In a “voices from the field” essay, Dr. Jenna Cushing-Leubner reflects on the question, “What can racial equity look like to the teaching of English to racialized bilingual youth?” She describes the efforts made by multilingual youth labeled “long-term English learners” and “heritage language learners” through ethnic studies and youth participatory action research projects to communicate to language teachers what they need to know and be able/willing to do. In this call to action, she shares these findings from almost a decade of work with multilingual youth of color and their language teachers, and suggests resources for teachers invested in anti-racist and anti-biased English language teaching.
Key words: sustainable multilingualism, ethnic studies, racial equity, long-term English learners, heritage language
One spring day in 2012, twenty language teachers and administrators gathered for a day of professional development in a South Minneapolis classroom. They gathered almost exactly two miles from what would become George Floyd Square and the George Floyd Autonomous Zone in the wake of years of violence, surveillance, detention, and deportation experienced by Black, Indigenous, and non-Black/Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), which came to a head in the summer of 2020 when George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in the early months of COVID-19’s stay-at-home orders and economic destabilizations. The professional development was designed and facilitated by a group of multilingual Latinx high school students who had all experienced some form of ESL. Some had spent so many years in ESL and English-only U.S. schooling that they had become labeled “long-term English learners”—a term that critical language educators argue doubles down on the idea that multilingual children of color either don’t want to or can’t learn English, and therefore don’t want to or can’t do intellectual work in school, which is done primarily through English (Flores et al., 2015; Menken & Kleyn, 2009; Tse, 2001).
The professional development that day grew out of a process called youth participatory action research (Cammarota & Fine, 2010; Mirra et al., 2015; Youth Activism Project, 2018). Youth had been asking:
Youth were part of a Spanish Heritage Language class, where they had spent two years in intra-ethnic studies classes within the context of a world language course. Through these ethnic studies language classes, youth disentangled themselves from negative narratives and images about themselves, their families, and their communities. They explored relationships of colonization and systemic racism with language in education and school curricula.
They were reclaiming their home languages. They were trying to reconnect with family members and strengthen familial bonds. Through those reconnections, they were trying to recognize their families’ and communities’ ways of knowing and doing things, which had been frayed or severed through intergenerational separations, caused in part by home language removal and replacement (first by Spanish and later by English). And they were studying examples of movements to fight for economic, educational, and sociopolitical justice led by coalitions of multilingual and multidialectal BIPOC communities.
From their ethnic studies courses and through doing youth participatory action research, they knew that systemic racism had shaped their educational experiences as multilingual people of color. They knew that, in the eyes of schools, they (and other multilingual and multidialectal BIPOC youth) were labeled and treated as problems. They were viewed as (long-term) English learners who were “at risk” and in need of remediation (Flores et al., 2015); potentially dangerous and untrustworthy, and in need of surveillance and control (Giroux, 2009); and ultimately disposable (Darder, 2006; Rocco, 2016).
Through their schooling experiences (Au et al., 2016; Spring, 2016), they were learning lessons about the denigration and erasure of Indigenous peoples. They were learning lessons about the denigration and vilification of people of African descent—particularly African Americans and Afro-Latinx people with histories of enslavement across the Americas. They were learning lessons about the supposed superiority and natural dominance of people of European descent. And they knew that these lessons were roiling around themselves and their loved ones, as people of color viewed as perpetual outsiders in a country dominated by English, white supremacy and its privileges, removal of Indigenous peoples and relationships, and anti-blackness.
This group of youth—like so many groups of multilingual youth of color taught by the language teachers we have worked with in the years that followed—decided to use their multilingualism to push for changes. First, they developed content-specific curriculum suggestions and presented them to teachers, administrators, students, and district officials. Next, they went to elementary schools to teach younger children. Finally, they designed professional development for pre-service and practicing language teachers—who they viewed as their most immediate and potential advocates for educational change.
As multilingual BIPOC youth, they were not just interested in linguistic changes to schools. They were insisting on raciolinguistic (Alim et al., 2016; Flores & Rosa, 2015) transformation—transformations that reflect intersections of language, race, and ethnolinguistic funds of knowledge. This article’s call to action consists of their calls to action. If we are looking for racial equity in English language teaching, here is what that involves, and what it asks of us:
1. Approach English language development as a component of sustaining existing multilingualism
As a field, and in the majority of ESL programming, our primary focus is on English language development only. This puts English language development at the expense of the loss (by removal and replacement) of home languages (Skutknabb-Kangas, 2019).
The ESL teaching field (“TESOL”) is for the teaching of English to speakers of other languages. This means that our goal should be in sustaining multilingualism and culturally sustaining pedagogies (Alim & Paris, 2017), with English becoming an additional language—not the primary, dominant, or only language.
2. Take identities, relationships, and power seriously
Know yourself as a person and an educator. Be able to name the implicit and explicit messages that have shaped your views of power systems, languages, and racialized people. Your students may not know you for your personal experiences. You also represent roles in larger systems of power. Regardless of our racial and ethnolinguistic identities, as English language teachers, we have to prove that we are committed to racial and linguistic justice.
Accompany your students in fighting for changes they believe in. Once they identify what changes need to happen, use organizing practices like power mapping as instructional tools for meaningful language. Change-making spans content areas. Learn language by participating in transformation (Advocates for Youth, 2019; Cushing-Leubner & Eik, 2018).
3. Insist on, and leverage support for, more multilingual teachers of color
Multilingual BIPOC children seldom have multilingual BIPOC teachers. Just because we have multilingual BIPOC teachers, doesn’t mean our teacher education and ongoing professional development opportunities have been supportive of how to teach in translingual1 ways, in ways that are community-driven, or in ways that are informed by racial consciousness and community funds of knowledge. This means that our teacher preparation programs and our school environments are not typically nurturing of developing and strengthening these teaching practices.
If you are a multilingual BIPOC teacher, get connected with personal and professional networks that will support you and sustain your teaching in ways that will allow your students to get access to the benefits of multilingualism from a multilingual teacher. If you are a white and/or English-dominant teacher, advocate at your school and district-level for the hiring of multilingual BIPOC teachers and for professional development support explicitly connected to multilingual, culturally sustaining teaching and instructional materials.
4. Ensure access to intra-ethnic studies
Access to ethnic studies courses (Tolteka Cuauhtin et al., 2019) positively impacts academic success and social-emotional protective factors (Cabrera et al., 2014; Dee & Penner, 2017; Sleeter, 2011; Sleeter & Zavala, 2020). Efforts to offer ethnic studies in schools are not new. When ethnic studies are available, they are typically offered as elective courses. However, English language development and co-curricular language and literacy remediation coursework limits access to elective courses for multilingual BIPOC students labeled English learners (Estrada, 2014).
Advocate to your school, district, and the state for the inclusion of ethnic studies in the mainstream curriculum and as special interest electives. Inventory your own teaching—how are you providing ethnic studies content and pedagogies (Tolteka Cuauhtin et al., 2019) as an English language teacher? If you do not have the background knowledge or teaching practices for ethnic studies, seek professional development and advocate for paid positions, teacher preparation, and licensure support for community-educators who do.
5. Teach how race, racial formation, and systemic racism works in the United States
We must teach about how race works in the United States, how new immigrants and immigrant communities experience racialization, and how messages of white superiority and anti-blackness are integral to the Americanization process. It’s not helpful to pretend that race works in simple ways across communities of color, particularly with recent experiences with immigration. Multilingual BIPOC children deserve to understand how racialization is at play in their own experiences and across their communities. And they deserve to have the tools of racial literacy and reckoning with the violence and harms of anti-blackness and white supremacy. If you do not feel knowledgeable or comfortable teaching about this and the particular ways racism plays out in relationship to your students’ communities, this is an area for explicit and intentional personal and professional development. Advocate for paid positions, teacher preparation, and licensure support for multilingual BIPOC community-educators who do.
The United States is no stranger to racial inequities or its violences. Recognizing systemic racism and its everyday enactments is not enough. The calls to action shared here are about interruption, dismantlement, and creating different ways of doing things all together. Working against racism as individual actors can shake up our corners of racist systems, but on their own they will never result in systemic transformation and lasting change. Luckily, working alone is a choice that doesn’t need to be made. These calls to action ask for collective efforts, following the directives of BIPOC-led strategies that have been developed out of engaging in struggles for liberation and freedom for centuries. And we each have a place in this project.
Advocates for Youth (2019). Youth activist toolkit. Retrievable from: https://www.advocatesforyouth.org/wpcontent/uploads/storage//advfy/documents/Activist_Toolkit/activisttoolkit.pdf
Alim, H. S., & Paris, D. (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. Teachers College Press.
Alim, H.S., Rickford, J.R., & Ball, A.F. (2016). Raciolinguistics: How language shapes our ideas about race. Oxford University Press.
Au, W., Brown, A. L., & Calderón, D. (2016). Reclaiming the multicultural roots of US curriculum: Communities of color and official knowledge in education. Teachers College Press.
Cabrera, N. L., Milem, J. F., Jaquette, O., & Marx, R. W. (2014). Missing the (student achievement) forest for all the (political) trees: Empiricism and the Mexican American studies controversy in Tucson. American Educational Research Journal, 51(6), 1084-1118.
Cammarota, J., & Fine, M. (Eds.). (2010). Revolutionizing education: Youth participatory action research in motion. Routledge.
Cushing-Leubner, J., & Eik, J. (2018). Our wild tongues: Language justice and youth research. In J. Ayala, J. Cammarota, M. Rivera, L. F. Rodríguez, M. Berta-Ávila, & M. E Torre (Eds.), PAR entremundo: A pedagogy of the Américas (pp 117-133). Peter Lang.
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Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing appropriateness: Raciolinguistic ideologies and language diversity in education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149-171. http://dx.doi.org/10.17763/0017-8055.85.2.149
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Based on field research and observations, this work challenges existing assumptions about using technology to support learner engagement and recommends tech-rich instructional strategies made possible when teachers engage critical consciousness and reflection to create equitable learning spaces.
Key words: equity, culturally and linguistically diverse families, teaching, technology
Learner access to technologies and the instruction delivered through them does not equate to inclusion unless paired with a focus on opportunity and justice. Educators and political leaders are attempting to redefine teaching and learning expectations to create equitable educational contexts in a time of crisis. Despite this effort, we argue that schools have contributed to the moment in which we are living—where access to technology supported learning is not equitable (Vakil, 2018). Furthermore, we argue that with the onset of COVID-19, instructional actions surrounding the equitable use of technology and antiracist pedagogies1 are central to the provision of inclusive learning opportunities. Thus, subsequent conversations have begun to explore the gaps that have widened-under the radar.
What has been missing in the rush to move teaching and learning online is building relations of trust with the family and enhancing teaching capacities for accommodation readiness (Herrera & Murry, 2016), which leads to authentic cariño (Bartolomé, 2008; Herrera et al., 2020; Valenzuela, 1999). This Spanish term shared especially among Latinx caregivers/families is a linguistic variant of the Spanish word corazón, or heart. In education, children from various cultures share some notion of heart as a metaphor for empathy, caring, and giving. Just as the heart supplies the lifeblood to the human body, authentic cariño embodies genuine understanding, compassion, and unequivocal responsiveness as well as action to promote learning spaces wherein Emergent Bilinguals and their families are able to see their academic, sociocultural, cognitive, and linguistic assets as key parts of the curriculum (Herrera, 2016). The authors recognize that many teachers are already balancing the notion of authentic cariño to care for their students and their families; however, external forces sanctioned by monolingual/standardized orientations make this work both challenging and stressful.
As a result of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter (BLM), educators are tasked with being cognizant of the intersectionality of race, social justice, and equity. While BLM is a movement that has highlighted the copious inequities Black communities have always faced, it has a ripple effect on long-standing systemic inequities in the classroom. Noting the diversity found within our culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) families and students, it is crucial to be aware of the socio-political complexities, and how they impact teaching and learning, yet this is not happening uniformly.
School districts are racing to purchase additional technological devices for students as the nation’s K-12 schools deepen reliance on e-learning. While well-intended, and an important first step, these initiatives are reactionary and may reinforce socioeconomic and racial divisions, particularly for Emergent Bilinguals. Educational systems are still trapped in the dichotomous rhetoric of the “digital divide” that equates equity with access. Research has challenged the limitations of this concept and what digital equity truly means (DiMaggio & Hargittai, 2001; Talaee & Noroozi, 2019; Warschauer, 2004). The issue with technology is not so much about being connected, rather it is about the inequities that exist for connected users. One approach schools have taken in the name of “bridging the digital divide” has been to purchase and provide devices (e.g., typically a tablet, Chromebook, or laptop) for each child. Purchasing a computer/tablet for each child is not going to rid the systematic institutionalized lack of preparedness for transforming schools to embrace equity as they create pathways for academic success for Emergent Bilinguals and their families. Successful moves toward equity must move beyond provision of devices and begin to recognize the hegemonic influences of white middle-class culture in the curriculum, school culture, and school system’s relationship with families and communities (see Bonilla-Silva, 2006; Burke, 2012).
As a system, we have traditionally relied upon structures to provide equity, failing to dig deeper into the cultural and linguistic assets, or cultural capital, of CLD families and Emergent Bilinguals. Bourdieu’s (1984) cultural capital is defined as the collective of socially mediated skills, norms, and behaviors that enhances social mobility and creates academic, economic, and social opportunities. All families possess cultural capital; yet, not always does it encompass technological capital traditionally defined by school systems (Selwyn, 2003). Families often use familiar technologies to stay connected and find resources to support their children’s learning experience. For example, WhatsApp is a very common technology used around the world. A mother taking a picture of homework and sending it to a bilingual tutor using WhatsApp for support is an example of cultural capital that bridges into technological capital. In this example, critical consciousness challenges the assumption held within educational spaces about what type of technology counts, and how CLD families often use it to support their children. This is where the link is lost between the cultural, linguistic, and technological capital.
Given this moment of transformation and resistance, educators must embrace acts of courage in which they find themselves in dissonance with the fossilized practices embedded in the educational system. As educators try to navigate an educational environment in-flux, agency, reflection, and action become non-negotiable. Hence, pedagogical decisions should be guided by the following premises:
Instruction resting on these premises opens the door to antiracist pedagogies (see Dei, 1996; Kendi, 2019) that make visible students who are already marginalized by the system and shifts the focus of technology-enhanced efforts to the authenticity of learner assets, identified needs, and culture-bound funds of knowledge. If we are to adopt antiracist pedagogies in the midst of a pandemic, we must rethink curriculum and technology purposes, deployment, and maximization.
When teaching is enacted to liberate (Freire, 1968), the goal for educators should be to shift the learning paradigm (Barr & Tagg, 1995) so knowledge can be generated at home using multiple entry points. Rather than continuing to rely upon school-centric “push-out” initiatives, educators need to re-envision how to harvest or “pull-in” the biography of the families utilizing whatever technology is available at home (Barko-Alva, Porter, & Herrera, 2020). Table 1 offers examples of instruction that can capitalize on the potential of technology to enable a more inclusive, just, and asset-driven perspective. These examples are derived from the collective works of the authors as researchers and practitioners.
|Table 1 Cultural Capital: Family skills-based approach|
|Subject Area||Technology Use||Product|
|Language Arts||Use your phone to record or take pictures of your community and provide a quick description on how COVID19 has impacted the people who live around you.||In response to the pictures you have taken: Interview family members about their experiences during the pandemic. Write a summary (using all your languages) and share with your teacher or a family member.|
|Ask a family member to write the steps to a favorite family recipe, create a video or home-made eBook,and use the phone to share the recipes with others.||Homemade video/eBook of family recipe to distribute.|
|Utilizing the technology available, computer, tablet, iPad, or phone, and have the student prepare a service announcement based on a reading. Upload and share to the social media of your choice (i.e., Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Text-messaging).||A persuasive, informative, or entertaining video.|
|Science||Using WhatsApp, create a way to monitor and document the weather throughout the week.||A week’s worth of weather monitoring and documentation to share daily with your WhatsApp network (or other social media platforms).|
|Think about a science experiment you would like to conduct that documents what has happened with the environment since the beginning of the pandemic. Pose a question and document your findings.||Share what you learn over social media or share it with a caregiver/family member.|
|Math||Create a word problem using materials you have at home. Record yourself reading the problem (i.e., with a smartphone, iPad, or tablet).||Send problems and challenge your techamigos technology friends) to find the answer.|
|Think about what your family members do at home or work that require them to use math. Ask them to take a picture of themselves at their job. Interview them and ask what type of math they use every day. Create a short infomercial sharing their math story and highlighting their profession/trade.||Send your infomercial out to the world via your caregiver/parent’s favorite social media outlet (i.e., WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok)|
|Social Studies||Find and listen to different podcasts/news stories that highlight how two different countries are addressing the challenges brought by COVID-19. Use any language to gather information.||Create a pictograph or collage of possible solutions
Compare and contrast both approaches. Based on the evidence, which country would you support? This could be done in English or home language.
Using your phone, send a survey to find out which country’s initiatives they would support.
|Specials||Celebrate the arts and get moving!||Create a video teaching someone a new skill in art, dance, or music. Bonus points if it is connected to your culture.|
Without examining our practices, advocating for antiracist pedagogies as well as utilizing technology and its potential to create equitable learning spaces in the classroom, we fall short of providing inclusive instruction. Students and families’ biographies best inform educators in their efforts to demonstrate authentic cariño in teaching and learning (Herrera et al., 2020). Models advocating meaningful change must be situated to the current and future context of teaching and learning, which has always needed to embrace the fight against racism and discrimination. The use of technology and anti-racist pedagogies can be stabilizers during this pandemic and sociopolitical revolution to embrace families’ cultural capital. If schools are driven by prescriptive programming, they remain disconnected from creating meaningful and innovating technological spaces that foster and promote authentic connections with Emergent Bilinguals and their families. Authentic cariño creates possibilities for transforming how technology is used in the classroom to build upon CLD families’ cultural capital while revolutionizing teaching and learning into actions that embrace equity, social justice, and inclusion.
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