Category Archives: Education K-12

A few (language and literacy) thoughts

 

  • I feel that my background in early childhood education holds me in good stead when it comes to the subtleties of first and second language acquisition. What comes naturally when we support children in their primary languages does not come as naturally when we are working with older learners. There are clear developmental differences but communication almost always is the goal. Instrumental motivation is commonly accompanied by integrative motivation(Baker, 2001, p.123). The useful purpose (instrumental) someone wants to learn a language for often relates to identifying with or joining another language group (integrative) and communicating with people from a distinct linguistic background. ‘Discourse analysis has shown that a second language learner and a native speaker work together to produce purposeful and efficient communication” (Baker, p.118).
  • This ties back to caregiver speech (or ‘motherese’). The caregiver and the infant do not speak the same language at first but they communicate in a mix of verbal and visual cues. They negotiate meaningful input and language development comes about as a ‘process of implicit rule formation, rather than explicit habit formation’ (Baker, p. 119). I remember when I was working in a preschool setting and first heard “I runned to the shop” (or equivalent). I don’t remember if I responded at the time, but if I did I doubt I would have said, “no it’s ran, you ran to the shop” (instinct would hopefully have had me say the second part without the initial negative correction). I now know more about language development and I know that the child was making a hypothesis that actually shows positive cognitive development. What is key is that the child is telling a story and if we interrupt that story to explicitly correct, the train of thought is lost, and the child may shut down.

 

  • A number of years ago I took part in a collaborative study to see whether we should make a foreign language part of the regular day, at the private school I worked at in Brooklyn. I was already the before and after school French and Spanish teacher, and my passion for languages would have swerved me slightly in the pro camp. After a period of months, of meetings, and readings, we decided that there was already a lot on in the day, including specialist science and music, and decided not to bring a foreign language into the regular school day. There was no clear evidence to show that the children at this privileged school would be better prepared to formally tackle a foreign language in fifth or sixth, if they had taken the language a couple of times a week from kindergarten on. The only ‘real’ benefit seemed to be in terms of accent. I found this process to be of great interest as the articles we read challenged the concept that young children pick up languages so easily and it’s harder the older you get. It is of course much more complex than that. While there are many factors in play, Hakuta (in Baker, p.98) states that the evidence for critical period is scanty and that there are no qualitative differences between child and adult learners.
  •  Something I hadn’t explicitly thought about before is the use of English for science and math (Baker, p.210, point 3). I have always believed that math should be in the home language as the skills are transferable (Baker, p.210, point 4). SFUSD has a math curriculum in Spanish but when I was supervising two student teachers both in second grades, one class used the Spanish language version and the other class used the English version. I had never questioned the use of English for science as I felt it was a given as all schools I’ve visited have had science in English, but now I do. This ties straight into a presentation I saw at CIES 2017 regarding the limits of using Western theorists in the African context, especially when there are African theorists to use, such as Nyerere. Birgit Brock-Utne discussed the use of English as people move through academia, including in Norwegian universities. She recalled a discussion she had with a man in Tanzania who moved into English from Kiswahili when a particular topic came up. She asked him whether the language existed in Kiswahili to talk about that topic, and he said it didn’t. Brock-Utne then said to us that language only grows by using it. A couple of hours later, in a different context, a man from Namibia said he was back in his village, he works in the US, and went to speak to the children at the local school. He works in multimedia and information technology and he found the words for that don’t exist in his mother tongue. We have critical mass with Spanish but even so it is hard enough to get a wide range of quality resources in language arts and social studies.
  • On the way to the airport the other day I spoke to a taxi driver from Tajikistan. I don’t think I’ve met anyone from there before and I didn’t know they speak Farsi, as well as Russian (looking it up now I see that Tajik is a version of Farsi). He has two young children and so I asked the driver what language they speak at home, as I often do. They speak Farsi. The phrase that crossed my mind was that “unless you speak fluent English it’s better to speak your home tongue”. This was quickly replaced by the fact that it’s important for children to learn the language of their heart, and that even if the parents do speak fluent English they should still speak the language of their heart at home. It goes beyond being able to speak to the elders; it goes straight to core preservation value. Children quickly learn what language has power, prestige and preference (Baker, p.92), but they also learn the language of the heart and family. Early on children have the ability to use the appropriate language within appropriate contexts (Baker, p.91). The role children play as language brokers has many positive outcomes (Baker, p. 105). Language brokering can often be a lifeline, but there are certain ethical dilemmas when it comes to interpreting sensitive information, such as medical or educational information. Ideally, trained community interpreters can fill the role but in their absence children may need to step in.
  • Language brokering in less sensitive areas, such as when shopping, or banking, highlight student skills in areas a classroom teacher might not be aware of (Jiménez & Orellana, 2006). The suggestion of using journals to access this information is a strong pedagogical tool that opens a window, not only into occasions of language brokering but also emotions surrounding these. Harnessing these skills for academic growth taps into funds of knowledge the student may not know they possess. It may also strengthen positive ideologies surrounding home languages, if these languages are not high status. Children learn early on (Baker, p.106) one language never fully parallels another. Language brokering is not so much about interpreting word for word, but it is also about finding equivalencies. These equivalencies might not always exist, the words comadre or compañera for example come to mind, but the importance is finding the spirit in the sentiment.

 

References:

 Baker, C. (2001). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (3rd ed). Clevedon [England] ; Buffalo [N.Y.]: Multilingual Matters.

Jiménez, R., & Orellana, M. (2006). Flipping the Educational Script: Teachers as Learners. California English.

 

 

Tend the linguistic garden

 

Colin Baker (Baker, 2001, p.53) comments that language diversity requires planning and care. He uses an analogy of a garden to illustrate his point. Smaller flowers may be in need of more protection, and sometimes radical action needs to be taken to preserve particular plants. Baker comments earlier on that language shift is more common than language stability. This intuitively makes sense but it complicates the preservation of languages that are not viewed as high status and/or are spoken by a small group of people. The Universal Declaration on Linguistic Rights (1996) is a beautiful document to read but it is difficult not to view it as a utopia for language communities. It is a critical document to have, imagining other worlds is a powerful liberatory tool, and it is comprehensive, bringing in invasion and colonization and other references to uses and abuses of power. Linguistic diversity is promoted throughout this document as a peace builder, as a key factor for harmonious social relations, and a political framework based upon respect and mutual benefit.

Baker points out that language rights can sometimes be more idealistic than realistic (p.370). He describes the distinction between tolerance-oriented rights and promotion-oriented rights. A tolerance orientation is often legalistic in form, and one of its aims is to protect against discrimination in different settings, schools being one of the most highly charged. A promotion orientation implies the active inclusion of all language communities in question, going beyond the letter of the law. This can be costly to implement and oftentimes impractical. Home language instruction ideally would be offered to all students in the US but it is impossible to provide for all communities. Speakers of Spanish are best served as they make up a large group of non-English speakers in many parts of the country. Speakers of Somali may be served in the Minneapolis area but less so outside of this region.

The territorial principle may also be in play when it comes to tolerance and/or promotion of linguistic rights. In Article One of the UNLR a language community is considered any human society that has developed a common language as a natural means of communication, whether or not there are historical ties to the territory they find themselves in. This accounts for immigrant and refugee communities, among others. Baker reminds us (p.43) that the politics and power situation in which minority languages are situated is important. Beyond hierarchies of language, the power differential between people who believe they belong in this country (and Australia and the UK)-based on being a native speaker of English is vast. Around two thirds of the world’s population is bilingual and multilingual and this number is growing. The UNLR was likely written by people who speak multiple languages, and a challenge to the primacy of English did not have a place in this document (it can be read in the lines however). English is a global and imperial language and monolingual English speakers often feel entitled to the territory that comes with it.

Power and ideology determines whose language is taught, which language practices are valued and which are minoritized (García, 2014, p.89). Hegemonic educational practices in many Anglophone countries draw on the cultural capital of the white, middle-class, English-speaking student. The acquisition of ‘foreign’ languages is seen to be beneficial morally, socially and globally for the white, middle-class student, while the language communities that speak these languages as home tongues are seen as deficient (Baker p.347). Ofelia Garcia (p. 91) states that the most important aspect of language education is having teachers who are educated to respect the multilingual ecology of their classroom and to develop the bilingualism of their students. This happens too seldom in teacher education programs and in ongoing professional development for classroom teachers. Language education pedagogies are products of their time, and often reflect retrograde notions. Until a year or so ago, I carried with me a visual of the purgatory of ‘semilingualism’: people who don’t have academic home language or English. Leaving aside the problematic of the definition of ‘academic’, it was only when reading a recent article (Flores, Kleyn, & Menken, 2015) that I saw how erroneous that visual is. Garcia challenges monoglossic ideologies, in particular the concept that there are fixed first and second languages. She proposes instead the concept of languaging that is complex and interrelated, and does not emerge in a linear fashion. Garcia writes that continuing to talk about L1 and L2 keeps power in the hands of monolinguals that speak the dominant language of the society in which they live at birth and who can acquire a “second” language independently. This “native” speaker is seen as White, monolingual and loyal to their nation, whereas Brown and Black bilingual speakers are marked as ‘foreign’.

Language diversity, language rights, the territorial principle and power and ideology lead us in a circle that is ever expanding. Without intentional and critical reflection on bilingualism and its relation to power and privilege we may subsume language diversity and language rights beneath a neoliberal mantle. We need to crack that mantle and creatively plan for the maintenance and promotion of the rights of all language communities, wherever they reside. It is a complex and messy business, as with so much work in education, but if we don’t ask the questions we remain in purgatory.

 

References:

Baker, C. (2001). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (3rd ed). Clevedon [England] ; Buffalo [N.Y.]: Multilingual Matters.

Flores, N., Kleyn, T., & Menken, K. (2015). Looking Holistically in a Climate of Partiality: Identities of Students Labeled Long-Term English Language Learners. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 14(2), 113–132. https://doi.org/10.1080/15348458.2015.1019787

García, O. (2014). Chapter Six: Multilingualism and Language Education. In C. Leung & B. V. Street (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to English Studies (pp. 84–99). London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

UNESCO. (1996). Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights. UNESCO. Retrieved from http://www.istrianet.org/istria/languages/declaration-rights-unesco.pdf

 

 

(Not) waiting for superman

􏰂􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰆􏰇􏰆􏰈􏰉􏰊􏰋􏰅􏰉􏰄􏰉􏰌􏰅􏰇􏰈􏰍􏰎􏰉􏰏􏰐􏰎􏰐􏰅􏰃􏰑􏰉􏰒􏰓􏰍􏰋􏰋􏰔􏰇􏰆􏰈􏰕􏰉􏰖􏰅􏰗􏰃􏰘􏰉􏰙􏰋􏰆􏰊􏰔􏰇􏰓􏰎􏰕􏰉􏰄􏰆􏰘􏰉􏰙􏰍􏰇􏰔􏰘􏰅􏰃􏰆􏰚􏰛􏰉􏰜􏰃􏰔􏰔􏰝􏰌􏰃􏰇􏰆􏰈 􏰖􏰐􏰎􏰍􏰋􏰅􏰞􏰛􏰟􏰑􏰉􏰠􏰃􏰡􏰃􏰓􏰓􏰄􏰢􏰜􏰇􏰆􏰎􏰍􏰅􏰋􏰣􏰉􏰄􏰆􏰘􏰉􏰤􏰄􏰓􏰥􏰇􏰃􏰢􏰦􏰇􏰅􏰥From September 24th, 2016 in response to:

Dumas, M. J. (2013). “Waiting for Superman” to save black people: racial representation and the official antiracism of neoliberal school reform. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education34(4), 531–547. http://doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2013.822621

􏰂􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰆􏰇􏰆􏰈􏰉􏰊􏰋􏰅􏰉􏰄􏰉􏰌􏰅􏰇􏰈􏰍􏰎􏰉􏰏􏰐􏰎􏰐􏰅􏰃􏰑􏰉􏰒􏰓􏰍􏰋􏰋􏰔􏰇􏰆􏰈􏰕􏰉􏰖􏰅􏰗􏰃􏰘􏰉􏰙􏰋􏰆􏰊􏰔􏰇􏰓􏰎􏰕􏰉􏰄􏰆􏰘􏰉􏰙􏰍􏰇􏰔􏰘􏰅􏰃􏰆􏰚􏰛􏰉􏰜􏰃􏰔􏰔􏰝􏰌􏰃􏰇􏰆􏰈————————————- 􏰖􏰐􏰎􏰍􏰋􏰅􏰞􏰛􏰟􏰑􏰉􏰠􏰃􏰡􏰃􏰓􏰓􏰄􏰢􏰜􏰇􏰆􏰎􏰍􏰅􏰋􏰣􏰉􏰄􏰆􏰘􏰉􏰤􏰄􏰓􏰥􏰇􏰃􏰢􏰦􏰇􏰅
Money has taken over and has moral authority over our lives.Money has been pushed past the gate into a field of ‘objectivity, meritocracy, colorblindness, race neutrality, and equal opportunity’[1].

Superman is only coming for those whom he deems worthy of saving, just take the word of Geoffrey Canada if you don’t believe me.

You say ‘saving’ means keeping your mouth shut, means walking in a line with hands clasped behind you, means turning your back on your community-because all they want to do is hold you back, and you know they made terrible choices with their lives, so you need to break with all you know and hold dear, and keep that mouth shut, unless you are called upon to regurgitate an answer, no one really cares what you think, because free thinking leads to trouble, might make you think you want to go home and learn more about your family, but STOP-you are not white, you do not have class privilege, you do not have knowledge-the way the system defines it.

So you need to do as the system says, if you want to move past being blamed for your place in the world, if you want to be seen as advocating for a place higher up on the ladder, even if a broke back and cut out tongue is the price you pay.

The more ‘broken’ your home life, the more you are of value to those who seek to ‘affirm their own humanity through your suffering’[2].

You are a signifier, you are not of flesh and blood anymore, because the market wills it to be so.

No longer bought and sold, but money dictates your future nevertheless, money that you never get to touch.

You say ‘structural inequities’ and the market says you’re not trying hard enough.

You say ‘systemic racism’ and the market says grow a pair.

You speak up, speak out and kneel down

Because you are still human and the market will not separate you from your humanity, will not separate you from the love of community and will not separate you from the beauty you are.

 

Dumas, M. J. (2013). “Waiting for Superman” to save black people: racial representation and the official antiracism of neoliberal school reform. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 34(4), 531–547. http://doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2013.822621

Yosso *, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. http://doi.org/10.1080/1361332052000341006

 

[1] (Yosso *, 2005)

[2] (Dumas, 2013)

􏰂􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰆􏰇􏰆􏰈􏰉􏰊􏰋􏰅􏰉􏰄􏰉􏰌􏰅􏰇􏰈􏰍􏰎􏰉􏰏􏰐􏰎􏰐􏰅􏰃􏰑􏰉􏰒􏰓􏰍􏰋􏰋􏰔􏰇􏰆􏰈􏰕􏰉􏰖􏰅􏰗􏰃􏰘􏰉􏰙􏰋􏰆􏰊􏰔􏰇􏰓􏰎􏰕􏰉􏰄􏰆􏰘􏰉􏰙􏰍􏰇􏰔􏰘􏰅􏰃􏰆􏰚􏰛􏰉􏰜􏰃􏰔􏰔􏰝􏰌􏰃􏰇􏰆􏰈 􏰖􏰐􏰎􏰍􏰋􏰅􏰞􏰛􏰟􏰑􏰉􏰠􏰃􏰡􏰃􏰓􏰓􏰄􏰢􏰜􏰇􏰆􏰎􏰍􏰅􏰋􏰣􏰉􏰄􏰆􏰘􏰉􏰤􏰄􏰓􏰥􏰇􏰃􏰢􏰦􏰇􏰅􏰥

Raciolinguistics and Early Childhood Education

 

Research into early childhood education teaching and practice benefits from a critical look at component parts. Language and literacy are key elements of any ECE classroom and many ECE scholars actively engage in critical literacy explorations. The new field of raciolinguistics asks and answers critical questions about the relationships and the intersections between language, race and power. Applying raciolinguistics to the early childhood setting is sure to raise lively debates and discussions. Intersectionality (in the case of raciolinguistics this would be-but not limited to-the intersections of race and language) and anti-essentialism are one of the key tenets of critical race theory (Ladson-Billings, 2013). Critical race theory can also be a contentious issue in the early childhood classroom, but if an analysis of CRT doesn’t belong there, there where does it belong?

Intersectionality has proven to be a productive concept that has been deployed in a wide range of disciplines such as history and literature (Cho, Crenshaw, & McCall, 2013). Cho et al. affirm that its insistence on examining the dynamics of difference and sameness has played a major role in facilitating discussion and analysis of gender, race and other axes of power. Raciolinguistics is a new field of research ‘dedicated to bringing to bear the diverse methods of linguistic analysis to ask and answer critical questions about the relations between language, race and power across diverse ethnoracial contexts and societies’ (Alim, Rickford, & Ball, 2016). It foregrounds the intersections of race and language. The relationship between language, race and culture has long been a topic of interest in different fields, but, as Alim points out, the reluctance to take issues of race seriously among mainstream linguistics and anthropology has been and is troubling.

I begin this paper with a discussion on intersectionality and critical race theory. I then move to discuss raciolinguistics and how it is connected to intersectionality, and how both fields inform the other. Along with this discussion I bring in research and practice in early childhood education and I comment on the need for greater scholarship in the field of early childhood education from a raciolinguistic perspective.

Intersectionality

The term ‘intersectionality’ was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a distinguished law professor, in the late 1980s as a heuristic to focus attention on the ‘vexed dynamics of differences and the solidarities of sameness in the context of antidiscrimination and social movement politics’ (Cho et al., 2013). Crenshaw and fellow critical race theorist Angela Harris developed the notion of intersectionality to explain how anti-discrimination law fails women of color (Delgado & Stefancic, 2013). Gloria Ladson-Billings (2013) attached anti-essentialism to the concept of intersectionality and states that critical race theory scholarship decries essentialism, or the idea that people in a single group act and think the same. She comments that we see things as binaries such as black and white, east and west, rich or poor, right or left, but that when we move into the complexities of real life we recognize we each represent multiple identities.

Critical race theory provides a historical context to systemic oppression and highlights the enduring nature of race and racism in our society. It began in the field of critical legal studies. Derrick Bell, who first coined the term, examined the enduring role of race in the supposedly objective field of law. CRT was then brought into another supposedly objective field: education.

Critical race theory in education offers concrete tools for framing pedagogies of race, such as counter storytelling and testimonio (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002). This centralizes the experiences and narratives of people of color, thus legitimizing them as evidence to challenge and reframe dominant narratives about race, culture, language and citizenship.

Intersectionality was a lived reality before it became a term (Crenshaw, 2015). In the first part of the 1800s, Maria Stewart, a black female intellectual, stated that race, class and gender oppression were the fundamental causes of Black women’s poverty (Hill Collins, 2000). Hill Collins refers to group dynamics, the importance of the collective, of group identity and solidarity. Intersectionality by its very nature assumes belonging to identity-based groups. It isn’t simply a matter of where or how you ‘belong’ to these particular groups, but it is a matter of how belonging to these groups restricts movement (literal and figurative) and impedes reaching your full potential. It presents a frame through which to analyze layers of oppression, and challenge the hegemonic system: to challenge what is viewed as objectively ‘normal’.

The African American Policy Forum, co-founded by Crenshaw, highlights the importance of intersectionality as a tool (of analysis and resistance) rather than as academic tactic or fashion (Gillborn, 2015). Mc Call (2005) identified three modes of theorizing the complexity of intersectionality: anticategorical complexity, intracategorical complexity, and intercategorical complexity. An anticategorical approach is post-structuralist, and calls social life too complex to make fixed categories anything but simplifying social fictions. That is to say, race and other identity markers are merely social constructs, negating the central tenet of critical race theory that race is enduring. The intracategorical approach acknowledges intersectionality but does not go far enough in analysing why such disparities exist between groups of people. It offers a more layered approach where categories are almost piled up one on top of the other. The final approach is the one McCall uses to describe her own research methodology. Intercategorical complexity requires ‘that scholars provisionally adopt existing analytical categories to document relationships of inequality among social groups and changing configurations of inequality along multiple and conflicting dimensions’ (p. 1773). In other words, the how and the why particular groups of people suffer oppression is foregrounded, and the dynamic nature of intersectionality is affirmed. We must build on the work that came before and continue to interrogate systems of oppression, and how we can resist and transform lived reality. This approach is a call to action, a central tenet of critical race theory.

Raciolinguistics

When it comes to broad scholarship on race and ethnicity, language is often overlooked as one of the most important cultural means that we have for distinguishing ourselves from others (Alim, 2016).

Raciolinguistics is a term that explicitly ties race to language: ‘racing language and languaging race’ (Alim, 2016). Rosa (2016) comments that public display of linguistic difference is alternately celebrated or stigmatized depending on the speaker’s social position. “Language use and race come to be constructed and interpreted in relation to one another” (p. 67). Even when superior language skills are acquired, people are still seen (heard) through a racialized lens that views them as inferior (Flores & Rosa, 2015). A clear example of this was shared on social media recently when a Latina scholar was questioned on her use of the word ‘hence’; her professor assumed she had plagiarized (Martínez, 2016). Children are racialized through language almost from the moment they begin to talk. Language, power and race affect their movements and self-identity in a myriad of ways. We have a responsibility to analyze practice and theory related to early childhood using intersectionality and raciolinguistics in order to best help our children grow up healthy in body and soul.

Intersectionality and critical race theory scholars most often take adults and youth as the starting point of their work. Growing numbers of early childhood practitioners and researchers are using frames such as CRT and intersectionality in their work with young children (Vasquez, 2014)(Souto-Manning, 2013)(Kuby, 2013). It is no accident that the same teacher scholars use critical literacy as a frame through which to hone their work. Language and literacy practices are central to most school settings, and we need to be able to identify what teaching practices help or hinder our students, from as early an age as we can. We need to be aware of how language and race intersect in powerful and potentially destructive ways. The language a child brings to school is inherently tied to family and home, and as teachers we must respect and revere this knowledge, or risk irrevocably breaking their spirit.

CRT in education promotes the use of counter storytelling and testimonio (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002) to center voices often unheard and to challenge hegemonic practice. In the early childhood classroom children are filled with ontological questions, their own version of counternarratives and testimonio. They busily make hypotheses about who they are, how they are, why they are etc. These explorations manifest in literacy events such as drawing, writing, reading, painting, telling a story, sharing ideas aloud, collaborating in the block area as they build a city, and the list goes on. Children learn first through the body, and then in some form of what we recognize as words. Very young children are able to respond to verbal commands before they can say them aloud. They process the information and act on it physically, without saying a word in response. A conceptual understanding of the world precedes speech, writing and reading.

Cruz (2001) writes from a distinct perspective, but her words regarding an epistemology of the brown body are valid in an analysis of early childhood education and children of color. “Situating knowledge in the brown body begins the validation of the narratives of survival, transformation, and emancipation of our respective communities, reclaiming histories and identities. And in these ways, we embody our theory”(p. 668). Those of us working in early childhood, and in elementary education, must acknowledge the work that has come before, within families, within communities and within the child themself. We must recognize that knowledge is not only passed down through books and words, but it is also transmitted through bodies, communal relations, and other forms of non-verbal communication.

The moment children enter formal schooling, the pressure is on for them to read and write, and often before they reach first grade. Any knowledge gained through the body and through non-verbal communication is thrown to the side, as are literacy and language skills the children have acquired in their early years. This pressure does not produce diamonds, it produces ulcers and skin rashes. This practice is developmentally inappropriate for all children, but children of color suffer worse.

Raciolinguistic ideologies[1] (Flores & Rosa, 2015) position non-native (and non-standard) speakers of English as deficit thinkers even if they possess superior English language skills. Flores and Rosa assert that it is not a question of lack of proficiency in standard English that holds language-minoritized users back; rather racial positioning is at fault. An example given to illustrate this point is a teacher who hears her young African American students making ‘errors’ in standard English when they say ‘he was/she was’, as the teacher was confusing this usage with the Ebonics’ usage ‘they was’. Power differentials that are already vast when adults teach young children become even greater when the child’s language is not respected and revered.

Intersectionality is inextricably linked to an analysis of power and it helps ‘reveal how power works in diffuse and differentiated ways through the creation and deployment of overlapping identity categories’ (Cho et al., 2013). In reference to U.S. Latinas/os, Rosa (2016) writes that stigmatization occurs through the policing of their English-language use. “Signs of accents and Spanish-language use are regarded as reflections of abject foreignness, regardless of the long history of Spanish-language use across the Americas” (p. 67). Language use is intimately connected to national origin and is often a surrogate for anti-immigrant sentiment, even from people who would otherwise see themselves as liberal. Too many teachers attest to discomfort in the classroom if students are speaking a language they personally don’t understand. We need to question the primacy of English itself, as it is understood in the academic arena. This is a fertile area for future study.

Intersectionality has a core activist component, in that an intersectional approach aims to generate coalitions between different groups with the aim of resisting and changing the status quo (Gillborn, 2015). Intersectionality can be used to identify areas of struggle and to analyze where oppression is coming from, and how it manifests. The burgeoning field of raciolinguistics is also a call to action as affiliated writers and readers take their cue from real world practice and use this as a base from which to theorize. Both intersectionality and raciolinguistics pull from inherently dynamic systems that constantly shift. For this reason it is particularly exciting to see where research and practice will take us. The field of early childhood education is also highly mutable and open to innovative analyses. In the ECE setting CRT activism falls more on the shoulder of teachers and educators than the children themselves, however a challenge to the status quo may come from the work the children do. We must all be ready to take this call to action on.

References:

Alim, H. S., Rickford, J. R., & Ball, A. F. (Eds.). (2016). Raciolinguistics: how language shapes our ideas about race. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Cho, S., Crenshaw, K. W., & McCall, L. (2013). Toward a Field of Intersectionality Studies: Theory, Applications, and Praxis. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 38(4), 785–810.

Crenshaw, K. (2015, September 24). Why intersectionality can’t wait. Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/?utm_term=.bc30e02123b4

Cruz, C. (2001). Toward an epistemology of a brown body. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 14(5), 657–669. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518390110059874

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2013). Discerning Critical Moments. In M. Lynn & A. D. Dixson (Eds.), Handbook of Critical Race Theory in Education. New York, N.Y.: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2).

Gillborn, D. (2015). Intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, and the Primacy of Racism: Race, Class, Gender, and Disability in Education. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(3), 277–287. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800414557827

Hill Collins, P. (2000). Black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/id/10054558

Kuby, C. R. (2013). Critical literacy in the early childhood classroom: unpacking histories, unlearning privilege. New York: Teachers College Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2013). Ch. 3 “Critical Race Theory-What It Is Not!” In M. Lynn & A. D. Dixson (Eds.), Handbook of Critical Race Theory in Education. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Martínez, T. (2016, October 27). Academia, Love Me Back [WordPress].

McCall, L. (2005). The Complexity of Intersectionality. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 30(3), 1771–1800.

Rosa, J. (2016). From Mock Spanish to Inverted Spanglish. In H. S. Alim, J. R. Rickford, & A. F. Ball (Eds.), Raciolinguistics. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.

Solórzano, D. G., & Yosso, T. J. (2002). Critical Race Methodology: Counter-Storytelling as an Analytical Framework for Education Research. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 23–44.

Souto-Manning, M. (2013). Multicultural teaching in the early childhood classroom: approaches, strategies, and tools, preschool-2nd grade. New York: Teachers College Press.

Vasquez, V. M. (2014). Negotiating critical literacies with young children: 10th anniversary edition (Second edition). New York: Routledge.

[1] The term “raciolinguistic ideologies” was first used, to the best of our knowledge, by Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa (Alim, 2016).

 

Everyone listens to everyone: my visit to Still Waters in a Storm

This time last week I visited Still Waters in a Storm, a community writing center in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I first heard about Still Waters a few years ago when comments regarding the center came across my Facebook feed. I hadn’t visited the center at that time but it was a strong influence on my decision to open a writing center here in San Francisco. I still haven’t opened a center and I’m still listening to know how to best go about it in order to best serve the community, but it will happen.

Last week was my first visit to Still Waters in a Storm and I hope it won’t be my last. It was everything I hoped it would be, and more. The motto of Still Waters is “everyone listens to everyone”. Stephen Haff, the director, set up the program nine years ago. He has a background in theater and was a high school English teacher for close on a decade. The center is everything schooling and education needs to be to truly speak to the hearts and minds of the community it serves.

The Saturday sessions run from 12-5pm and follow a similar structure each week. The children arrive and have time to play and eat lunch before sitting down to start work.

At around 1pm, an invited guest reads an excerpt of their writing and takes questions and comments. The invited guest last week was Emma Brockes, a journalist with The Guardian newspaper and the author of two books, one of which she read from last week. The book she read from is a memoir of a journey to South Africa she took after her mum’s death. Emma wanted to find out what led her mum to leave South Africa to go to England, never to go back to the country of her birth. The excerpt Emma read told the story of a road trip she went on in South Africa when her best friend arrived from England for a few weeks.

The center operates on a drop-in basis and the number of children present may vary from ten to forty. Last week there were about twenty kids there. They varied in age from six to sixteen. Emma’s memoir was not written for children, and from what I could gather, most of the invited guests write for adults. The excerpt Emma read appeared to be accessible to all the people there. It is a highly engaging text with strong visual imagery. The reading was paused on a few occasions to clarify vocabulary or expressions that might be unclear.

After the reading, and after questions and comments, the children generated a topic list inspired by what they heard. Some examples that came up last week were misunderstanding, family, animals, racism, helping someone, guns, loneliness and a few more. Nothing was off the table and anything that was raised could tie in to the reading in one way or another. From there the children spent around fifteen minutes writing. They are welcome to write in any genre or format they preferred, including writing a list, writing a letter, whatever makes sense to them. The younger children worked with volunteers who put the child’s words to paper. Once time was up, it fell to the children, and some of the adults, to share their writing with the larger group. Volunteers read for the younger children while the child stood next to them.

“Everyone listens to everyone”. Stephen said that part of the inspiration for the center is for people to participate in a neighborhood ritual. The group sharing time is based on meetings such as Quaker meetings, when people speak as they are moved to do so. There is no talking over one another; there is respectful silence and active listening as the writers share their work. People are reminded to peacefully control their own bodies. Stephen commented that it is rare in today’s society to have to just listen. Thinking back on last week, my heart skips a beat when I recall the work the children shared and the how powerful it was to be part of that community.

 

I came away from my visit with renewed vision and purpose regarding La Pluma Poderosa. I am building ties with the Latina community in San Francisco through my work with Mujeres Unidas y Activas and I am also connecting with people at local schools through USF preservice teacher supervision. Still Waters in a Storm is housed in a dedicated ground floor space in an area with some foot traffic. Stephen taught at Bushwick High School so before opening the center he already had ties to the neighborhood. He has built up participation through word of mouth and from people walking by. It is completely free and all materials, as well as food, is provided.

Stephen has a respectful and good-humored relationship with the children. They are all of Mexican and Ecuadorian descent, reflecting the community in this part of Brooklyn. The writing is all done in English and all the children are capable of telling a story in English, even if Spanish is their maternal tongue. Stephen communicates with parents and community members in Spanish when the need arises.

Inviting guests such as Emma Brockes to share their writing with the children felt to me like a mark of respect. Respect is given when it is assumed that children can relate to a detailed text and can use that text to inspire their own writing. Stephen reminded the children that they had been working on using similes in their writing, in the weekday afterschool sessions. He encouraged the children to use at least one simile in their work. A simple thing, such as reminding the children they can write a list if they like, gives all children the tools to participate and to share in the writing and sharing process.

The multi-age format of the center clearly bears fruit when you hear the detailed stories the younger children tell. They appear to be picking up on the skilled work of the older children and their work is also testament to their listening skills. Stephen doesn’t accept money from financial sources that would demand accountability measures and other forms of standardization. He wants the center to be free from the toxic trappings of school that transform children into data points. A child is not a number on a graph, and measurement does not equal growth. Spaces such as Still Waters in a Storm provide the community with a powerful example of the learning we do together, and what our children are truly capable of.

My goals for La Pluma Poderosa are still the same: a drop-in, multilingual writing center for children 6-18. I knew that there would be a need for more structured sessions, and in fact, I can maybe start with more structured sessions in a temporary space. I am grateful to Stephen and everyone else at Still Waters in a Storm for renewing my faith in the power of holistic and compelling educational experiences for young writers. Right now I need to listen and to reflect on what the next steps for La PP will be. I carry with me the joy and heartfelt emotion of listening to the young writers in Bushwick, an experience that won’t easily leave my side.

To learn more about Still Waters in a Storm and to support their efforts please go to http://www.stillwatersinastorm.org

 

Host a Black Family Breakfast in San Francisco from SFPSMom

We need to do all we can to include families and community in our schools, and that starts with asking families and the community what *they*need, not what is expedient for school personnel. I love this idea and I hope it will spread to other schools.

http://sfpsmom.com/host-black-family-breakfast-school/

Time for ‘no excuses’ charter school violence to end

Galtung (1969) defines violence in part as that which increases the distance between the potential and the actual. ‘No excuses’ charter schools treat children as behavioural pawns and do nothing to make the world a more humane place. Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, pulls in a salary of over half a million dollars a year to run Success Academies all over New York. Her salary comes from a mix of private and public funds but there is no public accountability. A couple of days ago PBS Newshour ran a section on kindergarten suspensions, ostensibly at Success Academy schools throughout New York. A zero tolerance policy sees five-year-old children automatically suspended for swearing, and Moskowitz does not see this as problematic. Suspensions may also come from calling out the right answer twice without being called on and getting out of your seat without permission. My last couple of blog posts discussed ‘zero tolerance’ policies at ‘no excuses’ charter schools. The first time I read about discipline measures put on children in these schools I was physically nauseous. This Newshour segment makes me angry more than anything else. Test scores are all that SAs are about, and clean clothes are on hand for when children pee in their pants during test prep. Suspending very young children for trivial matters goes against anything any sane person would want for their children, and others’. All a five-year-old child learns from being suspended for getting out of his or her chair is fear of authority. Fear is no way to build a classroom climate that respects all in the room. ‘No excuses’ charter schools make it an offence to talk unless called upon. This is potentially the most egregious element of a ‘no excuses’ policy, but it’s up against stiff competition. We all learn best in a social environment. We are social beings and need to talk about our world, about our opinions, about trivial matters, and more. It angers me that I even need to spell that out. Fear breeds resentment, and fear of suspension for simply being a child, and being a human being, is an awful lesson to teach our children. Moskowitz says that suspending children early means less suspensions in later years. If Success Academies really were about the children, their suspension rate would not be three to four times higher than in public schools. It is incomprehensible that Eva Moskowitz sees a ‘zero tolerance’ approach as fair and equitable. It goes against all we know about child development. I worry that these five-year-old children will either turn into automatons by following rules that build neither empathy nor compassion; or become so resentful of a system that is constantly pulling them down, that violence will ensue. Violence is already being carried out against all children in ‘no excuses’ charter schools. It is time for the violence against young children to end.

Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167–191.

Movie critique: Tall as the Baobab Tree+links to ECE (from September 2014)

Tall as the Baobab Tree (2012)

Tall as the Baobab Tree opens with two Senegalese sisters getting ready to hear the results of an exam the older sister has taken. Coumba is successful in passing the exam and on hearing the results they girls make their way back to their village. The same day, the sisters’ older brother, Sileye, falls out of a tree as he is cutting down shoots for his cattle. Their father decides that Coumba needs to look after the cattle in the meantime and Debo, the younger sister, is to be married off to help pay for Sileye’s medical bills. Coumba agrees to look after the cattle but she recruits a friend to look after the cattle instead and she then goes to town and works as a maid at a hotel. She hopes she will earn enough to pay the medical bills so Debo won’t be forced into marriage.

Jeremy Teicher, the film’s director, initially went to Senegal to film a documentary with a group of first generation students. He formed friendships with the participants and after the documentary was made he stayed in touch. On hearing stories about the arranged marriages, and living between the world of school and tradition, Teicher worked with students to develop a fictional script addressing these issues. Teicher states that through a narrative story, they felt they could most effectively capture the emotions of the old and new worlds colliding. It is the first film to be shot in the Pulaar language. Teicher said the actors really wanted to bring their personal experiences into their performances and this is their first language. He stated he wanted the story to be told with all the quiet nuances and double meanings contained in the Pulaar language. While it’s a fictional story the film is based on truth and there are many parallels between the actors in the movie and their status in real life. The sisters in the film are true sisters; the mother was married as a child; and the actor who played the brother also missed out on schooling because of his age.

In Senegal as a whole an estimated 33% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. Coumba and Debo’s father choses to marry off Debo, as Coumba is further ahead in her studies. Sileye is in his early twenties and would have gone to school if there’d been one in the village at an earlier date. The father doesn’t appear resistant to his daughters receiving an education, but neither does he look at possibilities that could have kept Debo in school. It’s unclear what the father does materially for the family, besides organizing suitors, but he is not painted in a negative light. The pacing of the film is very different to many Western films, and many of the scenes were improvised. These factors led me to have faith in the conversations and the people represented. The father does say he is always looking out for what’s best for Debo, and it’s possible he sees education as a force that would take her away from the village too. Seen through this lens it is slightly easier to empathize with him, but young girls should never be married against their will. The man who plays the teacher is the founder and principal of the Sinthiou Mbadane primary school, and the man who plays the elder is a village elder who is supportive of the primary school. Their responses to Debo being forced into marriage, in the film, are diametrically opposed. The schoolteacher’s advice would see Coumba and Debo isolated from their family and village, and the elder’s ‘advice’ to Debo’s father at the end means that Debo will not be able to continue her education. There must be some common ground in real life though, as the primary school has flourished in the village. I would love to know more about this process.

The theme of old and new worlds colliding is powerfully shown. The girls live in a village without running water or electricity. Clothes are washed by hand and grain is ground using a large mortar. Coumba’s friend Amady says to Sileye that he wants to come back to the village when he’s finished his studies and he’ll build a house for his parents with running water and electricity. Sileye responds, “You won’t buy them cows?” Sileye also says that students don’t like fieldwork because they’re used to easy jobs. As they are wringing out clothes together, Debo’s mother asks her why she doesn’t take that as seriously as school, “Don’t you know this is a job too?” These statements show the divide felt by those ‘left behind’ in the village and the fears that education would take the children away. To do the jobs required in the village there is no need for formal education, simply (or not so simply) the ability to work hard to get by. When Coumba goes to the village schoolteacher to tell him about Debo, he responds by saying she should go to the police. Coumba says, “Everyone says school is the enemy. If I take my parents to the police they’ll say it’s true”. The schoolteacher doesn’t seem to take into account what getting the police involved would do for Coumba. She would lose her family and would probably never be allowed back in the village again. It shouldn’t have to be a choice between education and family.

The actual primary school in Sinthiou Mbadane has grown from one classroom and fifteen students in 2000 to six classrooms and 200 students at the time of filming. The community appears to have been mostly supportive of the school so there must be outreach happening. The schoolteacher speaks in French to Coumba, and it’s likely that French is the sole language of instruction. From looking up the schoolteacher’s last name he possibly is of Serer origin and speaks a Serer language. Serer languages and Pulaar are both Niger-Congo languages but the Niger-Congo language family is vast. It wasn’t easy to find up to date information on the Senegalese educational system but from what I’ve read it runs on a French model. On paper schooling is compulsory until children are sixteen but outside of the large towns I don’t think it’s enforced. I agree that French should be taught but in my heart I would also love to see literacy instruction in the language of the village. Pulaar exists in written form, using either a Latin or Arabic script. The organization I’ve been working with in South Africa was given class sets of books in Xhosa (Latin script)[1]. This year one of the students was visibly excited that the books were in Xhosa. Her expression has stayed with me.

I am sure that if I were to visit the school in Sinthiou Mbadane I would find a lot to criticize. I think I would see a lot of direct instruction and not much exploratory play. I would probably see some rote learning and not enough emphasis on personal expression. To be fair though, I need to look at what is happening and what the children are learning, in the context of a village schoolhouse. I am drawn to early childhood education in large part because of the creative role a teacher, and students, can play. In a place like Sinthiou Mbadane I feel that the community would expect a school to be more formal than I personally would like. The expectation is maybe that there is time for exploration after school hours. In the movie Coumba’s friend Amady is talking to some friends of his who didn’t go to school, and won’t have the chance. They ask him if he still climbs baobabs, and one of them says that if you don’t know how to climb a baobab it’s like you don’t know who you are anymore. I feel it’s important to note the distinction between schooling and education. As Madjidi and Restoule write:

In an Indigenous worldview, education is based upon the requirements of everyday life. In this way, education is “an experience in context, a subjective experience that,  for the knower, becomes knowledge in itself. The experience is knowledge.”[…] The            idea that learning should take place only within the four walls of a school, through           the prescription of a fixed written curriculum, is diametrically opposed to the idea    that learning is dynamic, experiential, and grounded in a sense of place.

While the authors mentioned above comment on integrating indigenous knowledge within the curriculum of the school, this is less likely to happen in schools in sub-Saharan Africa[2]. I can imagine that the majority of schooling in sub-Saharan Africa is based on a colonial/Western model of education. While I would like to see this Western model dissipate, we need to take baby steps. It appears to me that a first step is getting rural communities comfortable with formal educational settings. Location of these schools is critical as the closer they are to the communities, the more likely they are able to connect with the families of their students. The town where Coumba goes to school appears easy to get to as Coumba goes there every day to work. To access higher education it is likely she would need to move to Dakar, or another city, though. There is going to be disruption of traditional life but hopefully division will be avoided. One of the scenes in the movie shows the family sitting under a tree eating. There is tenderness in spades and feelings of goodwill. Acceptance of formal education will probably be more successful in places where families feel their values are upheld. As a social justice educator, I feel a compulsion to encourage children to question the world and their place in it. I don’t think this would be successful in a place like Sinthiou Mbadane, at least not yet.

Watching this movie and reflecting on it has helped me articulate my thoughts on education in sub-Saharan Africa. I have certainly not come to any conclusions but I have put myself more strongly in the schooling camp than not. There is a need to respect traditions and customs but respect doesn’t mean acceptance, especially where physical and emotional damage is done. Teaching people to read and write is key. It opens doors that may previously have been shut. Many African languages exist in written form, mostly in Latin and/or Arabic script. Every African person I’ve met, or read about, speaks at least two languages and often they speak three or more. This isn’t to imply fluency in all these languages but it does infer the ability to communicate with a wide variety of people. Madjidi and Restoule caution against a focus on language that demonstrates persisting interest in the outer, and some would say ‘safer’ forms of Indigenous culture. This resonates with me and I will take this into account moving forward. I would like to think my interest in languages and literacy development doesn’t remain at a superficial level, but I need to look closely at what I actually do.

This summer I was fortunate to be able to return to Port Elizabeth, South Africa for the third time. This year I worked with a woman who lives in Joe Slovo township and we ran classes for the four to ten years olds during the holiday break (two weeks). We worked with the children for four hours and incorporated reading and writing instruction along with gross and fine motor activities. The woman I worked with has worked in schools in the area and she is very critical of the school system in general. Zukiswa is a dynamic and creative person, but this threatens teachers who have been doing the same thing for possibly decades, and who are incapable of change. There is not enough space here to discuss the dire state of schooling in South Africa, but to tie this in with the film, I question how I approach literacy instruction with this group of children. Reading time tended to be time to choose freely among the books we had on hand. The younger children didn’t speak much English so I wasn’t able to check their understanding of text and pictures, but Zukiswa could do that. Writing instruction came in the form of an About Me book. I would model the sentences needed using a book I’d made (from paper) and would write these sentences on the board. If the children wanted to write in Xhosa, that was encouraged. I only had two weeks there this year but Zukiswa is there year round. The tensions that arise for me come from a potential need for direct instruction, despite my belief in constructivist education. In “Other People’s Children”, Lisa Delpit affirms

Acquiring the ability to function in a dominant discourse need not mean that one     must reject one’s home identity and values, for discourses are not static, but are   shaped, however reluctantly, by those who participate within them and by the form             of their participation.

The internal debate that takes place in my heart and intellect swings backwards and forwards and this gives it momentum, but I doubt it will ever be resolved, and be still. Education is never static, it reflects a dynamic world, and reflects dynamic relationships. What we must never lose sight of are the needs of our students. We must be open to distinct forms of schooling and we must tread carefully if we wish to effect change. To quote Freire, we must help students to ‘read the word and the world’.

References:

Delpit, L. D. (2006). Other people’s children: cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New    Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton.

Madjidi, K. & Restoule, J-P. (2008). Ch. 4 “Comparative Indigenous Ways of Knowing” In                         K. Mundy, K. Bickmore, R. Hayhoe, M. Madden & K. Madjidi (Eds.), Comparative             and International Education: Issues for Teachers. New York: Teachers College Press

[1] The books were not originally written in Xhosa but they work well as they are culturally inoffensive. I think the books are translated into all the South African languages (eleven official ones).

[2] There’s always a risk of generalization but there are certain similarities that exist across sub-Saharan borders.