Academic journal article Human Organization

Bilingual Education for Global Citizenship: Creating an Integrated Language/Culture Curriculum for Mandarin/English Students

Academic journal article Human Organization

Bilingual Education for Global Citizenship: Creating an Integrated Language/Culture Curriculum for Mandarin/English Students

Article excerpt

In an increasingly interconnected world, the monolingual American norm is no longer an acceptable option for American students. Whether viewed from the necessity for intercultural communication in our progressively multicultural societies, from the commitment to fostering critical understanding of cultural differences, or from the standpoint of future employment opportunities, the significant advantages imparted through bilingual and bicultural education should be available to all students. Sociocultural anthropologists, who commonly study and employ other languages in their research and who have developed wide expertise in language and culture issues, are uniquely positioned to provide invaluable support for this important initiative (Thompson 2003). Too few of us, however, are currently engaged in this type of endeavor. Admittedly, the successful incorporation of anthropological insights into public education programs is neither easy nor straightforward. The necessity of crossing disciplinary borders generates ongoing intellectual and scholarly challenges. Multiple gatekeepers with diverse vested interests within education systems create barriers to research access and to programmatic input. Despite these difficulties, it is vital that we persevere and involve ourselves as anthropologists in the construction of new models for American education for today's students. The K-8 Mandarin/English bilingual project that I have been involved with for the past eight years exemplifies the potential and challenges of this form of anthropological engagement.

The type of bilingual and bicultural education advocated here differs from the most common forms of United States bilingual education, where native languages are used to instruct neophyte English speakers as a method of easing them into the regular English curriculum. Within Educational Anthropology, the focus on language minority students, emerging from a programmatic agenda that emphasizes social justice issues ( Anderson-Levitt 2007), has encouraged research in bilingual programs for recent immigrants or Native Americans seeking to retain/restore heritage languages (cf. Cahnmann 2005; Hermes 2005). Certainly, students in these programs face serious educational challenges, and improving their educational outcomes is an important endeavor. Nevertheless, anthropologists concerned with social justice and social equity cannot neglect the crucial importance of challenging an educational system for majority students that remains Eurocentric in focus and fails to impart understanding of and appreciation for diverse culture perspectives (Thompson 2003).

This is not a new issue. The multicultural pedagogy of the 1980s and 1990s was designed to heighten awareness of diverse (often minority) cultural practices and beliefs. Unfortunately, the curricula that emerged employed a static view of cultural traditions, one that came to be labeled as the "holidays and heroes" approach (Nieto 1995). Critiqued by both anthropologists (Wax 1993) and educationalists (Banks 2001), multicultural education gradually moved away from primarily validating particular ethnic cultures to focusing on teaching strategies that improved learning outcomes for diverse students. While this again is a laudable endeavor, it unfortunately fails to address the continued necessity of teaching respect and critical understanding of cultural difference to majority students in United States schools. Bilingual and bicultural education is one way to achieve this. Unlike the more stereotypical views of culture found in the multicultural approach, the alternative cultural perspectives acquired through learning a second language create a more nuanced and dynamic view of cultural difference (Hermes 2005; Thompson 2003). Anthropologists should be in the vanguard in helping to develop bilingual education programs that teach all students to understand/negotiate/appreciate linguistic and cultural diversity, thus laying the foundation for a more equitable and socially tolerant society and preparing our next generations for the challenges of global citizenship. …

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