Professional Update

June 2017 Social Responsibility Interest Section Newsletter

My first issue as editor of TESOL’s Social Responsibility Interest Section Newsletter, TESOLers for Social Responsibility, was published today! You can check it out here.

I’m really proud of the work that my co-editor, Anasasia Khawaja, and I did to put this together. The SRIS newsletter hadn’t been published for a while, so we had to start from scratch to get it up and running again. It’s great being able to collaborate with other TESOLers doing important work, and I love that as an editor, I get to draw attention to areas that I think are important and build a conversation. This is particularly important during the current political climate, where many of us feel alone and helpless as we watch awful development after awful development come out of Washington. Anastasia and I remarked to each other several times about how powerful it was to be working on this, to feel like we’re contributing to the betterment of the world.

This issue has four articles, on text selection for diverse students, race and linguicism (my article!), creating inclusive classrooms for LGBTQIA students and a skype tutoring program for women in Afghanistan and Nepal. This is the post-convention issue, so all of the articles relate to the 2017 TESOL convention in Seattle. The first two are reflections, which use Sherman Alexie’s keynote and Shannon Tanghe’s session on linguicism as starting points to discuss larger issues. The second two are written by presenters, summarizing their own sessions. Overall, I think they cover a broad range of issues and really highlight the diversity within the interest section.

It was also really interesting to write my own article for the newsletter. It’s called Addressing Linguicism and its Racial Implications in the Age of Nationalism, and it covers my response to a session I attended called Addressing Linguicism: A Classroom Simulation Activity presented by Shannon Tanghe, last year’s TESOL Teacher of the Year. I think linguicism is an absolutely crucial issue, but it’s often overlooked in favor of other -isms, particularly those that people feel aren’t under people’s own control. While, yes, you can learn new languages, linguistic prejudice is often directed at people on the basis of their non-native status, which absolutely is not something under personal control. In addition, linguicism is often used as a more socially acceptable cover for racism. While Tanghe didn’t focus on the racial implications of linguicism, for me, they are absolutely central to how I think about both linguicism and race within TESOL. So my article describes her simulation activity and the ways it led me to reconsider my own teaching practice, as well as the connections between race- and language-based discrimination. I also offer some suggestions for both classroom teachers and teacher educators on incorporating activities that raise awareness of linguicism and its racial implications for their students. If you read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to email me or leave a comment here.

Next issue’s theme is Identity, Inclusion and Advocacy, so if you’ve got something to say on those issues, check out our call for submissions and get in touch! Submissions are due August 1, 2017.

Reader Response Journal

English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States by Rosina Lippi-Green

This book is an excellent overview of language discrimination in the United States, with a particular focus on the racial aspects of that discrimination. Lippi-Green begins the book by laying out some linguistic basics, which non-linguists often don’t know about language, namely that 1) all spoken languages change, 2) all spoken languages have equal potential, 3) grammar and communicative effectiveness are separate issues, 4) written and spoken language are fundamentally different and 5) variation is intrinsic to all spoken languages (Kindle locations 771-776). She then examines the ways language changes over time, the fact that everyone has an accent of some sort and how standard language ideology (SLI) is established. She explains that Standard American English (which she refers to as *SAE) is a myth which doesn’t exist in reality, but which nonetheless strongly influences the ways we think about language and leads to the subordination of other languages and varieties and the types of discriminatory practices she outlines in the rest of the book. She presents a model of subordination, where “language is mystified, authority is claimed, misinformation is generated, targeted languages are trivialized, conformers are held up as positive examples, non-conformers are vilified or marginalized, explicit promises are made and threats are made” (Kindle locations 2591-2593). These messages of SLI and subordination are transmitted through the educational system, children’s movies (particularly those by Disney), and the mass media, all of which she describes in detail. She then examines the consequences by providing overviews of court cases focused on language discrimination in employment, which prove how little the courts are invested in preventing or punishing the perpetuation of linguicism. Lippi-Green then explores the specifics of a number of non-standard varieties of English, including Black English, Southern English, Hawaiian Creole, as well as the language of immigrant groups and their descendants, particularly Latinos and Asians. She also includes two case studies, focused on the moral panic surrounding the Oakland Ebonics controversy and linguistic profiling as an aspect of housing discrimination. She ends by reaffirming that “to speak freely in the mother tongue without intimidation, without standing in the shadow of other languages and peoples” is a basic human right, which language subordination tries to deprive people of (Kindle locations 10429-10430), and reasserts that language discrimination in the US is a cover for racial and ethnic discrimination.

This book was mostly useful for providing lots of examples that prove linguicism is real, along with definitions and context for how standard language ideology benefits powerful groups in the US. The chapter on court cases was depressing, but not surprising, because language is not a protected class in US civil rights/anti-discrimination law, so language discrimination cases fall under the national origin umbrella, and are almost never successful. I also really enjoyed the chapter on Hawaiian Creole, which is a topic I briefly encountered during grad school, for a classmate’s language and power presentation on Pidgin English in Hawaii. It’s definitely interesting and something that I’d be curious in learning more about. I’m also curious about the Northern Cities vowel shift, which as a Wisconsinite, I probably have plenty of exposure to. Lippi-Green’s research on Disney and the way they use foreign accents for primarily bad or evil characters was interesting, and is definitely the most famous part of the book, but didn’t seem that compelling to me. Admittedly, I’ve read a bit about Disney’s racially problematic characterizations, which is an area of research that developed extensively after the publication of the first version of the book, so I’m glad that Lippi-Green was one of the first people to delve into the problematic aspects of Disney movies, but I wish the chapter was stronger. Knowing the basic idea is pretty much enough from me, and the details in the chapter didn’t really illuminate it more for me. I felt similarly about the chapter on the Oakland Ebonics controversy, another area I’ve read several different analyses of. She does a good job laying out how it followed the typical path of a moral panic, but I don’t feel like I understand it any better after reading her take. That said, I was definitely glad I read this book, because linguicism matters and this is one of the foundational books in the area.

Lippi-Green, R. (2012). English with an accent: Language, ideology and discrimination in the United States (Second Edition). New York, NY: Routledge.

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

Promoting Critical Racial Awareness in Teacher Education in Korea: Reflections on a Racial Discrimination Simulation Activity by Shannon Tanghe

This article describes a racial discrimination simulation activity that Tanghe carried out with her Korean teacher education students. Based off of Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment and Kay Hammond’s adaptation, she divided her students into two groups, one of which was treated as privileged and the other as disadvantaged for half of the class period, before the two groups switched roles. Tanghe provides ample background on the “one race” ideology that is so prevalent in South Korea, as well as the nation’s increasing diversity and the ways that non-Korean or multicultural students face discrimination in Korean schools, to provide context for her students’ reactions to the simulation. Based on a pre-simulation survey, most of her students believed that racism exists in South Korea, but isn’t a factor in their classrooms. This is consistent with Korean policies that put the onus of assimilation on multicultural students or non-Korean immigrants, rather than addressing racism with mainstream Korean Koreans (a repetition Tanghe uses deliberately to disaggregate Korean ethnicity and nationality). However, the simulation and subsequent reflections did lead some teachers to reconsider their personal experiences with race and the relevance of race to their school contexts. However, others felt that it was not an appropriate issue to address in language classes. That said, Tanghe points out that the Korean national curriculum does, in fact, expect students to understand other cultures and develop a “cooperative spirit as a cosmopolitan citizen,” which means that addressing racial issues in Korean classrooms can be justified as part of the teacher’s job. Tanghe recommends that Korea implements multicultural education programs targeted at mainstream ethnic Koreans, not just ethnic minorities, and suggests that teacher training programs need to integrate diversity training and raise teachers’ awareness of their own privilege, as well as schools hiring more diverse teachers. By implementing these suggestions, she hopes that Korea can move away from its current practices of ignoring race as unnecessary in homogenous classrooms, and refusing to address it in diverse classrooms to avoid singling out non-Korean students and causing discomfort. Given the changing demographics of the country, race is an important issue for teachers to be able to address in class.

This article was interesting, because it describes a race-focused version of the linguicism demonstration that Tanghe presented at this year’s TESOL conference, which I am using as a starting point for my linguicism article for the SRIS newsletter. The background on Korea’s racial identity and changing demographics was interesting and seemed accurate to me, based on my informal perceptions when I lived there, so it was good to see that actual data and studies back up my intuitions about Korea’s racial problems. It was also both plausible and shocking that so many Korean teacher candidates viewed race as something so distant from them and their classes. It makes me wonder how else teachers of racially homogenous classes can productively address race in their classes in a way that makes it real and important for their students, not something that happens somewhere else far away, especially since colonial legacies mean systems of white supremacy and racial hierarchies are in place pretty much all over the world.

Tanghe, S. (2016). Promoting critical racial awareness in teacher education in Korea: Reflections on a racial discrimination simulation activity. Asia Pacific Educational Review, 17(2), 203-215.

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.