Reader Response Journal

Racism and Linguicism: Engaging Language-Minority Pre-Service Teachers in Counter-Storytelling by Hyesun Cho

This article examines the ways in which two teachers engaged their Asian non-native speaking teacher education students in counter-storytelling to create a space for them to explore their experiences with racial and linguistic marginalization in academia. This class was a part of a program specifically designed for language-minority teacher candidates, which is important given the disparity between US student and teacher demographics, where 40% of students are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to just 16% of teachers (Kohli, 2014). After explaining the basics of critical race theory, linguicism and counter-storytelling, Cho describes the context of her research. Her study took place in Hawaii and included five undergraduate students, all of whom were non-native English speakers (3 Korean, 1 Chinese and 1 Samoan), as well as herself, a Korean non-native English speaker, and a white native English speaking teacher, who also spoke Spanish. She describes how she encouraged students to tell counter-stories, which included they ways their peers and teachers positioned them as deficient because of their non-native speaking status, despite their academic success, which allowed them to challenge the linguicism they faced. This was done to investigate the ways race and language are enacted in dominant school practices. She then examines the differences in the students’ response to herself, an Asian NNEST, compared to her co-teacher, a white NEST. When the white teacher first brought up issues of race, the students initially defended the white teachers they had, which Cho hypothesizes might be because of the power balance and students not wanting to cause conflict with the white teacher. They also asked the white teacher questions about teaching non-native speakers instead of her own language learning experiences, while they asked Cho about her experiences as a NNES student, and felt like she could relate and empathize with what they were going through, because she was one of them. The students found validation in the way Cho elicited and responded to their stories. In contrast, the white teacher was cognizant of being separate from the rest of the group, due to her racial and linguistic identity. Conscious of not wanting to gloss over her white privilege or influence the students’ ideas as a result, she used race-conscious discourse to denormalize white native speakers as the unmarked default and lessen the power of her own white identity. Cho found that the collaboration between herself and the white teacher was productive because they could explore the differences in the students’ responses. Having a white NEST exposed the students to a white anti-racist and reinforced he idea that these issues are important for everyone to engage with, not just minorities. Having an Asian NNEST created a space where the students more actively engaged with issues of racism and linguicism and lead to increased solidarity due to their shared experiences. While Cho didn’t use the terms counter-storytelling with her students, she recommends using the term in the future, so students understand that their stories have a grounding in critical race theory.

The juxtaposition of the experiences of the white NEST and Asian NNEST experiences were really interesting to me. One of the things I was struck by was the way Cho’s students noticed and felt valued by her reactions to their stories, such as note taking, responding in depth and showing non-verbal support, which are concrete actions that teachers of any race or language background could use. It was also interesting the way Cho foregrounded the white teacher’s bilingualism and language learning experiences, which the students didn’t really engage with. It makes me wonder how much the dominant narrative of white native speakers as being monolingual affected the students relationship to her. Perhaps, solidarity and empathy could have been built up here along language learning lines, with a recognition of the fact that white and non-white language learners are not treated the same in societal discourse. It was also useful for me to see an example of how simple counter-storytelling can be, which makes them seem more accessible, since it’s basically just creating a space for students to discuss their experiences together and encouraging them to engage with racial and linguistic issues as they do. I think mentally framing conversations about personal experiences as counter-stories gives them more weight. It makes me wonder if the students would have perceived them differently if they had been given the label, or if it would have felt heavier somehow and made it more difficult to discuss. Especially, since I have the distance of being a white native speaker already. I wonder when in the process Cho would give students the term counter-storytelling and explain the CRT framework behind it.

Cho, H. (2016). Racism and linguicism: Engaging language minority pre-service teachers in counter-storytelling. Race, Ethnicity and Education. Advance online publication. 

Kohli, R. (2014). Unpacking internalized racism: Teachers of color and their challenge to racial hierarchies in the classroom. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 17(3), 367–387.

Reader Response Journal

The Mapping of a Framework: Critical Race Theory and TESOL by Tonda Liggett

In this article, Liggett connects critical race theory (CRT) to the experiences of linguistic minority TESOL students. She positions her examination in the current, hostile political climate and uses current events to inform her analysis and as examples of the phenomena she writes about. She notes that linguicism has become accepted as a way of continuing discrimination against racial groups, couched in linguistic rather than racial terms in the public discourse, but that the two systems are mapped onto each other. Applying the core tenants of CRT to TESOL, she argues that linguicism is 1) an ordinary, invisible and pervasive feature of life for ELLs and perpetuated at the institutional and structural levels, just like racism is. One example she gives is the way No Child Left Behind sanctioned removal of resources from ELLs, despite Title VI’s mandate that students have access to fully funded educational programs regardless of race, even though ELLs in the US are predominately students of color. Racialized linguicism is also 2) part of the colonial legacy of white supremacy, and that discrimination against racialized language learners plays out at the policy level even today. Examples include Oregon requiring ELLs to take state standardized tests in English after one year, despite the fact that research shows academic language proficiency takes 5-7 years to develop, and California’s Proposition 227, which eliminated the possibility of funding for bilingual education. 3) Linguicism can be challenged through counterstorytelling, as a way to ‘‘analyze the myths, presuppositions, and received wisdoms that make up the common culture about race and that invariably render blacks and other minorities one-down (Delgado 1995, p. xiv).’’ This actively positions individual experience as worthy of theorization and helps teachers understand their students’ identities, situations and understandings of their own learning. As Liggett writes “Key to this interchange is connecting individual identity construction/ deconstruction to broader contextual factors that work to frame worldviews and ideas about individual possibility” (p. 118). Within TESOL, these three tenets of CRT help decenter White Anglo epistemic privilege and acknowledge students’ intersectional identities. Letting students “name their reality” is important because reality is socially constructed through storytelling, provide a psychic outlet for marginalized groups to heal their pain and challenge ethnocentrism. All of this happens within a postcolonial framework, where marginalized people try to “force its alternative knowledges into the power structures of the west as well as the non-west” (Young 2003, p. 7), which is important because of the ways the global economy structures migration from poor, rural and developing areas to those that are richer, urban and more developed. Using CRT to inform how we look at the intersections between race and linguicism allows us to better understand the perspectives that our students bring to the classroom.

Having researched the intersections between racism and linguicism extensively, and having used counterstorytelling as a core framework in my thesis, I was delighted to read this article. I really agree with her points and the ways she connects the two areas feel accurate to me. I also appreciated the ways she links the ideas she’s talking about to specific current events that illustrate them, because it makes the importance and relevance much more concrete. Overall, I think the 3 aspects she focuses on (the permanence and invisibility of linguicism, the colonial legacy and counterstorytelling) are going to be useful mental touchstones for me as I continue to think about these issues in the future. It also makes me want to read some of her references, especially those about CRT in its original form (ie not applied to TESOL), to make sure I have the proper grounding in the original theory.

Delgado, R. (Ed.). (1995). Critical race theory: The cutting edge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Liggett, T. (2014). The mapping of a framework: Critical race theory and TESOL. The Urban Review, 46(1), 112-124.

Young, R. (2003). Postcolonialism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Reader Response Journal

Race and TESOL: Introduction to Concepts and Theories by Ryuko Kubota and Angel Lin

This article is the introduction to the 2006 Special Topics issue of TESOL Quarterly on Race and TESOL. It starts with two anecdotes of racialized experiences of the authors, both Asian women in TESOL, which establishes the fact that racial issues are real and have consequences for real people within our field right from the outset. The authors make a case that race was (at the time) being overlooked within TESOL and that it needs to be included as an explicit area of inquiry alongside other aspects of identity. The authors differentiate the terms race, ethnicity and culture and argue that all three terms are used to exclude and otherize racial minorities. They define racialization (the process of assigning meaning based on racial categories) and racism (practices that exclude racial others or lead to domination of one group based on race) and emphasize that racism is a societal discourse, not a matter of individuals having personal prejudices. They distinguish between institutional or systemic racism, perpetuated within TESOL through discriminatory hiring practices and the use of the ESL label to exclude students from mainstream schooling in the US, and epistemological racism, which privileges White ways of knowing and delegitimizes “nonmainstream race-based ways of thinking and writing” (480). They discuss the ways race intersects with other identities and the ways racialization of nonnative speakers constructs English as a White language. They outline the basics of Critical Race Theory (including counter-storytelling) and Critical White Studies, including some criticisms of the approaches, and they propose critical pedagogies and critical multicultural education as approaches for exploring race within TESOL. They summarize the articles in the special issue and end with a call for more attention to issues of race within TESOL, especially outside of a White/Non-White dichotomy constructed around Anglo-European epistemologies.

I initially read this article when I was researching the intersections of racism and linguicism for my language and power project last year. The clarity and succinctness of the article make it a really good starting point for exploring race in TESOL, since it defines important terms quite well and covers the basics necessary to understand much of the work being done in the area. I think the special topics issue was a good starting point for race to enter into the discourse of our field, and now, over ten years later, I see a lot more attention being paid to it. However, issues of race still tend to be thought of as “extra,” rather than central to English language teaching practices, so I think we as a field still have a way to go. It was interesting for me to go back and revisit the article, because while I have a level of familiarity with these ideas, having absorbed them into my ways of thinking about my work, I feel like this is still the exception rather than the norm. I also think that this was where I first encountered the idea of counter-storytelling, which wound up becoming a fairly significant aspect of my thesis, so it was interesting to go back and see my original highlights. If there was one article I could make required reading in my TESOL program, I think this would be a strong contender.

Kubota, R., & Lin, A. (2006). Race and TESOL: Introduction to concepts and theories. TESOL Quarterly, 40(3), 471-493.