Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School: Choices, Risks and Dilemmas
Tara Goldstein (2003)
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. xxxii + 221
ISBN 0-8058-4016-8 (paper)
"They bring their language to school--that is their right"
Tara Goldstein is an anti-discriminatory teacher educator and critical ethnographer striving to promote inclusive schooling practices. In her latest book, she engages readers in a fascinating and innovative analysis of how Cantonese-speaking students, peers from other language backgrounds, and teachers in a Toronto secondary school negotiate the complex influences shaping their personal, collective, and academic identities. Her stance, that schools must better meet the needs of linguistically diverse students and legitimize a place for languages other than English, is aptly captured in the title quote from African American educator Carrie Secret (cited in Goldstein, p. 53) regarding the California Ebonics debate.
Goldstein spent four years conducting a critical ethnography of a multilingual Toronto high school, and accompanies research findings based on observations and interviews with commentaries and pedagogical discussions in each chapter. This unique format makes her argument for inclusive education accessible to audiences beyond academic contexts. The fictional play Hong Kong, Canada, which Goldstein includes as an appendix to the book allows readers to explore in creative, alternate ways many of the issues raised during the research. In inviting dialogue around issues of language use and choice in schools, she advocates practical strategies for fostering teaching and learning practices inclusive of students' home languages. For example, Goldstein explicitly encourages readers to examine their assumptions about different languages and accents to ensure that they avoid deliberately or unconsciously perpetuating negative conduct towards various social and linguistic groups.
In Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School, the Northside (a pseudonym) high school community faces competing interests posed by English as the official language of instruction and the "multitude of ways that students and teachers construct its legitimacy." (p. 12) For example, some multilingual teachers at Northside assert that using Cantonese to assist Hong Kongese students in class deprives them of opportunities to practice English, thereby diminishing their chances for academic success. Simultaneously, other multilingual teachers discuss how communicating with students in their home languages at school is pedagogically and ideologically justified and appropriate. Students similarly negotiate complicated attitudes toward language, with some immigrant students appreciating the opportunities afforded by speaking English and others opting to speak the more familiar and comfortable language of the Hong Kongese peer group to which they belong. Students from other language backgrounds often feel ambivalent about multilingualism, at times experiencing intense discomfort when conversations and activities happen which they cannot participate in or comprehend. Through reading the poignant and comprehensive accounts of individual teachers' and students' experiences, an understanding emerges that many conflicting influences and interests interact to shape people's feelings and choices about language; rarely do opinions stem from one source or reflect an isolated belief.[-1-]
The above examples illustrate the complexity of the racial and linguistic issues surrounding the use of English and students' home languages at school. Goldstein draws on the work of interactionist sociolinguists and critical theorists to explore the "relationship between language [choice], identity, and the political economy" (p. 17) as manifested in the Northside community. She uses French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of linguistic and cultural capital to explain why some Hong Kongese students chose to devote their energies to mastering English (the linguistic capital) so they could gain access to school knowledge and educational qualifications (the cultural capital). Concurrently, many other students felt reluctance "investing" in English when using Cantonese allowed them to maintain membership in a group they could more easily identify with, and that was sometimes critical of members who chose to "show off" by using English.
Goldstein's use of the theoretically and pedagogically grounded approach described above makes a powerful contribution to the field of anti-discriminatory education. This perspective refreshingly contrasts with the simple checklists that proliferate in other recent books promoting multicultural and multilingual schooling. While avoiding the pretense of providing a quick and simple resolution to the tensions explored, the critical theories Goldstein employs and the subsequent pedagogical implications remain consistently accessible to readers. Group readings of the ethnographic play Hong Kong, Canada, for example, allow different groups (whether they consist of adolescents in diverse school settings or teacher candidates preparing to enter the educational profession) to engage in issues of linguistic and cultural conflict from standpoints as actors responding to real-life predicaments.
Goldstein's carefully constructed argument for linguistic diversity becomes all the more compelling as she parallels her own past responses to issues of linguistic choice and conflict with participants' responses in the Northside context. For example, Goldstein describes how she once felt obligated to uphold the rigid English-only policy of a language program in which she was employed. In sharing relevant details of her own development as an anti-discriminatory educator, Goldstein reminds readers that people approach inclusive schooling and social practices from a variety of starting points. In this way, Goldstein allows the multiple viewpoints embedded in issues of linguistic choice and conflict to emerge. She constructs Northside's story alongside research participants rather than speaking as an authority on their behalf. In doing so, she respects the positions from which students and teachers approach language use while continuing to advocate for immigrant students' rights to have their home languages included at school.
As Goldstein's work suggests, language use and choice are complicated issues, involving a certain amount of discomfort as a prerequisite for finding equitable alternatives to racist and exclusionary schooling practices. Despite the challenges inherent in anti-discriminatory initiatives, Teaching and Learning in Multilingual Schools leaves advocates of inclusive pedagogy invigorated with compelling evidence that education for social justice is not only worthwhile but attainable.
Clea A. Schmidt
University of Toronto
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