The Misteaching of Academic Discourses: The Politics of Language in the Classroom

By Lilia I. Bartolome | Go to book overview

1
Understanding Academic Discourses

The education of low-status linguistic-minority students in the United States can be generally characterized as a form of miseducation that continues to produce an unacceptably high rate of failure.1 The miseducation of linguistic-minority students is particularly noticeable among Latinos in general and Mexican Americans in particular.2 Although the majority of all students begin their schooling with more or less the same hopes, aspirations, and dreams, a high percentage of linguistic-minority students who enter high school never graduate, compared to 17 percent of Anglo students. Approximately 45 percent of Mexican American students drop out of school, and in some communities, the dropout rate is even higher. Because of the schools' failure to educate the largest Latino subgroup--Mexican Americans--and because of this subgroup's historical, pervasive, and disproportionate academic underachievement, it is particularly urgent to better understand the multiple variables that influence the poor academic performance of these students.3 In addition to the intolerably high rate of academic failure, the projected increases for the Mexican American population dramatically illustrate the need for immediate academic intervention for these students as early as elementary school.4 Given the complexity of this problem, the high dropout rate and the academic failure of Mexican Americans have directly and indirectly generated numerous research studies examining the underachievement phenomenon from a variety of perspectives.

From a linguistic perspective, which is the focus of this book, the academic failure of Mexican American students has historically been attributed to their lack of English-language proficiency.5 However, recent research shows that proficiency in English, in and of itself is not sufficient for academic success. Although common perception suggests that the English proficiency of most Mexican American students is limited, a significant number of these students are bilingual in English and Spanish.6 Nevertheless, many English-proficient bilingual Mexican American stu-

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