Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Deciphering Babel: Dis/locations of the Professional Self and the Second Language Curriculum

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Deciphering Babel: Dis/locations of the Professional Self and the Second Language Curriculum

Article excerpt

We are all collateral damage of someone's beautiful ideology, all of us inanimate in the face of the onslaught.

(Benjamin Alire Saenz, "Confessions: My Father, Hummingbirds, and Franz Fanon")

The understanding of the social is always determined by the understanding of individuals.

(Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo, Literacy: Reading the World and the Word)

You don't know a thing about their lives / They live where you wouldn't dare to drive / You shake as you think of how they sleep / But you write as if you all lie side by side / Reader, meet Author / With the hope of hearing sense / But you may be feeling let down / By the words of defense / He says "No-one ever sees me when I cry" ("Reader, Meet Author," S. Morrissey)


Like many academic braceros before me, I was welcomed as a graduate student to the United States almost fifteen years ago. At the time I was interested in studying Chicano literature, a cultural phenomenon about which, as a Brazilian, I knew very little. My real "American" education on Hispanic otherness began, nonetheless, not at the university as I had previously envisioned, but at the Atlanta International Airport where, immediately upon my arrival, I was interrogated as to the true purposes of my presence in the country. A customs officer, examining mis papeles/meus papeis--a word that since then has come to signify so much to me--surprised, and quite suspiciously, asked, "Are you coming to the U.S. to study Spanish?" I knew that my answer had to be a confident and economical "yes," meant to leave underdeveloped any kind of complex response and self-revelation. I distinctly remember wondering why my visa and the bureaucratic via crucis I had undergone months prior to my arrival did not suffice. I was still being called upon to endorse what my papers already told about me, the truth about the legality of my existence, thereafter always to be caught in a "neither here nor there" moment.

Re-Humanizing Language Educators and Language Education

In what follows I am interested in reflecting upon how language teachers, particularly teachers of Spanish, are institutionally dispossessed of their rights to practice and perform as educators outside normative parameters characterizing the dichotomous institutional "life" of the Spanish curriculum (i.e., its distinctive literature vs. language paradigm, the debates surrounding second languages as a discrete skill vs. their quality as a national language, etc.) While the following sections of this essay convey the experiences and reactions between another educator and me working at different Liberal Arts institutions, the insights and conclusions to be drawn from our exchanges are not limited to a specific locality.

The qualitative data presented in this paper highlights the difficult challenges that the field of Second Language Curriculum and Instruction faces amidst postmodern skepticism concerning how knowledge is conceptualized. Some of these challenges relate directly to questions such as, How to include and recognize subaltern populations in the construction of knowledge within institutionalized education (Freire 1987)? How to identify those agents involved in the decisions about what counts as knowledge in the curriculum, its purpose and "worth" within capitalism's structure (Apple 1990; Giroux 2001; McLaren 2005)? What constitutes knowledge that is in service of power within education (Pinar, 1995)? Certainly, throughout the vignettes that follow, it will become clear to reader that the filed of Second Language Instruction--whether English as a Second Language of Foreign Languages--has been unable to move beyond a "stuck" place within multiculturalism's discussions, which confirms the aforementioned questions as part of a problematic reality. The role of language in a pluralistic society continues to be dichotomized and displaced to a "foreign" reality in which English is reaffirmed as the sole language of the nation's identity. …

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