If politics is the continuation of war by other means (p. 15), this continuation emerges and is pushed forward by discourse. Foucault, “…invoking the name of J.L. Austin, argued that the description of a statement was not complete when one had defined the linguistic structure of the statement, that the analysis of discourse could not be reduced to the combination of elements according to linguistic rules that therefore, ‘discourse is something that necessarily extends beyond language’” (p. xix, emphasis ours).
In arguing this, Foucault counters Chomsky’s generative grammar, a linguistic theory that views grammar as a system of rules intended to generate combinations of words which form perfect sentences. Language, then, is an exact science, and the unit of analysis is the sentence coming from an ideal native speaker (Mitchell, Myles, & Marsden, 2013). Language is a biological, innate capability in humans, appearing as an instinctive mental capacity, the Language Acquisition Device (LAD), in the child’s brain. Arguments for this view of language are that children move through developmental stages in language, that these stages are very similar among all children learning the same language, they are similar cross-linguistically, child language is rule-governed and systematic, though the rules of the child are not necessarily correspondent to the adult’s; and children’s processing capacity limits the number of rules they can apply at any one time, and they will use older hypotheses when more than one rule is competing simultaneously (Mitchell et al., 2013, p. 65). Chomsky would say that the social and environmental are important, but that they are not language.
But language is not a “hard” science. It is housed in the language arts, and the social sciences, and beginning in the 1970s and continuing through what is known as “the social turn” of the 1980s and 1990s in language acquisition studies, more academics began to argue that language is not innate, that it is emergent in participation, it is a doing, it is an action, it is a social activity. It is dynamic, contingent, made up of choices and dependent on resources and multicompetencies. If one is coming through the door with a full bag of groceries in her hands, she need not yell the complete sentence, “Someone please open the door!” at her children. She needs only to scream, “Door!” as her children imply meaning from that and come running to help. If one says, “You were a real big help today!”, Chomsky’s grammar does not allow for an analysis of pragmatics — was that said literally or sarcastically? Children don’t naturally know this. In fact it takes years for children to register pragmatics, adult humor, irony, and other parts of language outside of its mere syntax. Yes, language is partly biological, and Chomsky contributed much to the study of language. Language is also majorly social and environmental. In fact, without the social and environmental, if one merely relied on biology, language would not occur.
An overwhelming amount of evidence from fields as diverse as neurolinguistics (fMRI studies prove that there is no LAD), sociolinguistics (study after study shows that culture and environment shapes language, not the other way around), supports Foucault’s argument that “… “a statement is not complete when one has defined the linguistic structure of the statement, that the analysis of discourse could not be reduced to the combination of elements according to linguistic rules, that therefore, ‘discourse is something that necessarily extends beyond language’” (p. xix, emphasis ours). Language and discourse are emergent in action; it is not “language,” but “language-ing,” a verb, a process, a movement that moves us forward while at the same time connecting us backward — in dialogue with the past, present, and future all at once.
For Bakhtin, it is the utterance, not the sentence of Chomsky’s theory, that is the unit of linguistic analysis, and is marked by “addressivity” and “answerability” (always addressed to someone and it always anticipates a response). Discourse, then, is dialectic and dialogic and historically contingent: occurring within, and indivisible from culture, history, and place. Foucault urges us to consider the facts of discourse as strategic games, discourse as a strategic field, a battle. It is a performative act of war, and “[t]he historico-political discourse of war puts forward a truth that ‘functions as a weapon’” (p. xxi). This leads us to the battle of knowledges and the discourses constructing what constitutes legitimate versus subaltern knowledges.
Scientific discourse and literacy / Subjugated knowledges
Foucault defines subjugated knowledges as “disqualified as nonconceptual knowledges, as insufficiently elaborated knowledges: naive knowledges, hierarchically inferior knowledges, knowledges that are below the required level of erudition or scientificity” (p. 7). In essence, this means a devaluation of local knowledges, which have not been scientifically or politically validated.
To do research ‘right,’ it has to be done according to “scientific principles.” Research in the humanities, such as linguistics, draws from methods used commonly in the natural sciences – systematically, and preferably using at least some quantitative methods. Looking back at the history of linguistics, this is exactly what the earliest researchers were trying to do. This helped establish linguistics as a legitimate “science” in academia, perhaps even education. Today, we can peer down from our ivory towers and claim our knowledge is better than your knowledge because we allege to be a science.
However, it is worrisome how we arrive at these knowledges we possess and preach. Thinking about Second Language Acquisition research, for example, much of our knowledge is derived from quantitative studies. Assessing language proficiency and development is largely reliant on various types of assessments, which need to be quantifiable. Although researchers have attempted to take social, cultural, and other factors into consideration, in terms of producing legitimate research and ‘knowledge,’ the “other” gets pushed aside in favor of cleaner, more straightforward analyses. As such, there is an element of power in numbers – numbers produce careers. However, as mentioned in the previous section, language is not a hard science, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – just that knowledge produced any other way is not recognized.
Foucault also raises the question of “What types of knowledge are you trying to disqualify when you say that you are a science?” (p. 10). In terms of local knowledges and language education this means western academics can suppress knowledges regarding what constitutes ‘good’ language education in remote areas, for example. Suresh Canagarajah talks about this in his article “Teacher Development in a Global Profession: An Autoethnography.” Essentially, he recounts his own experiences with western academics coming to Sri Lanka and telling the teachers there that their ways of teaching are, well, wrong, despite the local ways working just fine. This sense of inferiority was also instilled in the local educators – they believed and legitimized the negative discourses regarding their local practices.
Furthermore, on page 10, Foucault says “[…] what subject of experience and knowledge are you trying to minorize when you begin to say ‘I speak this discourse, I am speaking a scientific discourse, and I am a scientist.’” This resonates with academic discourse in general, and how powerful fluency in academic language can be. Not only are you giving legitimacy to your knowledge by proclaiming you are a scientist, but participation and the effect of your words are intimately tied to proficiency in academic discourse.
National English-Only Movement in the U.S.
If politics is war, just the continuation of war by other means (p. 15), we can look at English only movements in the United States as an extension of past conflict: “Power relations are anchored in a relationship of force that was established in and through war at a given historical moment that can be historically specified” (p. 15). In this way, “We are always writing the history of the same war, even when we are writing the history of peace and its institutions” (p. 16).
A common implicit ideology in language policies is that monolingualism is a solution to leveling out socioeconomic inequality and ensuring future success. Thus, requiring or encouraging everyone to acquire a dominant language may, as a result, seem like the common sense approach (Tollefson, 1991). However, one need only to look at the linguistic descrimination of the African American community to see The United States has for decades had a war on bilingualism, or perhaps more accurately, a war on diversity. In terms of Foucault’s reversal of Clausewitz’s aphorism, that policy can become an instrument of war this might be an instance in which that applies. In other words, the ‘war’ on diversity was already ongoing, but policies were enacted to support that war, and discourse created to support the commonsensical view.
Also note the double-standards: the American dream is unattainable to most Americans, yet we are holding immigrants to this nonexistent standard – learn English, become successful. This discussion also excludes the fact that Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans do not have to pass English proficiency tests to become American citizens (Ricento, 2006).
So who exactly are we talking about when we say “immigrant?” Is there a difference between ex-pats and immigrants? Marika identifies as an immigrant, but others might insist she is an ex-pat. In fact, this happened not too long ago, Marika was questioned about using the term “immigrant” to refer to herself. The interlocutor corrected her and offered the term “ex-pat” instead. Marika’s insistence on sticking to the original term led to an awkward comment about “America needing more blonde, blue-eyed immigrants.” It is probably not a coincidence that race also plays a part in bilingual education. Although all immigrants/ex-pats are foreign to the country, not all incomers were created equal.
Although the U.S. does not have an official national language, there have been attempts to change this to protect the status of English. Despite the unofficial status of the language, it is clear that many consider English a de facto language of the United States, and that all immigrants should acquire English as soon as possible. The reasoning is that in order to succeed in this society, one must speak the dominant language. Dr. Hayakawa, a former California Senator, said “Bilingualism for the individual is fine, but not for a country.” He even went as far as founding U.S. English, “a foundation that contends that learning English quickly and learning it with peers is the best way for learners to get ahead academically and socially” (U.S. English Foundation). This view completely disregards immigrants, especially young immigrants, needs for other types of education and support. Language skills are equated with success, with no reference to other (socioeconomic) factors.
Although this sentiment is fairly common, and even immigrants such as Dr. Hayakawa himself subscribe to it, this ideology has also had an adverse effect on bilingual education. The focus seems to have shifted from demanding a common language to fighting diversity.
Proposition 227: “English for the Children” Act, California (1998)
According to Krashen (1995) and Collier (1997), acquiring a native language is a continuous process that human beings engage in their entire lives. The same is true for developing fluency in another language. Current research indicates that it can take up to seven years for school-aged children to develop the second-language (L2) skills necessary to perform at grade-level in that language (Thomas & Collier, 1997). Collier (2005) explains:
It is important to recognize the complex, lifelong process that we go through in acquiring our first language and the parallels in second-language acquisition…. [C]hildren add reading and writing skills [to listening and speaking skills they acquired as toddlers]….An adolescent entering college must acquire an enormous vocabulary in every discipline of study ….through adulthood …we…acquire new subtleties in pragmatics, as well as the constantly changing patterns in language use that affect our everyday oral and written communication with others. (p. 315)
If acquiring language, then, is a never-ending and always-changing process dependent on the context that surrounds it in a particular point in time, then Proposition 227, the 1998 California initiative that requires all immigrant children to take intensive English instruction for one year (California Secretary of State, 1998), contradicts what Second Language Acquisition (SLA) researchers and language teachers know about the social, cultural, and cognitive aspects of language learning. Disregarding the knowledge that it takes up to seven years to master a second language, Proposition 227 requires that Limited English Proficient (LEP) students move from special classes to regular classes once they have acquired a “good working knowledge” of English, that these special classes will teach almost completely in English, and that they will normally last no more than one year (California Secretary of State, 1998). This paper emphasizes this contradiction by presenting Proposition 227 against current research and pedagogical practices on L2 acquisition and featuring changes in teachers’ classroom practices in order to comply with the law. Further, the sociocultural implications of the law give evidence for a language socialization framework for language pedagogy. Politicians, researchers, and educators must acknowledge the necessity for greater communication in order to provide immigrant children a socially relevant and fair education in English that allows them to find value in their first language, culture, and home community, while still being able to compete academically with their native-English-speaking peers.
Notice how the proponent is citing figures to support his claims? But what is he not saying? Were more heightened methods of surveillance imposed on these bilingual classrooms that someone wanted eliminated? Where is the data from English-only mainstream classrooms and subject literacy, for example. Where is the data on how older children and teen immigrants do with such intensive immersion?
School districts responded in vastly different ways to the new mandates of Proposition 227, and had to adjust or forgo their teaching theories to attend to the goals of the law. Those that “had relied on a largely English-only strategy for educating their English learners tended to abandon dual language instruction altogether and adhere closely to a conservative interpretation of the new law. Districts that had a strong commitment to the idea of bilingual instruction, and a corps of qualified bilingual teachers, were much more likely to help parents seek waivers from English-only instruction” (Gándara, 2000, p. 2). Some teachers forwent their theories about contextual learning, replacing activities that develop student literacy in both their native language and English, like storytelling and sequencing activities, with those that would help students pass standardized English tests (Gándara, 2000, p. 7). Because of this, children often were not formulating meaning within the context that they were learning. In Gándara’s (2000) ethnographic accounts of the “Post-227 era” she describes the following obstacle of an English learner: A teacher instructed students to “circle each long vowel sound in each of the sentences and write this word in the long vowel column” (p. 6). The young boy started to perform the task; however, when he repeated the sentence out loud multiple times, he said that the sentence did not “make any sense,” even though he continued to write down the correct words with long vowels. Gándara concludes that the boy could decipher the goal of the exercise, but that he had “no idea” of the meaning of the words in the sentence (p. 7). The boy was learning how to be a good test taker, not learning how to speak, write, and understand English.
Insight into how two southern California schools changed their programs after Proposition 227 shows other significant impacts of Proposition 227. The Khmer bilingual programs at Walnut and Alamitos Elementary schools vanished after implementation of the law. Walnut and Alamitos Elementary schools were the only two schools ever in California to implement a complete Khmer bilingual program (Wright, 2007). In the early 1990s, the California Department of Education threatened to deny the district $8 million in funding unless they adhered to state laws enforcing bilingual education and ESL programs; thus, the schools implemented a Khmer bilingual program in 1993. The program was highly successful, employing and training over 20 Khmer bilingual teachers, and creating and translating materials, along with a “comprehensive authentic assessment system” (Wright, 2007, p. 4). Students in the programs at Walnut and Alamitos made “similar or greater gains in oral English proficiency as their peers in the English-only classrooms” and most “were reading at or about grade level in English by the end of third grade” (Wright, 2007, p. 5); however, they were also developing proficiency in Khmer, allowing children to hold on to their language and culture.
The programs at both schools ended in 2000 after implementation of Proposition 227. The schools tried to implement a bilingual program, Dual Literacy Plus (DLP), which allowed for “45-90 minutes each day to teach literacy in the students’ heritage language” if parents obtained a waiver from Proposition 227 guidelines (Wright, 2007. p. 6); however, the district told schools not to encourage parents to seek waivers. With the combination of Proposition 227 and high-stakes testing, teachers had to focus more on teaching to the test instead of teaching children their first language. Naturally, the programs died.
Proposition 227 is not working as intended. According to Crawford (2003), it had a 92% failure rate in 2002, failing at least 1,479,420 children who remained limited in English. Unz and supporters claim that Proposition 227 has increased student test scores (Gándara, 2002, p.2); however, a review of data collection and the climate of educational policy in the past decade, test score increases cannot be attributed to the law (Wright, 2007, p. 17). Gándara (2000) states, “California has been in the midst of massive reform efforts over the last several years that have made it extremely difficult to separate the impact of one reform from another” (p. 4). Further, the statewide impact of the law on ELLs has varied considerably among districts, schools, and even classrooms in the same schools (Stritikus & García, 2003). It works well in certain schools with certain ethnic populations and economic backgrounds, and it backfires in other schools with other ethnic populations and economic backgrounds.
Acquiring a second language is a long, complex process, and learners, especially immigrant children, face a variety of obstacles while learning language. Issues arise within the home, community, and at school where children have to negotiate their surroundings, make meaning out of them, and attempt to find a space that accepts them for being, in many cases, both an immigrant and an American. English-only programs have created a great disconnect between immigrant parents and their children: “[Students] often felt that their parents were not resourceful and they did not perceive them as the best role-models in assisting them with their education or with advice in life. Parents were losing self-respect, and they mourned their children’s loss of their traditional values that had been passed down for many generations.” (Wright, 2007, p. 8). One parent in a recent interview for a San José Mercury News article says, “There are a lot of subjects that we haven’t been able to help them with, such as reading….We feel very helpless. I’m very worried” (Bazeley, 2008).
Not only do many children not get the homework help they need from their parents, but they also have a long day at school in intensive English programs, English tutoring, and after-school English programs where they do not understand most of what teachers and their English-speaking peers are saying to them. One teacher from Gándara’s work (2000) voices the following concern:
I feel like the children are forced into silence…they’re really not getting any opportunity to express themselves as they normally would were they in a bilingual classroom. And I feel sorry for them….I don’t think they’re receiving an equal opportunity, equal education in the sense that they are not really learning to read. They’re learning to decode….But their decoding skills are coming along nicely but the problem is that second language acquisition takes time. (p. 8)
Students are simultaneously losing interest in their parents, in home life and in school. This shows in nationwide statistics: one tenth of White students, one fourth of African American students, one third of Latino students, and two thirds of immigrant students drop out of school annually (Stritikus & Garcia, 2005).
On the topic of excavating subaltern knowledges over the fifteen-year period that Foucault references (we are assuming the beginnings of postmodernism and poststructuralism), he states, “I am not the only one to have been doing this… . Far from it” (p. 15). One such thinker is Walter Mignolo, who has written on what he calls “border gnosis,” or knowledge kept on the margins (2000, p. 9). A border thinking implies new forms of thinking that works toward the restitution of knowledge that colonialism erased. His books The Idea of Latin America (2005); Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (2000); and The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (2011) have proven to be highly insightful histories — and subaltern histories — of the colonizing of Latin America.
When it comes to language policy and planning, much of the world implements schooling practices born out of colonialism and that continue today through ideologies of globalization and neoliberalism, views that promise believers that they will become competitive in an ever-connected world market. The design of education policies and pedagogies often are created in light of “Western” epistemologies that shaped these structures for over 500 years through colonial rule. In the last sixty years, English as a foreign language has gained status as a highly sought type of social and political capital. Since the mid-twentieth century, however, non-Western epistemologies have called for de-colonialization in Africa, Asia, and Latin America on all levels of society, from philosophy to government, from community to school organization.
Although official colonial rule has come and gone in Latin America, it leaves many marks behind, including a linguistic one in the form of Spanish, Portuguese, and in some areas English and Creole English languages. In the past 20 years, English has emerged as the lingua franca of late capitalism. English language ideology, the myth of socio-economic mobility through English language attainment, is rife through the world and especially in countries in development. The truth is, implementing English language policy throughout the globe benefits some, but does not benefit a great many others (Ricento, 2015). The discourse bound up in the ideology of language policy finds its roots, still, in colonialism and the dependency that weak-economy nations have on global leaders, and it “…assumes that English is a neutral, beneficial, and freely chosen language, (equally) available to all” (May, 2014, p. 381).
On the contrary, research over the past 20 years has found that there is no correlation between English policy implementation and stronger economic growth (Macedo et al. 2003; Pennycook, 1994; Ricento, 2015; Tollefson, 1991). Despite this, countries like Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the western hemisphere behind Haiti (CIA Factbook, 2015), have recently implemented a policy requiring secundaria school youth (roughly the equivalent of U.S. high school) to have five years of English. Rural Nicaragua especially faces economic hardship. There is a high rate of illiteracy among those 15 years old or more (37% in 2000) (CEPAL, 2003, cited in Bartlett et al. 2011, p. 178), and only 17% of rural adolescents attend secondary education (IPADE, 2010, p. 53); education is required only through sixth grade and secondary education is not mandatory. Forty-three percent of secondary teachers nationwide have no formal training (FEDH, 2012). In a country where attaining literacy and educational opportunities in one’s first language is difficult, students — and teachers who have to teach English without knowing it themselves — feel overwhelmed. Classrooms are not equipped with electricity or books, and students have little more than a notebook and pencil. The malnutrition that children fact not only stunts their physical growth, but also physically changes their brains, their memory capabilities, and other functions.
A classroom in northern Nicaragua functioning with no electricity and limited resources.
Looking out at a vast landscape of mountains, volcanoes, and forest, one easily begins to wonder what purpose English is here and what apparent mobility it is supposed to provide.
However, even under the policy there is hope and a push to overcome dominant ideologies and make a space for unorthodox knowledges. One such program is called Sistema de Aprendizaje Tutorial (System of Tutor Learning), where teachers do not have to be experts, but are encourage to learn with their students and apply knowledge of math, science, literature, and now English as practically as they can to their local environments. Katie has spent the last seven years working with Nicaraguan teachers, doing professional development activities, exploring ways of increasing confidence as capable teacher leaders, and promoting other ways of teaching and learning that fall outside of traditional expectations. Even this, however, can have imperialistic undertones, as Katie is an outsider from the north, from a rich, English-speaking country who has benefited from several privileges in this lifetime. Does she have the right to intervene in the lives of teachers who are ultimately affected by their own choices? Is this just another form of imperialism? If Katie had the right to learn knowledge (including languages) that she thought might provide her socioeconomic mobility, who is she to tell others that learning English may or may not benefit their lives?
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