Thursday, August 27, 2009

Language Policy for the Oppressed

“The more you can increase fear of drugs and crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all the people.”

~Noam Chomsky

During this section we studied the political implications of Language Policy in the United States. As you may have guessed, I was not pleased.

This section was really difficult to sit through. Wishing to remain respectful to the class, I did not get out of my chair and yell out in frustration listening to the litany of injustices that have taken place during our country’s history. These injustices seemed to be based on fear, motivated by profit or simply to maintain the unbalanced control of power in this culture. This section helped clarify and solidify my understandings of the political aspects of language. Language policy is one tool used by the powerful to control, manipulate and institutionalize racism within our culture.

As painful as it was to listen to, I was pleased that we took time in class to document the consistent efforts that have taken place in regards to our language policy during our short and fearful history of the United States. When our corporations needed access to inexpensive labor (with non-existent labor rights provided), we allowed Chinese people to build our railroads. When these laborers asked for fair pay or wanted to extend their stay after the completion of the railroad, we developed laws to push them out. German was the protected language of this land because the people who stole this land descended from central Europe. But when Germany was viewed as our enemy, any associations with that culture, or its language, were viewed as unpatriotic and no longer enjoyed its lofty status. As our fear percolated into a crescendo of mistrust for anything foreign during the 1950's we created the Immigration and Nationality Act that limits access to our country simply based on associations with any country that was outside the Western Hemisphere. Here in California, if the price of food reflected its fair and ethical price, taking into account fair wages for workers who enjoy the minimal standards of safety recognized throughout the world (not to mention access to proper health care), most people could not afford it. Instead, we rely on access to inexpensive labor to maximize profits for the elite few. Our powerful corporations are working hard to carefully manufacture access to cheap labor while at the same time, continue to limit access to any social services for the people who work these farms.

One exception to that rule is access to education. Here in California we provide access to education for all people living here, regardless of legal status. However, we have constructed a language policy that severely limits the affects of any education offered. This policy ignores the vast array of data and the experiences of other countries that illustrate that providing bilingual education is by far the most effective way to insure that academic achievement is maximized, that respect and understanding for the culture of origin lay intact and, perhaps most importantly, the student's relationship with school, education and self worth is left to flourish.

As teachers who work in the public sector it is imperative that we understand how racism is in the culture has been institutionalized. Furthermore, it is our responsibility is to utilize this understanding as we provide equitable education system to a diverse group of students.

1 comment:

  1. Great points, all. I share your concern on these issues. At the same time, I wonder what a solution to this would have been? From a bureaucratic point of view, would it be better to provide bilingual education across the board? How would we insure quality training of all teachers or recruit teachers with the skills to do this? And what language would be the best? How do we provide one language without alienating another? Are there models in other nations (experiencing diversity) of providing multilingual approaches with success? I have all of these questions (and more!)