Myths and Realities: Best Practices for Language Minority Students
Katharine Davies Samway and Denise McKeon (1999)
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
Pp. xiii + 127
ISBN: 0-325-00057-3 (paper)
Language and Politics in the United States and Canada: Myths and Realities
Thomas Ricento and Barbara Burnaby (Eds.) (1998)
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. xv + 357
ISBN: 0-8058-2839-7 (paper)
US $39.95 (also available in cloth, US $79.95)
Every era, every culture, and every discipline has its own cherished myths. These are the ideas and ideals that guide our thoughts and actions without thought or reference to cold hard facts. The fields of applied linguistics, TESL, and bilingual education have not been immune to the siren call of mythology, as clearly illustrated in Katharine Davies Samway and Denise McKeon's Myths and Realities: Best Practices for Language Minority Students and Thomas Ricento and Barbara Burnaby's Language and Politics in the United States and Canada: Myths and Realities. Both of these books, while taking rather different approaches, attempt to address and debunk many of the "myths" that have (mis)informed educational policy and practice in Canada and the United States over the past decades. They do this by referring readers back to primary sources (Samway and McKeon), or by presenting original research that compares and contrasts the manner in which language issues have been addressed in the two neighbouring countries (Ricento and Burnaby). Both books are also timely, given the increasing impact of limited-English proficiency (LEP) students in both Canada and the United States, and the on-going debate(s) in both countries concerning access to bilingual education and ESL or language training. The historical reasons for traditionally different perspectives towards official bilingualism and multiculturalism in Canada and the United States are also clarified and discussed.
Katharine Davies Samway and Denise McKeon's Myths and Realities: Best Practices for Language Minority Students is directed primarily at mainstream educators in the US, although it would also be a useful handbook in TESL training. It offers an easy-to-read summary-style format in which 22 different "myths of bilingual or second language education" are organized under nine main headings. Each myth is first identified and then de-bunked with reference to relevant research findings. The nine main headings include:
By providing clear explanations of both the myth and the research data, Samway and McKeon offer front-line personnel and others at critical levels of policy making a useful tool to cut through the rhetoric of the "English Only/English First" advocates and address the real needs of a diverse population.
By contrast, Thomas Ricento and Barbara Burnaby's Language and Politics in the United States and Canada: Myths and Realities offers an eclectic assortment of articles by theorists from the fields of demography, education, history, law, linguistics, political science, and sociology, to "demonstrate that the study of language policy is a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary enterprise" (p. 331). Their goal is to "stimulate discussion while providing concrete data, information, and analysis to aid policy developers in their decision-making processes" (p. 331). The book is divided into five parts: Overviews; Forgotten Tongues: Indigenous Languages in North America; Legal Implications of Official Language Policies; Educational Perspectives; and Focus on Context.
The first part includes articles discussing and comparing language policies and politics in Canada and the United States, such as "The Politics of Language in Canada and the United States: Explaining the Differences"(Ronald Schmidt), "Demographic Considerations in Canadian Language Policy" (Roderic Beaujot), and "National Language Policy in the United States" (Thomas Ricento). Part 2 focuses on the status of indigenous languages in both countries: "Life on the Edge: Canada's Aboriginal Languages under Official Bilingualism" (Mark Fettes) and "Endangered Native American Languages: What Is to Be Done, and Why?" (James Crawford). Legal implications of official language policies is the topic of part 3, with articles by Susan Miner ("Legal Implications of the Official English Declaration") and Joseph Eliot Magnet ("Language Rights Theory in Canadian Perspective"). Part 4 offers two case studies in educational perspectives: Terrence Wiley's "The Imposition of WWI Era English-Only Policies and the Fate of German in North America," and Barbara Burnaby's "ESL Policy in Canada and the United States: Basis for Comparison." Finally, the issue of the influence of sociocultural milieu and context ties together the articles in part 5. They include: "French-Language Services in Ontario: A Policy of 'Overly Prudent Gradualism'?" (Don Cartwright), "Quebec, Canada and the United States: Social Reality and Language Rights" (Calvin Veltman), and "Partitioning by Language: Whose Rights are Threatened?" (Thomas Ricento).
With individual contributions that will be of interest to specific readers, the final chapter is recommended reading for anyone working in language policy and education, as it provides a clear summary and clarification of the key themes from the research which have been found to influence national and international perspectives on language(s) in the two countries. These themes include:
Thus, in this final chapter, as in the Samway and McKeon book, Ricento and Burnaby offer a useful tool to policy makers to cut through the rhetoric of the "English Only/English First" advocates, and the misconceptions on both sides of the border about the degree of success of bilingualism and multiculturalism in Canada, as they begin to develop theory-based policy, and to address the real needs of increasing diverse populations.
In conclusion, with the format of their book, Samway and McKeon's Myths and Realities: Best Practices for Language Minority Students is definitely the most accessible of the two books, and as such would appeal to a broad readership. Ricento and Burnaby's Language and Politics in the United States and Canada: Myths and Realities, a more scholarly tome, is clearly a useful reference for graduate students, scholars, and policy makers.
The Second Language Learning Group, Victoria, BC, Canada
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation..