I’ve just got back to the office from the first Multilingual Matters conference of the year – the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE) convention, which this year took place in glittering Las Vegas. NABE conferences have a history of being in wacky places – the first time I attended it was held in Disneyworld, Florida – but I’m always impressed by how the delegates manage to abstain from the temptations of the host city and make the conference a success.
We had our usual stand in the exhibition hall where I had special displays for some of our new books. Fresh off the press, and very popular with the delegates, was Latino Immigrant Youth and Interrupted Schooling: Dropouts, Dreamers and Alternative Pathways to College by Marguerite Lukes. One delegate absentmindedly picked up a copy while waiting for me to complete his order form (for another purchase) and was so engrossed in the stories that he ended up purchasing a copy too! The new 4th edition of Colin Baker’s bestselling book A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism proved to be as popular as expected, as did the Spanish version of a former edition of the book, which was translated by Alma Flor Ada.
However, by far the bestselling book of the conference was The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy and the US Labor Market edited by Rebecca M. Callahan and Patricia C. Gándara. Patricia gave the final keynote presentation of the conference during which she portrayed the book as a detective story. She explained how the book looks for something that we think must exist (that bilingualism is a labour advantage) but for which there is no evidence. By posing numerous questions, such as which languages are acknowledged as an economic force and whether the background of the language speaker makes a difference to the perceived value of their language abilities, the contributors of the work set out to uncover the truth about the value of bilingualism to both individuals and society.
The excitement was palpable in the hall as Patricia led us through the studies presented in the book to the finding that balanced bilingualism is associated with a host of really important outcomes and that losing bilingualism comes at a cost for society. The conclusion that it is not a waste of money to educate children bilingually was met with a round of applause and everyone left the hall feeling armed with proof to support any claim otherwise. I had a small stand outside the hall displaying the books and was delighted as a long queue of delegates formed, each one eager to get a copy of the work.
Before Patricia Gandara’s keynote speech, State Senator Ricardo Lara (from California’s 33rd District) was awarded the NABE Citizen of the Year award for his significant work on improving educational equality and opportunities for all students. Ricardo is an advocate for multilingual education and has created the California EdGE Initiative (Education for a Global Economy), which will go to a vote in 2016. If passed, California’s English-only instruction mandate in public schools (prop 227) will be amended. The evidence reported in the book can be used to convince the public of the benefits for individuals and society of the maintenance of the home language and that it is time to remedy the damage done by prop 227. Patricia Gandara ended her keynote by reminding us that while what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens in California often does not stay in California and there may be implications of this vote outside California.
As for Las Vegas, well, what a venue for a conference! Outside of the conference hours I tried to get a feel for all that the city had to offer and do something different every evening. Most of the attractions are in the numerous hotels: I rode a rollercoaster in one; went up the tallest freestanding tower in the USA in another and saw Britney Spears perform live in a third! I am also proud to be leaving Las Vegas $15 richer than when I arrived, having had a bit of luck on the roulette! I tore myself away from the temptations of the casinos to return home for a week, before the next round of conferences begins. Look out for Tommi at GURT this week, or Kim, Tommi and me at AAAL in Toronto the week after as our spring travel schedule hots up!