Understanding Racialized Expectations in the ELT Profession

This month we are publishing Race and Ethnicity in English Language Teaching by Christopher Joseph Jenks. In this post the author discusses where racialized expectations come from and how they shape language teaching and learning.

Expectations are everything; they help us make decisions and make sense of existing life experiences. Our expectations shape decisions to seek out particular food items, holiday destinations and places of residence, and influence the extent to which we are satisfied with them. For instance, the satisfaction that I receive from eating a kale salad is not tied to my expectation that this particular food item tastes good. This would, without saying, be a foolish expectation. Rather, consuming a kale salad brings me satisfaction because of my expectations that it will result in good health and allow me to align myself with the all-important hipster community. Of course, the belief that kale is a food item of both a health-conscious individual and an advanced human being is the result of many years of cultural conditioning, which materializes in my decision to seek out particular foods and shop at grocery stores that will remain unnamed.

The decision to enrol in a particular school taught by an instructor that looks a certain way and speaks a specific language variety is also shaped by an existing set of expectations. My book, which examines race and racism in English language teaching and learning, is essentially about understanding where racialized expectations come from, and how they shape our understanding of, and actions pertaining to, the profession. That is to say, a preference for hiring White instructors from so-called Western countries does not materialize in a vacuum – a key observation in my book – but this ideology is rather rooted in a history of cultural conditioning that informs individuals what they should expect to see and hear in the language classroom.

What discourses and ideologies are responsible for such expectations? The expectation that English is a language (best) spoken, and therefore taught, by a small group of countries comes from a number of discourses and ideologies, and indeed varies from one region of the world to another, including colonial and imperial histories; in a place like South Korea, English is often associated with North America because of the role the United States has in military, political, and economic affairs.

My interest in writing this book comes from the many unanswered questions that exist regarding how such expectations become racialized in and through the discourses that are circulated within the English language teaching profession. For instance, I was motivated to understand how neoliberal forces shape the expectations one has when thinking about what English course to take. Although I am not interested in criticizing neoliberalism as an economic theory necessarily, I was motivated to show that the commodification of English facilitates the creation and circulation of racialized expectations. The book was also written because I was very much interested in examining how expectations are formulated from the point of view of privilege, such as White instructors from places like the United States. I show in my book, for example, that racial privilege creates the expectation among White instructors that they are in the best position to facilitate language learning, and this in turn influences how said teachers orient themselves within the profession; I refer to this expectation as White saviorism.

Although this project is ultimately about understanding where racialized expectations come from and how they shape language teaching and learning, the book also explores what needs to be done in the profession to create new discourses and ideologies that attend to the racial diversity that exists within the workforce. Like my desire to eat kale salads, I attempt to show that racial discrimination and privilege are misplaced expectations that come from years of cultural conditioning. This is no easy task, as racism is tied to decades of complex political and cultural struggles; yet I will be happy if my book makes even the smallest of contributions to the eradication of racism in the profession.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you enjoyed this, you might also be interested in Why English? edited by Pauline Bunce, Robert Phillipson, Vaughan Rapatahana and Ruanni Tupas.

Rich Schools, Poor Schools: The Case of Two Cities. Really?

Last month we published English Language Teaching in South America edited by Lía D. Kamhi-Stein, Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Luciana C. de Oliveira. In this post Lía highlights the similarities between some public schools in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles when it comes to access to technology and pedagogical materials.

In a recently published book, Pomeraniec and San Martín (2016) argue that the notion of countries as being rich or poor is an outdated one. Instead, they support the idea that there are poor countries with cities or areas that experience great economic growth and social development. Along the same lines, Pomeraniec and San Martín (2016) argue that rich countries are not homogeneous. Instead, they have pockets of persistent (and often growing, I would add) poverty and inequality. The latter is the case of the United States. For example, in the state of California, which represents the 7th economy of the world, the educational experience of children enrolled in public schools is dependent on the socioeconomic status (or more specifically on the zip code) of the geographical area in which their public school is located.

As a teacher educator at California State University, Los Angeles, I have the opportunity to observe classes taught by student teachers placed in kindergarten through grade 16 in the Los Angeles county. Public K-12 schools in the county, which includes cities with low, middle, and high incomes, are not significantly different from the schools described by Pozzi in her chapter from our new book titled “Examining Teacher Perspectives on Language Policy in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina,”. In particular, there are two themes that are common to public schools both in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles. These are: access to technology and pedagogical materials.

In our book, chapter authors describe several initiatives designed to integrate technology in EFL classrooms in South America. While Argentina has implemented a variety of such policies, particularly in relation to the notion of one laptop per child in K-12 and teacher preparation settings, the success of these programs with low-income children is still a work-in-progress. Specifically, in her chapter, Pozzi explains that in low income public schools in Buenos Aires, children and their parents are not trained in how to take care of their laptops, resulting in dramatic cases like those of parents’ washing  laptops as if they were clothes. Additionally, when children bring the laptops to school, the internet connection is limited (a point also made by Veciño in her chapter). While my experiences in low income schools in Los Angeles have not resulted in the observation of dramatic experiences like those observed for Buenos Aires, the reality is that access to laptops in low-income immigrant Latino areas is very limited. Schools in the Los Angeles county keep laptops locked in secured carts. During the school day, laptops are shared across classes and students have access to them to do school work for two to three hours per week, on average. Much like in the case of low-income schools in Buenos Aires, the internet connection in low-income schools in Los Angeles is often problematic; therefore, negatively limiting the use of the internet for instructional purposes showing educational YouTube videos to students. On the other hand, in general, schools in middle and high income areas tend to provide much more extensive access to laptops in the form of one laptop per child, particularly at the higher elementary grades (4th and 5th grades). This results in the integration of laptops for a variety of purposes, which in turn promotes higher student comfort with technology. Given that starting in 3rd grade, all children in California are required to take a battery of computer-based tests focusing on math, English language arts, and science at the end of the academic year, comfort with computers is critical for the students’ successful performance on the test.

Another similarity between low income schools in Buenos Aires and in Los Angeles, for example, is related to pedagogical materials. Pozzi explains that the EFL materials used to teach low income children in Buenos Aires are irrelevant to the students’ lives. Inner Circle materials, used to teach EFL in Buenos Aires, present a reality that is far from the reality that low-income children face in Buenos Aires. In the case of Los Angeles, the problem with materials is that, other than the pedagogical materials sanctioned by the school district, children have limited access to books, manipulatives, etc., that will help them expand on their learning. In contrast, teachers in middle and high income school classrooms have a wealth of instructional programs, materials, and in particular books, that children use at different times of the day for a variety of purposes.

To conclude, Pozzi’s chapter in our Multilingual Matters volume provides an eye-opening description of the complexities involved in the implementation of English language policies in low, middle and high income schools in Buenos Aires. In this blog entry, I took a quick look at schools in the Los Angeles county. In my analysis, I identified at least two similarities between schools in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles; therefore, I propose that we avoid blanket generalizations about countries in general and, more specifically, about the status of English language teaching around the world. In this way, more localized descriptions of the implementation of educational policies will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the impact of such policies.

Lía D. Kamhi-Stein, California State University, Los Angeles

References

Pomeraniec, H., & San Martín, R. (2016). ¿Dónde Queda el Primer Mundo? El Nuevo Mapa del Desarrollo y el Bienestar [Where is the First World? The New Landscape of Development and Well Being]. Buenos Aires: Aguilar.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like The Education of Indigenous Citizens in Latin America edited by Regina Cortina. 

Investigating the Place of Mission Work in English Language Teaching

Recently we published English Teaching and Evangelical Mission by Bill Johnston. In this post, Bill talks us through what inspired him to investigate the place of mission work in English Language Teaching and the message his book aims to communicate.

 English Teaching and Evangelical MissionThis book is the culmination of my many years of interest in the intersection of language teaching and teachers’ religious beliefs, particularly those of evangelical Christians who use language teaching as a platform for mission work. In recent years many non-evangelical TESOL professionals, myself included, expressed concern over this practice. Such concerns seemed potentially valid, yet they were not informed by any in-depth empirical research. To cut a long story short, I decided to go “into the field” and take a close look at a language school in Poland that explicitly offered “Bible-based curriculum” in its classes. What I found very much surprised me – a school with a warm and open atmosphere in which evangelicals and Catholics learned English side by side. That’s not to say there were not more questionable aspects of the school’s work. These, though, were by and large subtler, and it took painstaking ethnographic work to tease them out.

I don’t regard this book as the last word on the topic – quite the contrary, I see it very much as an exploratory study that, I hope, will encourage other researchers, especially those who are not evangelicals, to gather extensive data in other settings. My biggest hope is that the book will encourage a respectful and open exchange between evangelicals and non-evangelicals working in TESOL. We live in times in which political, cultural, and religious divisions seem to be becoming more and more sharply delineated, often to the consternation of those who find themselves on one side or the other of a supposed demarcation line. My experience collecting data for this book taught me that there is a lot less dogmatism than one is led to imagine. During the data collection period the evangelical teachers and missionaries I spoke with expressed an often vivid curiosity about my beliefs and motivations, and presented their own with conviction but also with humility. Our positions remained profoundly different; yet connection and even friendship was possible.

If my book has one overall message, it is that listening carefully and respectfully to those whose views are radically different than your own is a much preferable alternative to the strident, doctrinaire shouting down of one’s “opponents” that is increasingly evident in the media – on all sides of the political landscape, I might add. This is certainly true today in Poland, in my adopted country of the United States, and in many places in Europe, the continent I come from. I would wish my book to offer a small, quiet voice arguing for calm and for dialogue.

For more information about this book, please see our website.  

Cross-Language Mediation in Foreign Language Teaching and Testing

This month we are publishing Cross-Language Mediation in Foreign Language Teaching and Testing by Maria Stathopoulou which examines mediation between languages and the challenges that mediators often face. In this post, Maria outlines the issues explored in the book.

9781783094110Users of two or more languages may mediate in their everyday life, but why are some more successful than others? How do effective mediators (or cross-languagers) achieve specific communication goals? What techniques and language tools do they use? What strategies differentiate successful from less successful mediators? These are some of the questions addressed in this book which sheds new light on the mechanisms of cross-language mediation.

What?

Being concerned with the purposeful relaying of information from one language to another, this book considers mediation as a form of translanguaging, a language practice which involves interplay of linguistic codes. Retaining his/her own identity and participating at the same time in two (or more) cultures, the role of mediator is to make the target audience understand information that otherwise would be impossible for them to understand. The mediator is not considered as a neutral third party but as an active participator in the communicative encounter, and his/her role is socially valuable.

And why?

The research project has generally been motivated by a broader need to contribute towards a multilingual approach to language teaching and testing still dominated by monolingual paradigms. The exploration of the ways in which foreign language learners’ mother tongue(s) could be used constructively for the teaching and learning of languages, and the way to develop skills and effective strategies so as to mediate and translanguage successfully was of no real concern to mainstream English Language Teaching (ELT). As the book draws readers’ attention to the fluid boundaries between languages, current ‘English-only’ policies may be rethought in light of the findings reported.

The ‘mingling-of languages’ idea

This book raises readers’ awareness regarding the ‘mingling-of languages idea’ in teaching and testing, an idea which can actually be realised through mediation activities and which can ultimately promote multilingualism. In a nutshell, based on empirical evidence, this book

  • ultimately stresses the urgent need for foreign language policies to consider cross-language mediation as a fundamental ability that language learners need to develop,
  • advocates the implementation of programmes aiming at the development of translanguaging literacy and
  • concludes by pointing to the role of testing in the effort to support multilingualism.

Who may find this book useful?

As the author of this book, my hope is that it will be used by (in-service and pre-service) teachers, curriculum designers, syllabus and material developers, teacher trainers, language testers, policymakers, but also by future researchers in the field of multilingualism, multilingual testing and foreign language learning as a comprehensive guide to important current language issues.

Dr Maria Stathopoulou, University of Athens
mastathop@enl.uoa.gr

For more information about this title please see our website or the author’s own Facebook page for the book or contact the author at the email address above.

Power and Meaning Making in an EAP Classroom

This month we are publishing Power and Meaning Making in an EAP Classroom by Christian W. Chun. In this post, Christian discusses the background to the book.

Power and Meaning Making in an EAP ClassroomLong before I became an academic researcher, I had taught English as an additional language and English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for over 15 years in Los Angeles. My own classroom and teaching practices were shaped not by any graduate course curriculum – I didn’t even begin my MA in TESOL studies until my 12th year of teaching – but by my own students’ lived experiences they shared with me. One seminal, searing moment that set my pedagogical and research approach on the present path was the 1992 uprisings over the Rodney King verdict, one year after I had started teaching. On April 29th 1992, four Los Angeles police officers (among others) who had been video-recorded beating and kicking a motorist who had been stopped – Rodney King – were acquitted of all charges. Many in the communities who had suffered police brutality revolted by burning and looting their own and adjacent communities. One such community affected was where many of my students resided and worked; some of them lost their livelihoods as a result. They came to class that week and the following weeks understandably angry and demanded to know why this had happened to them. My classroom was thus immediately transformed into a space in which critical pedagogy was called into being not by me or some agenda I wanted to impose, but by my students themselves, who began to articulate their lived identities and practices that attempted to connect their language use, culture, education, and politics to the society in which they were now living.

It was this event that has since informed my work on critical EAP examining how both teachers and students take up and talk about the dominant representations and discourses that attempt to frame and narrate our everyday lives in society. These ways of talking about and understanding the world are important, for they help shape not only how students use language in their engagements with new and unfamiliar texts, discourses, and academic language, but also just as importantly, in talking about topics and issues that traditionally have been avoided in the English language classroom (e.g., politics, race, economic issues, and religion to name just a few). These students, therefore, have ample opportunities to exercise academic literacy skills so crucial to success in tertiary studies.

Critical pedagogy in education and in English language teaching in particular has been much theorized as well as debated and contested. However, there have been very few case studies of critical pedagogy approaches in action by practitioners themselves. My book is a move to address this, for it has been described by Brian Morgan as “the first close examination of pedagogical relationships and practices within an EAP setting.” Working closely with the participant instructor for nearly a year, we explored how she could put the beginnings of a critical literacy pedagogy into her classroom practices. By implementing critical theories into classroom practices, Power and Meaning Making in an EAP Classroom: Engaging with the Everyday is not only addressed to researchers, but also teacher educators and practitioners with its accessible written style. By featuring our lived experiences and identities in our research discussions and the instructor’s accompanying changing teaching approaches and the ensuing enabled meaning makings by her students, I hope this book will contribute to new directions and developments of critical pedagogy that is much needed in our 21st century world.

For more information about this book please see our website.