Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thoughts on Facilitating "Language and Power"

This quote succinctly says what I had hoped to elicit as a potential answer to the essential question of the relationship of language and power, after facilitating our class discussion of "Aria", by Richard Rodriguez, and "Teaching Multilingual Children", by Virginia Collier. However, my plan did not work out as I had hoped.

Facilitating adult discussions is difficult, but I would have been more successful had I planned better. First, while inviting Rosa and Genesis to the conversation as expert English language learners added human realia, their presence also made it difficult to focus the discussion primarily on the text. This was due to my rushing through of the text discussion to accommodate Genesis' schedule and thus, combining the synthesis activity with the interview section, which should have been based solely on the text. Nonetheless, I believe what both ladies shared from their days as English language learners was valuable to the discussion and I know they enjoyed the experience as well.

Collier's advice on teaching language learners is important and valid. A student's first language needs to be valued by the teacher and thought of as an integral resource for the child as they acquire a second language. Bilingual education isn't always possible, but it is preferable, as Rosa noted when sharing how she continued to learn her academic content in Spanish while learning English. Rodriguez shared the heartache of relinquishing his private language, Spanish, yet acknowledges that this loss was necessary in order to fully gain access and acceptance into the majority culture of his time.

Our students will need to be globally competent and that means to be fluent in English and at least one other global language. English is the dominant language of economic power today, but that might change. Our students' economic power will most likely hinge on their ability to work with global citizens and to understand global perspectives. This comes with language learning. So, we need to stop viewing bilingual education as a hindrance, but rather as a necessity for all children.

Language does exert hidden power: in our testing policies and the language bias inherent therein and in how we often view bilingual education as an economic hindrance instead of as an economic, social and cultural asset, and this extends from the classroom into the greater culture - locally, nationally, and internationally.

Hence, the inclusion of this Patricia Ryan tedtalk, "Don't Insist On English"

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