Monday, September 7, 2009

Article Review: Language Ideologies and Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

Rabin, Lisa M. "Language Ideologies and the Settlement House Movement: A New History for Service-Learning." Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 15.2 (2009): 48-55.

Run, don't walk, to your library to read this article from the Spring 2009 issue of the MJCSL. If you are building your own community service learning (CSL) library, like I am, subscribe to the journal. You will always find valuable information in it.

This article is good because it provides solid, and in some ways surprising, information. And it's good because it solves a problem that I and other Spanish CSL instructors have: our own students' resistance to participating in bilingual education, something that they see as keeping Latina/o immigrants "down."

In class, students might say something like, "I think that the school should offer free ESL classes for the students' parents, too. They could get better jobs if they spoke English." (As if the school had those resources at their disposal and the parents had the free time.) Or in their reflective writing they might write, "I love the kids that I work with, but even though they are really smart they won't do well on standardized exams and college entrance exams if they don't have classes in English." And you will hear this statement from lots of people when they find out that you work with immigrant populations and bilingual education: "My grandparents came here from Russia and learned English. Why can't they?"

Yet Lisa M. Rabin (from George Mason University), in her article, explains that those thoughts are not just "natural;" they are part of a language ideology that was promoted during the 1890s-1920s in the "progressive" discourse (especially at Jane Addams' Hull House) on immigrants and passed on through today by our educational system that emphasizes ethnic studies at the expense of bilingual education.

I will simply pull out some of the quotes that I found most provocative.

"...Addams and her Hull House colleagues' conception of [immigrant] gifts was delimited by their belief on the English language as an incontrovertible marker of American identity (Lissak, 1989; Pavlenco, 2002). Significantly for historians of service-learning, the Hull House group took a special opposition to immigrant languages, which were multiple in the Ninth Ward where the settlement was located and which were strongly defended by immigrant leaders in Chicago as a source of cultural and religious heritage. Immigrant languages were thought by the Hull House group to impede children's acquisition of Anglo-American ideas and of English." (p. 49)

"Ethnic studies in Chicago, therefore, was created to foster only a certain kind of cultural pluralism in public schools: one in which immigrant children would come to appreciate their Old World heritages in English, leaving their languages at home." (p. 50; emphasis in the original)

"Without English, [Sophia P.] Breckindridge and [Edith] Abbott insist, immigrant children cannot be expected to fit into American society. Delinquency among immigrant children, they seem to insinuate, can be triggered by a failure to learn English. ... A similar legacy of Breckinridge and Abbott can be seen in public discourse that places blame for poverty and social problems on families speaking languages other than English in the home." (p. 51)

"[O.] Garcia, who compared the economic status of Latinos across the country who were monolingual in English, monolingual in Spanish, and bilingual speakers, concluded that neither English acquisition nor Spanish language preservation among Latinos made a significant effect on their economic status, although both language experiences are consistently argued as having this effect in the public domain. Like May and Pavlenko, Garcia urges us to look at structural factors, such as race and class segregation and discrimination, that are obscured in the linguistic rationale for socio-economic problems in the Latino community." (p. 52; emphasis in the original)

"A second ideological remnant of the settlement house movement is the common belief that multilingualism in the United States, and debates over bilingual schooling, are relatively recent phenomena. ... Yet as we saw in the struggle in Chicago's Ninth Ward between the bilingual parochial schools and the Hull House group, there was a strong public resistance of many immigrants to Hull House language and other assimilationist practices. This resistance belies the commonly-held belief--another ideology--that immigrants to the United States from past eras voluntarily gave up their languages."

"Paraphrasing Garcia (1995), we might ask in our service-learning work with immigrants: Are language minority speakers in our communities given agency to name themselves through their languages, or are they only labeled and categorized by others? Are they given an opportunity in their schools and public environments to use their languages as resources? (pp. 155-156)." (pp. 52-53)

This article will definitely inform my Spanish CSL teaching. I'll follow up with another post with specifics.

1 comment:

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