Foundations and Frustrations in Adolescent Newcomer Programming

This month we are publishing Educating Adolescent Newcomers in the Superdiverse Midwest by Brian David Seilstad. In this post the author explains how the idea for the book came about.

Schooling is often represented in dichotomous terms as either a liberator or an oppressor. Reading about various student experiences across diverse histories and contexts reflects and refracts this reality and underscores the equity and social justice goals inherent in education. Adolescent newcomers globally and in the US Midwest, the focus of this book, are particularly relevant to this theme in that they arrive in new locations, often as refugees or other transnational migrants, buoyed with an array of skills, experiences, and dreams that can support their, it is hoped, adaptation and creation of lives of dignity. However, the research on adolescent newcomers points out that this is neither an easy nor straightforward task and that schools often struggle to support and retain students, leading to disparate and sometimes troubling outcomes for both individuals and society (Fry, 2005; Short & Boyson, 2012; Suárez-Orozco et al, 2010).

This project was born from several personal experiences and convictions. First is my own history of living and learning in other cultures and facing the intense challenges of languacultural learning, particularly as an adolescent or adult.  Second is a conviction that schools, among all social institutions, can be positive transformative agents for learners if the institution and educational actors are highly attuned and responsive to the lives of the learners. Largely as a result of my White, American male background, a majority of my own schooling and learning experiences have been affirming and engaging, but I recognize that this is not the case for many learners throughout the world, a situation that remains a deep need for redress.

These aspects led me to explore in this book the languacultural practices of an adolescent newcomer program community in the US Midwest. The inquiry includes descriptions of the program’s history and policies while following and recording the daily class activities of one cohort of first-year high school students across their academic year. The students collectively spoke varieties of Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Kibembe, French, Somali, Nepali, and Arabic in a program with many staff and teachers of similar linguistic backgrounds and proficiencies.  This approach provides a broad and relevant context while maintaining a focus on daily communicative interactions as the core of the learning experience – indeed, what is education other than one extended experience in language development?

The chapters of the book ultimately center the disparate experiences and outcomes of the students and underline that, while the program supports many learners well, the program’s English-centric ideologies, policies, and practices create obstacles to many students that, in some cases, are insurmountable and lead to intense frustration and even dropping out. This leads to a recommendation that the program reorient its priorities to understanding the students’ languacultural backgrounds, specifically their home language literacy, and designing learning experiences to fully embrace and support the students’ emergent or experienced bilingualism.

Taken as a whole, the book strives to present a vision for humanity and schools –  one that is positive and affirming of all peoples and reflective of the beauty that emerges from the diversity and complexity of the human experience. While this may remain unrealized in many contexts, it must remain, particularly for educators, our global aspiration and driving purpose. I am deeply thankful to the program’s many administrators, teachers, bilingual assistants, and students for allowing me to share a year in their lives and discuss their own perspectives about these issues. I hope that readers of the book will find meaning here, and any comments or questions can be communicated to:

Brian Seilstad (American College Casablanca, Morocco) bseilstad@aac.ac.ma or website.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Researching Language in Superdiverse Urban Contexts edited by Clare Mar-Molinero.

What Does It Mean To “Be Chinese”?

This month we published Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools by Sara Ganassin. In this post the author talks about the book’s discussion of identity in contexts of migration. 

The past decade has seen a growing international interest in China, Chinese language education, ‘Chinese culture’ and Chinese communities including Chinese migrants. At the same time, often media attention has contributed to an enforcement of stereotypical constructions of a collective Chinese identity by depicting Chinese people, including Chinese migrants, in particular ways: successful, hard-working, but also conservative, unwilling to integrate and often ‘invisible’ in their new countries.

This book offers a snapshot of Chinese migrant experiences in Britain. It is important to acknowledge that ‘Chineseness’ is not necessarily related to an affiliation with a particular political entity, but it is rather related to the complex nature of the ‘Chinese world’ including its multinational and multicultural dimensions.

Chinese homework from a child at one of the schools in the book

This book is located in the context of Chinese community schools in the UK. These are educational and social spaces where migrants nurture their language, cultures and identities and transmit them to the younger generations. The question ‘is there more than one way of being Chinese?’ is addressed from the perspectives of children, parents and teachers attending two Mandarin schools. These perspectives include both those from ‘new’ migrants from Mainland China and those from more ‘traditional’ Cantonese, Hakka, and Hokkien speaking communities.

The book explores how ‘being Chinese’ covers a complex range of political, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural positions and identities that play out in the context of language community education. With their focus on non-dominant languages and ‘cultures’ community schools represent a space for adults and children to explore who they are and what ‘being Chinese’ means to them.

Postcards at the Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing

The topic of ‘Chinese’ and, more broadly, ‘migrant’ identity is central in the book. However, the book is not just about ‘being Chinese’. Identity is a crucial and controversial topic in any context of migration and displacement. Social-constructionism enables us to see identity as a process constructed through the relationships that we establish with the world around us. Our sense of who we are, especially but not exclusively as migrants, is shaped by our sense of identification with particular communities, but also by our self-understanding of our own unique personal journeys and family histories.

Furthermore, identification and affiliation with certain groups — e.g. ‘being native speakers of a certain language’, ‘being citizens of a certain country’ — afford us privileges and opportunities others might not have and, at the same time, shape how we see ourselves and the world. A key message in this book concerns the importance of acknowledging how different life trajectories are a source of enrichment rather than obstacles as people move, settle in new contexts and negotiate who they are in relation to the ‘other’.

I hope that readers — those who study and have an interest in intercultural and migrant education, teachers and learners of Chinese or any other community language — may engage with the narratives reported in this book and enhance their understanding of their own personal and professional stories in intercultural spaces.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning Chinese as a Heritage Language by Guanglun Michael Mu.