"Nadie Me Dijo (Nobody Told Me)": Language Policy Negotiation and Implications for Teacher Education

By Varghese, Manka M.; Stritikus, Tom | Journal of Teacher Education, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

"Nadie Me Dijo (Nobody Told Me)": Language Policy Negotiation and Implications for Teacher Education


Varghese, Manka M., Stritikus, Tom, Journal of Teacher Education


INTRODUCTION: TEACHERS AND LANGUAGE POLICY IN THE UNITED STATES

I am a bilingual teacher because I believe in bilingual education. I believe everybody has the right to speak their own language, and I believe that if America is a free country, then nobody should deny you the right to get an education in your first language. These children are going to be our future leaders in a few years. What kind of children do you want to make? (Angelica, second-grade bilingual teacher, Open Valley Elementary, California) Because I'm here, sometimes I feel guilty, and I know that being bilingual's great, but sometimes I wonder. I'm teaching in Spanish, basically the whole day, and the irony is--yes--I want them to be bilingual-yes--I believe that they should keep their Spanish but, I believe that they should learn English and then I get a little worried, sometimes. (Maria, kindergarten bilingual teacher, Miller Elementary, Pennsylvania)

Language education for immigrant students is not, and never has been, a neutral process internationally and in the United States. The education of linguistically diverse students is situated in larger issues concerning immigration, distribution of wealth and power, and the empowerment of students (Cummins, 1996, 2000; Heller, 1994; Suarez-Orozco, 2001). Recently, the sociopolitical context of language education in the United States has become more charged. On January 8, 2002, Title VII, also known as the Bilingual Education Act, was eliminated as part of a larger school reform measure known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) and replaced by the English Language Acquisition Act. The long-standing tension between multiculturalist and multilingualist bilingual policies has swung once again toward policies favoring assimilationists and monolingualist versions of language policies (Tatalovich, 1995; Wiese & Garcia, 1998; Wiley, 2002).

The purpose of this article is to use findings from two studies of bilingual teachers in Pennsylvania and California to understand what factors influence how teachers respond to language policy in their respective settings and make recommendations for teacher preparation programs in terms of inclusion of issues around language policy. As the two above quotes from teachers in these two studies indicate, these factors include, among others, an interaction of their personal beliefs and the policy environments in which the teachers find themselves.

Language policy has been defined as a course of action relating to issues of language (Corson, 1995) or as Kaplan and Baldauf (1997) have described, "a body of ideas, laws, regulations, rules, and practices intended to achieve the planned language change in the society, group, or system" (p. xi). Although there has been an absence of an official federal language policy in the United States, both diachronically and synchronically (across states), there have been overt and covert policies that have influenced the educational landscape of the country. The history of how language policies have evolved and played out in the United States has been the work of many scholars, including recently Crawford (1999), Macias (1999), and Wiley (2002). These scholars have demonstrated how the attitudes and environment toward linguistic rights have mostly moved in a parallel fashion to other immigration and minority citizen restrictions. In addition, as Wiley wrote, "in the United States, the salience of language rights is largely derived from their association with other constitutional protections dealing with race, religion, and national origin" (p. 40) because these rights are protected by the Civil Rights Act.

Several researchers have looked at how these policies influence students and language minority communities in general (Crawford, 1999; Stritikus & Garcia, 2003; Wiley, 2002). Despite this growing knowledge base, there is also a need to understand how these language policies influence teachers as well as how teachers simultaneously respond to and influence the local enactment of such policies.

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