The first step toward that change is to ensure that all ELT professionals have a conscious awareness of the political, racial, and colonial underpinnings of the project of teaching English and of the desires and purposes that accompany the acquisition of English.”
- Suhanthie Motha, Race, Empire, and English Language Teaching: Creating Responsible and Ethical Anti-Racist Practice
- The assumption on entering the formal study of Education & TESOL was that we would learn how to teach English, with Linguistics being a deep-dive into the world of phonics, syntax, and morphology.The first step toward that change
- This assumption was blown apart in our first class when Professor Howard told us the story of the classes that listened to a lecture by a female voice with one class being shown a photo of a Caucasian woman, presumed to be the speaker, and the other class listened to the same lecture with a photo of an Asian woman. When asked about the lecture after, the class who saw the picture of an Asian woman said that it was hard to understand, she had a strong accent, and they had difficulty comprehending the language.
- This story made us see that the study of Linguistics goes far beyond IPA and syntax, and sent us diving into the pool of socio-linguistics, which combines the study of race, politics, economics, culture, and language. Starting with Suhanthie Motha’s book Race, Empire and English Language Teaching we began learning how race and ethnicity play a crucial role in TESOL. Motha writes “When teachers are adequately prepared to examine their worlds critically, they are in a better position to advocate for their students and to teach their students to advocate for themselves.” Motha, 133
- To this end, as part of our group project looking at Race & Ethnicity in TESOL we took on a variety of topics that felt relevant to us, and important for our fellow students to understand. Since not all topics of Race & Ethnicity will be relevant to everyone, our intent is to provide a high level overview in our presentations, followed by handouts which will elaborate on the topic and provide additional information for students should they wish to learn more or bring the information to their classrooms.
- The first step toward that change
- African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in the classroom
- In this section I will discuss the challenge that Jane, one of the teacher’s featured in Motha’s book, found herself in teaching ESL in an urban school where AAVE is spoken heavily and her solution. I will also review a curriculum for intermediate/advanced ESL students to learn about the linguistic origins of AAVE in the US along with the ideas of race and power when comparing AAVE to Standard American English (SAE).
- The Afternoon Teas – Alexandra
- Motha’s book focuses on four teachers and the lessons they learned in their first year teaching English. The author and teachers met regularly over afternoon tea to discuss the issues that they had in the classroom.
- Alexandra taught at an inner city middle school and felt conflicted because her immigrant students were picking up AAVE in the halls, and seemed to be learning it quicker than they were learning Standard English in class. The teacher didn’t want to “devalue the African American students’ culture and language” (Motha, 125)
- Alexandra chose what Motha calls an “antiracist agenda” that “challenges the supremacy of Standard English.” She taught her students Standard English while acknowledging and explaining AAVE without making it an inferior or illegitimate language and in doing so, taught her students how to make decisions about when to use each language variation. Jessica Whitney refers to this as “codeswitching” or the ability to choose the language variety appropriate to the time, place, audience, and communicative purpose.” (Whitney, 67)
- One of the examples described included a lesson in dog vs. dawg:The first step toward that change
Jane: Yeah, I’ve taught the difference between dog and dawg.
Suhanthie: Dog and dog?
Jane: Like dog, D-O-G, is that sitting right there [indicating her
puppy, Duff], and dawg, D-A-W-G, is like your friend. I thought it
was just so ironic; here’s me teaching the language of the kids.
Suhanthie: Do you tell them specifically about language variations?
Jane: I just say it’s slang. It’s just a popular word for your friend.
- In teaching this way, the instructor explained the vocabulary common in AAVE, especially among young people, without delegitimizing it and making them feel separate from their peers and community. She promoted its validity to her students referring to it as slang rather than a lesser variety of English, saying ‘it’s popular’ which is positively nuanced. This anti-racist linguistic pedagogy showed respect to the language that her students heard in the hall and in their community, and empowered them to make their own language choices.
- A Curriculum in Race and Language-the first step toward that change
- Jessica Whitney recommends that TESOL teachers incorporate multi-culturalism into their English classrooms. She describes activities where students are introduced to other varieties of English including rap lyrics, advertisements, excerpts from fiction, and allowing them to discuss the language uses and differences. (Whitney, p 65)
- Anne Marie Guerrettaz & Tara Zahler went even further and designed an entire curriculum about multi-literacies and race-related concerns for international students studying English at the university level.
- To help the students put race issues into historical and social context Guerrettaz & Zahler assigned the novel A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines about a young African American man during a period of legal institutionalized racism in Louisiana in the 1940s. The instructors developed activities around the text to help the students understand this time in US history, the social and political issues, the vocabulary and language, and other political events and people related to the Civil Rights movement such as Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson, Loving v Virginia, and audio recordings of the book to further analyze the language.
- This is a powerful curriculum for an English class or individual student to develop deep, meaningful understanding and awareness of language and race in the U.S., especially given the current tensions and increased activism by groups like Black Lives Matter. Students not only gain a better understanding of English, but of our society as a whole, and the role of African American Vernacular English in relation to Standard American English.
- Guerrettaz & Zahler write that “teachers have the potential to transform English language classrooms across the United States.” (Guerrettaz & Zahler, page 204) “English language teachers are especially well positioned to create space for exploring this complexity and supporting learners’ understanding of these events in light of their historical context.” (Guerrettaz & Zahler, page 193)
- Annotated Bibliography
- The first step toward that change
- Motha, Suhanthie. Race, Empire, and English Language Teaching : Creating Responsible and Ethical Anti-Racist Practice, Teachers College Press, 2014.
- Motha’s book is an overview of the ways that race and empire have permeated English language teaching
- Whitney, Jessica Five Easy Pieces: Steps toward Integrating AAVE into the Classroom, English Journal Vol. 94, No. 5 May 2005
- Guerrettaz, A. M., & Zahler, T. (2016). Black Lives Matter in TESOL: De-Silencing Race in a Second Language Academic Literacy Course. TESOL Quarterly,51(1), 193-207.
- This journal article outlines the curriculum created by the authors to teach a group of university level ESL students about race and language in the time of Black Lives Matter. They built a curriculum to study US race relations through a 1994 novel incorporating additional texts and audio to give students a lesson in AAVE while placing it in history to show the power dynamic between it and Standard American English. In doing so the teachers hope to