Eight Versions of the Visit to la Barranca: Critical Discourse Analysis of a Study-Abroad Narrative from Mexico

Article excerpt

At first, I wanted to write this journal on the visit to the Barranca, but then I thought more into it. I feel that most people will feel very emotional and touched right after such a visitation. However, I feel that people may naturally but unintentionally fake such an epiphany, meaning that they may fool themselves that they feel this way but then after a while forget about how they felt then. (Surjit, (1) U.S. student in Mexico)

In 2007, eleven diverse undergraduate students from Texas spent a month in Mexico on a study-abroad program sponsored by the School of Education at their university. A central goal of the program was to facilitate pre-service teachers' ability to articulate a critical understanding of the needs of second language (L2) learners in their future public school classrooms. To this end, the students lived with Mexican host families, visited local schools, studied Spanish, took a Second Language Acquisition (SLA) class focused on immigrant language learners, (2) participated in numerous field trips, and wrote about their experiences in a biweekly journal. In the journal entry above, the only male student in the group reports his decision not to write about a field trip that took place in the first week of the program, a visit to a family living in poverty in an area known as La Barranca (the Ravine).

In his journal, Surjit raises the possibility that the strong emotions evoked by the visit could lead to what he calls a "fake epiphany," whose insights will soon be forgotten. Indeed, his seven classmates who submitted (highly emotional) journal entries on the Barranca visit never mentioned it again in later journals. Nevertheless, a close reading of the Barranca narratives makes it clear that no other event during the study-abroad program brought out such strong feelings and claims of new insight in so many people. Given that a central purpose of the program was to help prospective teachers better understand the backgrounds and needs of Mexican-origin children in their future classrooms, (3) this event would seem to be key to the students' developing awareness of sociopolitical issues in immigrant education.

In this article, we use critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992) to examine the eight narrative accounts of the Barranca field trip and to answer the following questions:

1. What perspectives do the students construct on educational and social issues in Mexico and their own relationship to those issues in writing about the Barranca visit?

2. What linguistic resources do the students use to construct their perspectives?

3. To what extent do the Barranca narratives demonstrate students' critical understanding of the potential needs of immigrant students in U.S. public schools?

We conclude by drawing implications for future study-abroad programs that aim to foster critical sociocultural awareness in prospective teachers.

Teacher Development

Given the increasing diversity of students in typical American public school classrooms, it is a high priority in teacher education to prepare prospective teachers to successfully manage linguistic, cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity (Gay, 2003; Nieto, 2002). Key to this endeavor is critical reflection: engaging students in self-reflective writing and discussion that requires attention to their own identities and that pushes them to deeper understandings of the inequities in education (Alfaro & Quezada, 2010; Brown & Kraehe, 2010; Zeichner & Liston, 1987). While it is never clear what new teachers will carry with them when they enter the classroom, the combination of experiences and reflection in teacher education has the potential to allow students to understand their own privileged positions in society and find ways to actively challenge structural inequalities, rather than come away "paralyzed" at their own inability to fix the inequalities they have confronted (McDonald, 2005). …