Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Your Daily Dose of Anti-Bilingualism: “We Speak English Here”

April 28, 2010 1 comment

Check out this commercial by the republican candidate who is running for governor in Alabama. According to him, he will not allow the testing in multiple languages in order to get a driver’s license:

Now, I’m definitely not a republican, but I am almost sure that there may exist some republicans out there who value and embrace multilingualism (??). If so, when are ya’ll going to start holding these types of anti-bilingual and anti-diversity republicans accountable for some of the ridiculous things that they say and do!

When will enough be enough? Until decent, non-racist republicans start to hold these right wing locos (i.e. nuts) accountable, then they will continue to advocate against bilingualism and multilingualism by instituting many of the discriminatory anti-bilingual and anti-bilingual education laws that they’ve been assaulting these country with for decades!

This candidate for governor states that the elimination of testing in multiple languages will save money for the state. But he also forgot to tell you about the billions of dollars in transportation funding received from the federal government that Alabama will not receive if he acts on his promise! You can read more about this situation here and here.

Don’t let these racists fool you! This is just another example of an intolerant bigot who is using language as a justification for publicly discriminating against people who speak languages other English. Language loving republicans need to stop this nonsense in your political party!


Immigration: Don’t California Republicans Have Anything Else to Talk About?

Author: Anarela Mondragón

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times printed an opinion piece by Meg Whitman, California republican candidate for governor. The piece was titled Meg Whitman: immigration reform, with respect where Whitman discusses that the debate surrounding immigration reform has often been disrespectful to Latin American citizens, and that we must have a more “non-divisive” way of discussing the issue.

What a nice and thoughtful thing for Whitman to do, to acknowledge that Latin American citizens are being disrespected by the racist rhetoric that swirls around about the immigration debate. I suppose many of us Latin American citizens are supposed to be okay with the incessant and blatant disrespect that the republican party continues to have for Latin American “legal” residents who aren’t yet citizens as well as Latin American undocumented workers, many of whom are our family, co-workers, neighbors and friends?

Why does the immigration conversation with republicans always turn into a Latino issue? A couple of years ago when many of us took to the streets to march for immigrant rights, I marched both in Los Angeles and later in San Francisco hand in hand with many other undocumented immigrants, including Canadians, Asians, Irish, British, French, Africans, and the list goes on and on. Yet the conversation always comes back around to Latinos.

Because we all know that the debate is really not just about immigration, don’t we? What is it REALLY about?

Don’t the republicans have anything else to talk about in California? Over the past few months we’ve been subjected to many of the ridiculous political commercials by Poizner, another republican candidate for governor, who spewed tons of “illegal immigrant” propoganda throughout the entire commercial. Is this all republicans have to talk about anymore?

What is most amusing about Meg Whitman’s Los Angeles Times piece is that although she claims that we must have respect for Latino American citizens in this debate, she continues to drone on about the same old repetitive “let’s get them out of here” and “we need to protect our borders from the tides of illegals” rhetoric that many of us in the Latina/o community are (hopefully) just getting sick and tired of.

Let’s not forget that the former California governor Pete Wilson is Meg Whitman’s campaign chairman, the last I heard. You know, the same governor who added fuel to to all of this racist rhetoric about immigration during his support of Proposition 187 campaign, the anti-immigration proposition designed to deny public education and other social services to undocumented adults and innocent children. Meg Whitman claims in her opinion piece that she didn’t support the proposition because “kids should not be punished for the sins of their parents” , yet she has chosen one of the key proponents of the proposition to chair her campaign?

Of course she didn’t support the proposition because according to this website, she has only voted twice in over twenty years. I don’t know about you, but I sure want a governor who is invested enough in taking the time to vote on important issues that are taking place in our state.

Let’s also not forget that republicans also sparked the Proposition 227 campaign in 1998 during Pete Wilson’s time as governor, a proposition designed to restrict primary language instruction (i.e., Spanish) to school children in California. Not to mention that Proposition 209 was also instituted during Pete Wilson’s time as governor, the anti-affirmative action proposition ironically named the “California Civil Rights Initiative”.

So you can see why it’s a little hard for me to take Whitman’s suggestion seriously when she states that need for a more respectful conversation about immigration, considering that the man chairing her campaign was one of the most divisive and disrespectful politicians towards Latinos in California.

Are Latinos going to fall into this trap? I sure hope not.

About the Author: Anarela Mondragón is a daughter of “illegal immigrants” who paid their taxes every year, had their tax returns and bank interest seized by the government for years to be used towards making this state a better place for everyone, paid into social security at the time that they will never be able to draw on in the future, were later granted amnesty (you know, what Meg Whitman doesn’t support?) and are currently hard-working citizens who have raised children who actually care enough about this state to actually take the time to vote.

Categories: Politics

Seal of Biliteracy Awards

seal_41The California advocacy group Californian’s Together has created a brochure for school districts to assist with the implementation of a “seal of biliteracy” for students who have demonstrated achievement in learning two or more language. This seal can be placed on a student’s diploma upon high school, or students can receive a middle school or elementary-level certificate of biliteracy. Individual school districts in California, such as Glendale, Rowland, Ventura, Sweetwater Union, and Eastside Union have already institutionalized a seal of biliteracy in their districts, and now is the time to spread the word in other districts. This is so exciting!

There are various levels of the seal of biliteracy, depending on the criteria that certain districts set:

  • High School: Students can receive a seal of biliteracy on their diploma if they have completed the criteria set for the district. The criteria may include passage of an advanced placement exam in a world language, successful completion of required world language courses, passage on district established assessments, etc.
  • Middle School: There are various levels of awards in the middle school. Students may receive a “Pursuit of Bilingualism Award” or a “Biliteracy Attainment Award” depending on the criteria set by the district.
  • Elementary School: Depending on what type of language program the student is enrolled in at the elementary level, students can receive one of the following awards: “Elementary Bilingual Service and Participation Award” or the “Elementary Biliteracy Award”. Elementary students have to complete a portfolio, which includes: community service hours, written essays, oral presentations, and various other criteria.

This is a really excellent way to promote and recognize bilingualism and multilingualism. You can download a brochure of the steps for implementing the seal of biliteracy here. Please spread the word about this exciting opportunity for students!!

¡I *heart* bilinguals!

laughing1Am I supposed to apologize to monolingual people because I am bilingual? I didn’t think so.

Yesterday I visited a school with a dual language program and started talking with one of the office workers and the school counselor about the Dual Immersion program. They begin to complain about the former site coordinator of the program, how she used to “steal” all the great kids from the English classes in order to place them in the Dual Immersion program, how she would hold meetings only in Spanish and translate for the English parents (hmm, imagine that! lol), and many other complaints.

The complaint that made them the most angry was when she made a bilingual education t-shirt for the Dual Immersion parents and students. Apparently the shirt said something to the effect, “El que sabe dos lenguas, vale por dos”/”He who speaks two languages counts for two people”. They were so offended because the coordinator actually had the audacity to insinuate that bilinguals have an advantage over monolinguals. (Which they do, but I’ve digressed).

I just kept my mouth shut because I knew that if I said something obnoxious it would only make them angrier. 

I’m sorry that they have lived in Los Angeles, California for their whole lives and have not had the decency to learn Spanish. I’m sorry that they work in a school where over 80% of the population is Spanish-speaking and they have not bothered to learn a lick of Spanish. (Especially considering one of the them is being paid with supplemental English learner funds for tutoring). Am I supposed to be sorry for them? Well, I don’t. In fact, I’m laughing my ass off. It’s about time that monolinguals learn to feel the same sense of marginalization that bilinguals have always felt.

I warned you that I was obnoxious!

Categories: Bilingualism, Politics

Thank Goodness for Alternative Discourse

There’s something that I am really worried about and I just can’t get it out of my head. I keep asking myself the following questions: Should I return and get my doctorate? Or, should I stay in the school system and make a difference at a grass-roots level? I feel that I really want my cake, and I want to eat it, too.

There are times that I want to return back to the doctoral program and finish my studies. Today is one of those days, for example. When do I start feeling this sense of stress and conflict? Well, let me explain. I feel that some of the research that has been coming out over the past years has been so politically motivated against bilingual education and can cause serious harm to our children. In California, educators were subjected to forty hours of “Reading First” training and the “National Reading Panel” research was beat into their head. (I’ll save my comments about Reading First and the National Reading Panel  for another post. In a nutshell, the research was not on ELL students at all.) Teachers in bilingual education programs were basically taught to teach reading in writing in both languages through discreet, isolated, low-level texts. Years and years of research on bilingual education programs and effective bilingual pedagogy were completely suppressed because they did not meet the criteria for scientific-based research that “they” had established. 

Now teachers have to attend an additional forty hour English Learner Professional Development and I’ve literally been depressed over the state of the professional development modules that are approved by the state. To top it all off, there is only one state approved provider for bilingual education programs. The training for this curriculum is so low-level, with an overemphasis on decontextualized, isolated skill instruction for the English Language Development (ELD) section of the training. The training is very influenced by behavioralist psychology, isolated contrastive analysis, and what is termed the “transferability model’ of teaching English. Talk about going back in time-I’ll save my criticism for later on the overemphasis on contrastive analysis, transfer and the language “interference” that guides the entire training.

I’ve been so depressed that everyone is jumping on this bandwagon. Regarding second language acquisition, I most definitely do not subscribe to the behavioralist paradigm and it is really alarming to me that people can’t see how low-level this stuff is. I started digging around and low and behold…I found that it is not that difficult to submit a professional development module for review and approval of the state. The way that this political game works is that the state approves/”suggests” certain recommended reading that can be used for the training. As I was looking through the materials, I began to become depressed once again over the research that is highly guided by the behavioralist way of second language (L2) development.

I called one of the state providers because I became so perturbed over some of the language that was being used in the presentation. It really irks me when people talk about language being a “barrier”, or an interference. In fact, the training suggested reading the book “Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems”. Now, I haven’t actually read this book, but the title just makes my skin crawl in that it suggests that students’ primary language negatively interfere with English, that their primary language is a problem or deficit to their learning English. 

I asked the state provider, “When English-speaking children enter into kinder they typically begin to write with invented spelling in English. Do we ever say that their oral language skills in English are causing negative interference with their writing? No. We simply say that students are using invented spelling. When middle-class English-speaking children in Dual Immersion programs begin to learn Spanish and they possibly use English phonetics to spell something in Spanish, do we ever say that their English is interfering with their acquisition of Spanish? I’ve never heard that. Rather, someone would simply say that students are using the English sound-system to write in Spanish. Then, why do people not even think twice about stating that Spanish-speaking students’ primary language may be negatively interfering with English? Hmmm”.

I’ll let you answer that question for yourself. Do you get my point?? We’ve got to start looking at this research with a more critical eye.

So here I was, depressed, thinking that bilingual education teachers were going to be subjected to being taught all this interference and “problem” hogwash, as opposed to having intellectual conversations about how the primary language influences the second language, as opposed to “interferes” with acquisition of English. The state provider told me that she would change the articles and terminology if I could get her something to replace it with. Lo and behold-tonight I was floating around in the bathtub and reading one of the state approved articles by Genesee and company (sidenote: yes, I do read research while relaxing in the bathtub!) and I came upon the topic of language “influence”. I much prefer the way that they explain it:

English L2 literacy development is influenced by emergent literacy in the L1 and being read to in the L1 at home…; knowledge of L1-L2 cognate vocabulary…; knowledge of sound-letter relations in the L1…; and phonological awareness in the L1…In most cases, these cross-language influences are facilitative so that ELLs with emergent L1 literacy skills, prior experiences with L1 literacy in the home, knowledge of cognate vocabulary, and well-developed L1 phonological awareness acquire reading skills in English more readily thatn ELLS who lack these L1 skills. In other cases, there can be “negative” cross-language influences, as when Spanish-speaking ELL students erroneously apply Spanish L1 phonological and orthographic rules to English spelling. Even in these cases, however, it is important to keep in mind that these effects speak to an active and productive strategy on the part of ELLs in the initial stage of learning to read and write to draw on relevant, albeit inappropriate , knowledge about the L1 to bootstrap into English reading and writing. pg. 372

This makes me feel so much more comfortable, talking about how one language can influence  another language, as opposed to “interference” which has such a negative connotation. The authors even put “negative” in quotations, which somewhat even invalidates the phrase for me and let’s me know that they are using the term loosely because it is a commonly used term perhaps. I appreciate the last sentence that states that even though bilingual learners may be erroneously using their prior knowledge about their L1 sound-system to read in English, they are simply using their background knowledge to apply to English. The way this is stated doesn’t make it necessarily seem like it is such a bad thing.

Two years ago I was at La Cosecha dual language conference in New Mexico and a colleague of mine invited me out to drink some mojitos with Dr. Genesee and one of his students. At the time I had just gone on my leave of absence from the doctoral program and Dr. Genesee suggested that I return. “Who else is going to carry on the torch if you all don’t get your doctorates? You know that we will retire sooner than later and we need people to take our places”. 

So, tonight I’m asking myself if I should go back to get my PhD. What will happen when the experts on bilingual education research retire? Who will take their place? Do we have enough people to take their place? I feel that itch to return and finish so that I can carry on the legacy of so many people who have provided an alternative discourse to the English-only ideology.

But then again, sometimes I think I should stay fighting in the school systems. Like today-I was able to convince the state provider to make changes to the curriculum which will influence many teachers. I just might throw my hat in the ring and write my own curriculum for teachers in dual language programs, my own little way to provide an alternative discourse to the behavioralist mumbo jumbo that is being offered by the one provider for bilingual programs.

What to do, what to do??

A New Threat to Bilingual and Multilingual Programs: NCLB Program Improvement Teams

As bilingual and multilingual educators, we know that our bilingual programs are constantly prone to attack due to various causes and reasons. Sometimes it is a blatant anti-bilingual sentiment that threatens our programs, as was the case in California’s “English for the Children” Proposition 227 campaign. It’s really disheartening to me that many of the bilingual educators that I come into contact with on a daily basis have no knowledge of the Prop 227 struggle because they are newer educators, or they just have complete historical amnesia as to the struggle that bilingual education advocates endured to counteract the negative attacks on bilingual education. What is Prop 227, you ask? Google it and learn about it if you are not familiar with it already.

Now we have a silent and maybe even more possibly dangerous threat out there–external NCLB program improvement teams. When a school in California does not meet state and/or federal accountability requirements, it faces various sanctions. One of the sanctions is that a school or district is placed in program improvement status and may fall under the supervision of a program improvement team. The program improvement teams are external teams that come into either the school or the district with the purpose of assisting the site with academic achievement. 

Through my personal experiences with certain program improvement teams in California, I have come to the conclusion that they have the potential to essentially do what Prop 227 was not able to do-further dismantle all bilingual education programs, or force them to be extremely early-exit type programs where students are transitioned into English-only classrooms as early as first or second grade. I have had experience with program improvement teams entering into schools with functioning Dual Immersion and/or late-exit bilingual maintenance programs and attempting to dismantle the programs, although there is plentiful evidence that the program is not the lowest performing program in the school or district. It’s as if you can’t convince them otherwise, even with a mound of data that clearly demonstrates that the bilingual education program is not the main problem that the school is facing.

At one of the Title III workshops held by the California Department of Education last year, I had a discussion with one of the Department employees regarding this matter. She informed me that she has been hearing rumors about such program improvement teams throughout the state. She also informed me that the California Department of Education clearly states in their training for the program improvement teams that they are not to dismantle programs, rather they should address the key instructional pieces that need to be in place within each program in order to improve student achievement. So, I ask myself, “Why are these program improvement teams not being held accountable for stepping over the line? When are bilingual educators going to question them?”

Now is not the time for us to be silent. If we don’t question their decisions, then we will wake up tomorrow and all of our programs will be gone. I’m trying to think of what exactly can be done with this type of situation-who do you make a complaint to, etc. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that bilingual education advocates need to network together and receive approval to become a certified team themselves.

Has anyone else had any experience with this type of situation? What can be done?