By Krishauna Hines-Gaither, Ph.D.
2020 brought unprecedented exposure to two pandemics: COVID-19 and systemic racism. As a result, language educators are thoughtfully reflecting on how the language classroom can also serve as a space for positive social change. Many traditional teacher education programs failed to incorporate social justice and intersecting identities of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and more. As candidates, we received limited instruction on the historical legacies of oppression that are intertwined with the languages that we teach. Rarely did we discuss how the history of languages is inextricably tied to domination, colonization, genocide, and disenfranchisement. Bettina Love (2019) wrote, “I hope by now we all know that Columbus did not discover America, and Indigenous people were killed, tortured, and spirit-murdered for their land” (p. 133). The legacies of these historical omissions are far-reaching.
Traditional World Language Programs
In our language programs, to what extent did we read authors of African or indigenous descent? How often did we read the work of women and other minoritized groups that represent our target languages? How did the volume of marginalized voices to which we were exposed compare to those of dominant groups? How many language educators of color have you had as teachers? These omissions continue to plague our discipline today. As a profession, while we acknowledge how far we have come, we must also acknowledge how far we have to go. We must shift the world language profession from traditional approaches of homogeneity to progressive approaches of social justice and antiracism.
Towards Social Justice
Recently, we have seen more scholarly attention to social justice in world languages. Key examples include the recent work of Glynn, Wesely, and Wassell (2020), Words and Actions: Teaching languages through the lens of social justice, as well as articles such as Randolph & Johnson’s (2017) essay titled Social justice in the language classroom: A call to action. Randolph and Johnson (2017) affirmed, “In language education, we need more diverse voices and approaches…to amplif[y] the voices of the marginalized” (p. 118). In addition to social justice pedagogy, there is much to be learned from the field of cultural studies and critical theory. As we seek to engage different perspectives, we have an opportunity to chart a dynamic path forward. We can chart this new camino in two ways: 1) diverse theoretical frameworks and 2) radical collaborations.
Diverse Theoretical Frameworks
Reframing the way that we approach languages will entail seeking insights from other disciplines that are outside of world languages. I encourage language educators to pursue the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings. In her framing of Culturally Responsive Teaching, she calls for intentionality in understanding the communities of the students that we serve. She admonishes us to see their experiences as assets, and not as deficits. Additionally, I offer critical race theory and feminist theory as substantive frameworks. In the case of the former, critical race theory delves deeply into the history of the United States, and how our laws have been weaponized to advantage some and to disadvantage others. Feminist theory brings women’s voices, voces silenciadas, from the margins to the center. With these theoretical models, educators have additional tools in their toolkits. These tools will expose students to the content that is largely absent from their classrooms. This incorporation sends the undeniable message to our students that their lives matter, too.
Next, I call for a renewed framing of collaboration, one of radical collaboration. The purpose of this collaboration is not just to share lesson plans or co-construct a unit of study with another teacher on your team. This partnership disrupts the status quo and rejects the notion of business as usual. Radical collaboration necessitates the admission that education is rooted in white supremacy and other forms of oppression. These historical roots also have enduring legacies today. Radical collaboration aims to decolonize education by actively seeking antiracist approaches to teaching and learning. In so doing, educators do not submit to color-blind or deficit-based approaches.
As language educators, we have been siloed for far too long. Radical collaborations must extend beyond our disciplinary borders. Now is the time to join forces with educators across disciplines, fields, and sectors as well as families and communities. Establishing these new partnerships will take more time and effort on the front end, but the added value for the learning community cannot be overstated.
Radical collaborators are relentless. They will not stop until all learners have opportunities for success. Even when it appears that their work is producing no fruit, they do not quit, they do not give up on students, they do not throw in the proverbial towel. They use that towel to wipe themselves off and get back up again. As we chart this new cartography together, I cannot wait to meet you on the other side.
Watch Dr. Hines-Gaither’s Webinar here: https://vistahigherlearning.com/vhl-pd-webinars?wchannelid=5p1112jhjw&wmediaid=adrubjgp2f
Glynn, C., Wesely, P., Wassell, B. (2020). Words and actions: Teaching languages through the lens of social justice. Alexandria: The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Love, B. (2019). We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Boston: Beacon Press.
Randolph, L.J., & Johnson, S.M. (2017). Social justice in the language classroom: A call to
action. Dimension, 9-31.