. The whole premise of people using Latinx or other forms of inclusive language such as Latine is that Latino is not gender neutral. To simply conclude that Latino is, in fact, gender neutral is not making a case against Latinx but instead a case against grappling with the patriarchal and heteronormative ideologies that undergird our daily language use. There are no simply solutions to these issues and people will inevitably disagree on how best to address them. But to simply suggest that Latino is gender neutral serves to reinforce the status quo.

To be clear, while I am calling for people to stop making cases against Latinx I am not necessarily making a case for Latinx either. Instead, I am making a case for taking the concerns of women and non-binary people seriously. As an educator, this means bringing these debates into the classroom. But the point of entry of these debates should not be to treat the five arguments listed above as legitimate arguments.  Instead, the point of entry of these debates should be the understanding that language change is always at the forefront of political struggles and that efforts at developing more inclusive language are part of broader efforts to develop a more gender equitable future. If your only contribution to these efforts is to make cases against Latinx, somehow I suspect that your priority may not be gender equity but rather the maintenance of the status quo.

What are the different types of dual language programs?

Recent years have witnessed the expansion of so-called “dual language” programs. One of the primary goal of these programs has been to promote equity by providing minoritized communities access to high quality bilingual education. Yet, as these programs have spread the dual language umbrella has become increasingly large with differences between these programs often obscured in ways that might be detrimental to student learning and the promotion of equity.

In this post, I expand the typology of the different program types that currently exist as a way of beginning a conversation about how best to meet the needs of students who enter these different programs and how to ensure that they do not lose focus on the primary goal of promoting equity for minoritized communities.

There are at least four different program types that I have come across:

  1. Two-way programs: These are programs that serve a balance of students from English speaking homes and homes where the minoritized language is spoken. In order for this to be possible the neighborhood where the school is located must have sizeable numbers of students from these different communities that have a strong interest in the program. As a result, these programs are typically found in relatively affluent neighborhoods with a small but sizeable population of speakers of the minoritized language that either reside in the community or are bused in from other communities. As young professionals increasingly decide to remain in urban areas when they have children these programs are also increasingly found in gentrifying neighborhoods with the danger being that the speakers of the minoritized language may be displaced as property values continue to rise. These programs often grapple with issues of power and privilege as communities with different racial and social class positions come together. When the term dual language was first coined this was often the only program type that was being referred to. Indeed, to this day, some people are only referring to this program type when they use the term dual language. At the very least this program type is often seen as the ideal form of dual language education.
  2. One-way programs: The fact that the US is a segregated society means that two-way programs are often not feasible simply because there isn’t a sizeable population of students from English speaking homes interested in participating in these programs. As a result, segregated neighborhoods with a large student population from one minoritized background will sometimes offer one way programs that exclusively serve students who come from homes where this language is used. Historically, these programs have been referred to as maintenance or developmental programs. Increasingly, these have been placed under the umbrella of dual language. While they have the same explicit goal of bilingual and biliteracy development the context where they are working to developing these skills is quite different. Because of the low social status of the students being served by these students, they often grapple with the perception that they are transitional programs or remedial programs. As a result, they sometimes will be branded as two-way in the hopes of exploiting their higher prestige. Yet, this may lead programs to inappropriately try to sort students into L1 English users versus L1 users of the partner language when most, if not all, of the students are simultaneous rather than sequential bilinguals who use both languages on a daily basis both in and out of school.
  3. 1.5-way programs: These programs exist in similar segregated neighborhoods as one-way programs. The key difference is that while one-way programs are typically found in communities with relatively new immigrant populations, 1.5-way programs are typically found in communities where speakers of the minoritized language have lived for multiple generations. As a result, these programs typically have students with a range of experiences with English and the minoritized language. They struggle with similar challenges as one-way programs in terms of the social status of the students leading to negative perceptions of the programs. Yet, they also struggle with some challenges that confront two-way programs in that their classrooms are typically more linguistically heterogeneous. As with one-way programs they often try to brand themselves as two- way programs and, indeed, better fit the description in that many students are coming in from homes where English is used as the primary language. However, this may lead to students inappropriately being placed into boxes of L1 users of English and L1 users of the minoritized language in ways that erase the dynamic bilingualism of many of the students being served. To date little research has been done on these programs with, to my knowledge, nobody having even proposed a name for them before.
  4. Wrong way programs: These programs are typically founded in affluent predominantly white neighborhoods and typically only serve affluent predominantly white students. The name is only half serious but is meant to illustrate that these programs deviate significantly from the original goals of dual language programs, which was to promote equity for minoritized communities. Whatever good these programs may be doing for their privileged students, they are not promoting equity for minoritized communities. In many ways, they shouldn’t be called dual language programs at all. In fact, historically they have typically been called immersion programs though they have recently been rebranded as dual language programs in many contexts. This is part of a larger gentrification of dual language educationthat is serving to systematically push minoritized students out of these programs while co-opted the equity discourses that have historically been associated with dual language programs.

I’m sure there are other types of dual language programs that already exist and that new types will continue to emerge as these program continue to expand. For example, dual language programs have begun to emerge in predominately African American neighborhoods. This challenges the existing frameworks that presuppose that students from English speaking homes are always coming from privileged racial, linguistic and social class positions and suggests the need for new modifications that meet the particular needs of these students who have often historically been systematically excluded from these programs. It is only by adapting these programs to fit the students being served while ensuring their equitable distributions across different community contexts that these programs will continue to successfully promote equity for minoritized communities.