A call to action: adult immigrants as heterogeneous learners (too)

Tonight, Ofelia Garcia and Jim Cummins, two of the world’s most well-respected linguists and educators, spoke at the Graduate Center of CUNY where I am doing my PhD. I work with Ofelia and tonight, my graduate students got a chance to tune in with me to watch the discussion, which dealt with multiliteracies and multilingualism in North American public education. Garcia, a Cuban immigrant who started her teaching career as a public school teacher in the 1970s in the United States, has seen and written about the tectonic shifts in American public discourse about education, particularly the practice of bilingual education in its various manifestations. Garcia’s work has inspired a paradigm shift in how language is used in the education of language minority students, especially through her popularization of Cen Williams’ concept of translanguaging, which she articulates as both a theory and a pedagogy that accesses and values students’ diverse linguistic repertoires. Doing so, she reasons, constitutes a political act as well as a strategic commitment for a better and more just education for all learners, including immigrant children.

Garcia spoke of his this conversation has changed since she was a public school teacher, as immigrant students who are “linguistic minority” are now the speakers of Chinese, Urdu, and Romanian, rather than Spanish. “Teacher education has to address this larger heterogeneity,” she affirmed, a point I was heartened to hear. Ethnolinguistic identity is central to learning that is inclusive and to moving in a politically and ethically honest direction. I hope such a comment comes through the voice of a trendsetter signaling a coming sea change, rather than as a drop in the bucket. If I, her epigone (one of hundreds), could add a quieter second call to action, I’d add to this challenge that teacher education must open up its own repertoires to include adult immigrant learners whose languages are diverse and who they themselves are ontologically, culturally, and sociopolitically different than children, even those from their own families. This is a blind spot and an unsung place of heterogeneity that has been conveniently avoided in teacher education for too long.

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