Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Engaging Critical Pedagogy: Spanish for Native Speakers

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Engaging Critical Pedagogy: Spanish for Native Speakers

Article excerpt


This article addresses Spanish for native speakers (SNS) instruction from the perspective of critical pedagogy, including the critical examination of dominant educational paradigms as well as the proposal of alternative models. Emphasizing the inherently political nature of education and the role of language in the production of knowledge, culture, and identities, the author analyzes current models of SNS and argues that appropriateness-based models designed to promote expansion of students' linguistic repertoires may reinforce dominant sociolinguistic hierarchies and deny student agency. An emerging critical approach is considered, and a proposal that emphasizes the political-as well as the formal and social-aspects of language, and the promotion of student agency is presented. Specific suggestions for the implementation of the proposed approach are provided.


Thanks in part to the changing demographics in the general U.S. population, as well as within Spanish language classes, the past few decades have been a period of increased interest in the educational needs of Spanish-speaking students. Of course, the growing attention now being paid to this segment of the school population is also a result of the Chicano and Latino rights movements which gained strength and recognition in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the (relative) increase in representation of Latino scholars and educators within academia. Consequently, great strides have been made in the description of the linguistic abilities and needs of students who enroll in Spanish classes with some knowledge of Spanish (e.g., Carreira, 2003; Valdés, 1997), as well as in the development of pedagogical materials designed to address these abilities and needs (e.g., Marqués, 2000; Roca, 1999; Samaniego, Rojas, & Alarcon, 2000).

Despite these advances, as well as the numerous calls for a broader conceptualization of the needs of heritage language speakers (e.g., Aparicio, 1997; Carreira, 2000; Faltis, 1990; Martinez, 2003; Villa, 1996, 2003), many Spanish for native speakers (SNS) programs focus primarily on the linguistic development of students, and in particular, on the acquisition of what has been called "standard" Spanish.1 Such a focus reflects a depoliticized conceptualization of both education and language-a conceptualization challenged by researchers and pedagogues adopting a critical approach to education (e.g., Bartolomé & Macedo, 1999; Giroux, 1991, 2000; Walsh, 1991). Critical pedagogues have called for researchers and instructors to recognize the inherently political nature of education and to investigate how certain educational practices socialize students to comply with and uphold existing class and social divisions. Whereas there is a well-established critical research tradition examining the teaching of "standard" English, as well as a growing body of research on critical approaches to second and foreign languages, critical approaches to heritage language instruction have been less common. Thus, there is still a pressing need to critically examine existing heritage language curricula-something the present article attempts to address.

In addition to exploring the sociopolitical implications of dominant educational paradigms, critical pedagogues have proposed alternative program objectives, curricular foci, and pedagogical practices. They largely reject assimilation as an educational objective, as well as the construction of students as passive recipients of knowledge, arguing instead that educators should encourage student agency and prepare students to play an active role in the "shaping and reshaping of [their] social world" (Fairclough, 2001, p. 197), including the creation of a more democratic society. In order to develop more just educational programs, educators must pay attention to the specific social and political contexts in which students live and study (Canagarajah, 1999; Pennycook, 2001), and they must strive to bring the life experiences of marginalized students into the center of the classroom (Giroux, 1991). …

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