Monday, November 2, 2015
"Tongue Tied" Chapters - Review
In the chapter, "Aria", Richard Rodriguez offers a personal narrative of his acquisition of the English language. Rodriguez explains how learning English effected his public confidence, his family, and his own private and public identity. Almost in contrast to Rodriguez's piece, Virginia Collier's "Teaching Multilingual Children", offers seven critical measures that ESL teachers must take in order to best teach students who are learning English.
Some of Rodriguez's account resonated with my own upbringing. The author eloquently describes how his family interactions changed when he and his siblings became more proficient in their English ability. I have seen this with my own family; my father, whose English is limited, is a much different person at events when speaking in Portuguese is the norm, than when we are in an English-speaking environment.
What I found most interesting about Rodriguez's account was his final remarks on bilingual educators. I am really looking forward to better understanding this passage in class, but it appears as though Rodriguez is critical of bilingual educators who propose that children lose a degree of individuality by becoming assimilated into public society. Rodriguez suggests that while these children may lose a bit of private individuality by becoming better assimilated into public society, learning English allows them to achieve public individuality. Perhaps the most depressing reality of Rodriguez's account is that his family interactions were changed as a result of his improvement in English; dinner conversations were muted and his parents became less involved in their children's day to day experiences.
As I read this, I could not help to think about my own students who are English language learners. I have some students who have really committed to learning the language; they fearlessly insist on speaking English in class and with their friends. More often than not, these students learn English quickly, and they are essentially fluent by the end of a year. Still, I have some students who have not been successful in learning English even though they have been in the country for two to three years; I attribute this to the fact that they primarily speak Spanish in with their friends in school and with their families at home. I do not teach in a bilingual school, and I always wonder why all of my students do not commit to learning English as strongly as some others. I always argue that it is too easy for many of my students to not have to speak English; learning a new language at age fourteen is hard, intimidating, and not necessarily that important in the near future when all of your friends and family choose to speak Spanish. After reading these two pieces, I wonder if this push back is too simplistic though. Do my students consider their private and public identities? How has learning English effected their relationships with their friends and families?
While I was reading these pieces, I thought about the Delpit reading we discussed earlier this year. Delpit argues that it is our duty to teach our students about the dominant culture that we live in, and more importantly, about how to navigate in that dominant culture. Although Delpit was primarily speaking in regards to race and social class, I find her remarks to be interesting when thinking about students that are learning a dominant language. Is it our duty to say "we must bring both languages/cultures to the classroom" or are we as educators expected to only teach the dominant culture? I have been reprimanded by my principal because I am not allowed to speak Spanish or Portuguese with my ESL students. She has informed me that because we are not bilingual school, I cannot assist my students in their native language, even if it will help them to better understand the material. I always thought this was harsh, but after considering Delpit, maybe my principal has an ethical point?