Reflections on Chapter 5 from De Jong, E. (2011). Foundations for multilingualism in education. Caslon Pub.
Discussion Board Post Saturday, October 23, 2021, East Tennessee State University, M.Ed. program

This chapter begins with a general framework of language policy by looking at it through the lens of who holds the power to make decisions, what is planned, how is this done and under what conditions, and for what purpose. But I think the chapter ends with the most important point, which is that teachers are the core of policy implementation. It does matter what the policies are at the top level, but in reality it is the teacher, who through her day-to-day choices and interactions with students, shapes the experiences of students learning English as a 2nd language. The most powerful statement about this comes on page 119, after we read an example about two teachers who read and interpreted the writing sample of a non-native English speaker in which one teacher sees some of what the student does as evidence of confusion, while the other teacher frames it as a “normal developmental pattern for bilingual learners.” The statement is as follows: “In one scenario, the bilingual learner is positioned as a deficient monolingual, in the other as a competent bilingual.” Teachers have a great impact depending on their ways of responding, and no matter the governmental policies in place toward bilinguals, teachers can make or break an emerging bilingual student. I think the teacher who framed the above example negatively should first learn the law, and second, should take such a class as this. Maybe a little mind expansion is all she needs to be a better teacher.

Going back in the chapter, I find another statement equally powerful as the one I quoted above. On page 108, deJong cites Cooper (1989) as saying that “language policies that seem on the surface level to deal with language are in fact rarely about language.” What are they about then? DeJong continues Cooper’s thought by saying that they are actually reflective of the power and status relationships in society. The bottom line, as I interpreted it, is whether or not a policy is additive or subtractive, and that is probably determined by which orientation is taken by the officials making the policy.

The orientations are language as a problem, as a right, or as a resource—so in essence either a deficit or asset way of thinking. These orientations frame much of the discussion in this chapter. I think the last orientation is only taken in situations where “multilingualism is seen as a positive force in a diverse society” (p. 105) that brings benefits to everything from homeland security and the economy to the ethnic community. On the flip side, you have those in the dominant language group who wish to make those in the non-dominant language group feel that their language is inferior and that it is at the root of their failures (linguistic hegemony).

The book talks about the social nature of policy processes and points out that it really comes down to individual interpretation. Therefore, I’ll say it again: it is the teacher who is the bottom line in the policy-versus-practice experience. We can have any orientation toward language policy or any language ideology, but the person on the ground has the greatest effect, wouldn’t you agree?

A final thought brings the focus back to language as culture. If language is “one of the most important symbolic tools used to socialize students into certain ways of thinking, being, and doing” (p. 108), then when we ignore or reject a person’s native language, and when we use subtractive policies, we are simultaneously canceling that person’s culture and the sum of their life experience. Talk about power. If only those in positions of leadership used their influence and status to benefit ALL people… what a world this would be.

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