Ms. Balderson is an interpreter and instructional assistant for the deaf and hard of hearing for the Carson City School District. Mr. Roces coorditanted cultural and educational exchange programs for UNR's International Center working with USAID and US State Department programs. There was an audience of ten teachers and administrators through out Northern Nevada and California and there was a lively exchange and discussion between the audience and the presenters.
Ms. Balderson started by defining linguicism. Robert Phillipson called this “practical” prejudice linguicism, which is the assembly of "ideologies, structures and practices which are used to legitimate, effectuate and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources (both material and immaterial) between groups which are defined on the basis of language" (as cited in Daly, 1995, para. 4). Ms. Balderson covered the role of linguistic diversity in the formation of student identity , and the development of multicultural competency. She discussed effective and appropriate strategies for educating and combatting linguicism in the classroom.
The Russians recognized that the unique ‘character’ or ‘mentality’ of each ‘people’ was created by their mother tongue, as well as on the ‘one nation, one language’ principle. To eradicate the “mother tongue’ was also a way to eradicate the individual cultural identity. In 2008, over 15 years after the fall of the Soviet hegemony, Mr. Roces was working with a team of college educators from Kazakhstan, highly educated and intelligent academics, leaders of their newly independent country, were still very Russofied in their education - even with the fall of the Soviets, their educational system still mirrors a Russian model. One educator was quoted as saying that they owed a lot to the Russians for bringing education and civilization to their country. This is a people that was part of the eastern anchor of the Persian Empire and the Silk Trade.
Similar to the east-west phenomena illustrated in the Journal of Ethnic Migration Studies article, in course of Mr. Roces' work with visitors from Central Asia, he also has noticed the same phenomena on a north-south axis. Ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks migrate north to oil and gas rich Kazakhstan to work in the oil fields and gas lines, and ethnic Kazakhs migrate north across the Russian border to work in the construction trades (sound familiar?). Economics drive this migratory pattern and learning Russian is considered needed and in fact recognized as the'langua franca' of business by the southern neighbors, but Russians do not feel compelled to learn the language of their southern neighbors.
The American experience closely follows this model with the suppression of the indigenous tribes and culture. In Native American history, there is a period of termination and forced assimilation from 1830 to 1964 in which the Native Americans were prohibited to speak their own language. Their young was forcibly gathered and removed from their traditional homes, and forced into “American Schools” and was taught English and forbidden to speak their native tongue. Then after 18 years they were returned to their homes, were they could not communicate with the elders and other adults in the community. Our children also grow up being taught an egalitarian belief system of social and economic equality under a democratic hegemony, yet it is not Navajo, Cherokee or Paiute that is being taught in our schools. In fact many of those languages have fallen to obsolescence. Even in public school the foreign languages taught are “European Languages” and not native to this region or continent. With the current xenophobia over immigration from Mexico, Spanish has fallen from favor because it is no longer associated with Europe and is now associated with illegal immigration from Central and Latin America. There is now a growing public sentiment that we should not be teaching Spanish in our schools even though we have taught in for decades. What caused the shift in public opinion towards Spanish in public schools? Clearly the social evaluation of Spanish in America has shifted and the language and those who use the language are now stigmatized reflecting the confrontation and power relation between the speech communities of Spanish speakers and English speakers.
The linguistic ideology of ‘one nation; one language’ gives rise to three key issues of linguistic ecology: the restriction of societal bilingualism to minority groups; the risk of minority language endangerment or obsolescence; and the close ties between the prestige or stigma of the language and resulting social power. Employers might assume, for example, that an employee who speaks American English with a midwestern or northern accent is more intelligent (and thus more competent) than an employee who uses Appalachian English. Teachers might assume that a student who uses so-called standard English is more respectful of authority and more intelligent than a student who uses Ebonics. Landlords might assume that a person whose first language is English will take better care of a rental property than a tenant who speaks English with a Spanish accent.
Dovidio and Gaertner poses three psychological supports for such behavior. As humans, we are predisposed to cognitive categorization. By grouping people into different categories, it allows us to see the differences that exist between 'others' compared to the groups we've put ourselves in. By recognizing these differences, we are then motivated to control our environment around us when we interact with outgroups. Americans, as children, are brought up being taught to have an egalitarian belief system. We want justice and equality for all minorities. We are also taught about the racial traditions that symbolize American history. These two sets of incompatible values conflict with one another, resulting in inconsistent behavior towards members of outgroups. We feel the internal negative affect based on these two sets of values and it comes out in our behaviors and attitudes on other people. As elluded to before, people act on their ideas, and, as a result, prejudice becomes active discrimination.
If we really want to fight linguicism, according to Zuidema, all schools must heed the call to arms, and English language arts classrooms are among the most appropriate venues for taking action against linguicism. Because the classroom “is a major player in shaping language attitudes, and the classroom that is particularly crucial for the formation of ideas about language is that of the K–12 level” (Smitherman, 2000, p. 396), English language arts teachers should create opportunities to shape informed, positive student attitudes about language diversity for all students.
Ms. Balderson pointed out that some literacy educators have, appropriately, taken up the challenge of teaching against linguistic prejudice. As Delpit (1998) argued, it is “possible and desirable to make the actual study of language diversity a part of the curriculum for all students” (p. 19). The Standards for the English Language Arts (International Reading Association & National Council of Teachers of English, 1996) stated that students should “develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.”
Ms. Balderson spoke about dispelling some of the myths about language which can lead to a change of attitude in the student toward others and the self. She discussed the 4 myths associated with linguicism. Myth 1: English must obey the rules of grammar (Zuidema 2005). Ms. Balderson discussed the difference between 'bad grammar' and 'bad communication.' She points out that grammar is the organic patterns of a language, or descriptions of these patterns. Recognising this, it is correct to state that English must obey grammatical rules. However, bad grammer does nor necessarily equate to bad or broken communication. Many nonlinguists define grammar as the rules of use (which Ms. Balderson refered to as usage). Most people believe that observing the rules of usage is the same as knowing the grammar of a language. These prescriptive rules of usage assume great importance, so that many English speakers and writers are familiar with admonitions from their 3rd Grade teachers such as “Don’t say ‘ain’t,’” and “Ask ‘may I?’—I know that you can,” and “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.”
However, Ms. Balderson added, that it is not enough to dispel widely held myths about language variation; we also need to expose how myths and misconceptions are perpetuated so that students can participate in efforts to resist, subvert, and combat linguicism (Zuidema 2005). The first step is raising the awareness and educating those who hold the power in the classroom. The ubiquitous problem of linguistic prejudice deserves significant attention in all schools. We ought to incorporate language study at all levels in freestanding units or in partnership with literature, grammar, speech, and composition studies.While language study is not likely to eradicate language-based discrimination, it may serve to diminish our students’ and our own willingness to use language “as both a channel and an excuse for expressing some of our deepest prejudices” (Daniels, 1983, p. 5).
1. Myth education: Rationale and strategies for teaching against linguistic prejudice; Leah A. Zuidema; © 2005 INTERNATIONAL READING ASSOCIATION (pp. 666–675) doi:10.1598/JAAL.48.8.4
4. Gaertner, S.L., and J.F. Dovidio. 1986. The aversive form of racism. In: J.F. Dovidio and S.L. Gaertner (Eds.), Prejudice, Discrimination and Racism: Theory and Research. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.