Equity and Justice in Language Education

We recently published Transforming World Language Teaching and Teacher Education for Equity and Justice edited by Beth Wassell and Cassandra Glynn. In this post the editors explain the inspiration behind the book.

Although the work on this book began in 2019, the story behind it begins in the late 1990s. It starts with two White, middle-class, teachers – one in the Midwest and one in the Northeast – who loved languages, loved learning about different cultures, and had a passion, and enough money, to travel. The two young women, Beth and Cassandra, started teaching world languages in middle and high school. They cared about their students and wanted to be just like the teachers who inspired them. But they made a lot of missteps, mostly due to their lack of awareness of their own privilege, their own identities, and their students’ identities.

Fast forward to the early 2010s, when the two met in Denver while at a conference. At this point, each had continued their academic journey and pursued doctoral degrees in education. Each had begun working in university-based teacher education, hoping to inspire a new generation of language teachers. But graduate school, mixed with some powerful experiences in urban P-12 settings, transformed them.

They couldn’t look at those “foreign language” classrooms without noticing issues of access and equity: the students who were told they shouldn’t take a language, or schools where students had to wait until adolescence to be exposed to new languages and cultures. They became increasingly aware of the racial and socioeconomic divides in US schools – the privileged had greater access to robust programming, qualified teachers, and programs that spanned multiple years. Meanwhile, in communities ripe with multilingualism, opportunities and resources for high quality language learning were limited.

They also noticed that the curriculum hadn’t changed much since their days as students – those old lessons on Oktoberfest and mariachi, on how to shop in a department store or order in a restaurant, were still ubiquitous. Lessons that encouraged students to analyze and critique issues of resilience, equity, or justice, that real people experienced daily, were rare.

There were some scholars writing about or enacting critical and culturally sustaining pedagogies in world language spaces – those who saw potential for transformation. This group was growing, and the two women started connecting with colleagues at conferences who were advocating for rethinking the system. They met other scholars and teachers who were theorizing and beginning to disseminate their work on critical approaches. They learned from and started to collaborate with colleagues who propelled their thinking. Like their colleagues, they recognized that this growing body of literature needed to be nurtured before it would take a more significant hold in language teaching and teacher education.

This led those two women – Beth and Cassandra – to a collaborative effort of a text, one that boldly highlights the ways that scholars in the US, and beyond, are not just thinking about, but doing equity and justice work in language education contexts. The result was an edited book that demonstrates how scholars and educators are pushing boundaries to reconstruct a field that has been mired in colonialism and elitism since its inception. The chapters in this book demonstrate what dismantling curriculum, instruction, and teacher preparation looks like. It provides transformative insights on critical language teacher education, intercultural citizenship, disrupting master narratives, teacher identity, decolonizing heritage language pedagogy, and community-centered approaches to teaching and teacher education, written by foremost scholars in language education.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Peacebuilding in Language Education edited by Rebecca L. Oxford, María Matilde Olivero, Melinda Harrison and Tammy Gregersen.

What Takes Place Behind the Scenes of Research?

This month we are publishing Critical Reflections on Research Methods edited by Doris S. Warriner and Martha Bigelow. In this post Doris explains how a stolen car and a shut-off notice, amongst other things, led her to reflect on her experiences as a researcher.

In 2001, a participant in my dissertation research study called. She told me that her car had been stolen. She said she had been pulled out of the car and injured before they drove away with it. I was listed as a contact person on the police report, so I was later contacted in the middle of the night to be told that the police had located the damaged car at a local truck stop. I eventually helped to retrieve the damaged car from the impound lot. That same year, another participant needed help talking to the local utility company after receiving a shut-off notice in the mail. I accompanied her to the appointment and helped everyone understand what was going on and what needed to be done in order to avoid having power disrupted.

These are just two of many situations which caused questions and doubts to swirl and bounce around in my head. I wondered whether this constituted research, how to engage, and what else might require quick unplanned responses. As I endeavoured to manage these unexpected circumstances, weigh decisions, and understand the potential consequences of my actions, I was filled with uncertainty.

Over the past 15 years, I have continued to work in research contexts with unexpected twists and turns. I have also tried to mentor graduate students through many situations, relationships, contexts, and challenges that they too could not have anticipated or prepared for. I have looked for answers to questions about ethics, relationships, trust-building and process in my experiences as a researcher, in books on qualitative research methods, and in the work of colleagues also working in complex research contexts.

However, while I found many generic discussions of research ethics (e.g., the need to obtain IRB approval and how important that is), I did not find the honest, first-hand accounts of unresolved questions, misgivings, doubt and uncertainty that seem to characterize my own experiences as a researcher. Hungry for more revealing accounts of what takes place behind the scenes of the situations and scenarios written up in peer-reviewed publications, I began to examine some of the questions, challenges and limits surrounding methods of inquiry, analysis and representation.

In 2014, I organized a session for the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association entitled Critical Reflections on Theory and Method: The Possibilities and Limits of Anthropological Work on/with/for Refugee Communities. In 2015, I organized a session for the American Association for Applied Linguistics on Producing Knowledge about/with/for Vulnerable Populations: Collaborations, Constraints, and Possibilities. Combined, the two sessions brought together junior and senior scholars who had navigated relationships, roles, reciprocity and knowledge production processes in complex multilingual contexts and who had many important insights to share about their personal experiences, questions and accomplishments.

This edited collection showcases work that delves into, explores, and examines the possibilities and limits of our methods, our relationships, our roles and our research stories. I hope it will be of interest and value to researchers working on sensitive issues or in challenging contexts. And I look forward to continued conversations with all of you about the relationship between the methods of inquiry we use, the types of knowledge we help to produce, and our lived experiences as researchers.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Educating Refugee-background Students edited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry.