Celebrating Jim Cummins’ work in The African Storybook Project

Those of you familiar with the phenomenal work of Jim Cummins are aware of the importance of mother tongue development in literacy, academic development and second language learning. At our own Celebrating Linguistic Diversity Conference in 2014 Bonny Norton gave a very powerful keynote address (fourth video down) summarizing the work of Dr. Cummins and how it directly applies to her own work in Africa, entitled The African Storybook Project. Dr. Norton provides us with an overview of Dr. Cummins’ work, discussing how it has influenced her own work, and enumerating the intersectionality of both of their work. This is an important video to watch and re-watch. How does your work intersect with the work of Dr. Cummins and Dr. Norton? How does the celebration of linguistic diversity and specifically the development of languages in school contribute to Diversity in Teaching? We would love to hear your comments.

Diversity in the teaching workforce

Kate Walsh, President of the National Council on Teacher Quality, presents an excellent discussion on ways to effectively increase diversity among the teaching workforce. The Shanker Institute reports that diversity among teachers is decreasing. Walsh argues that rather than lowering standards to encourage minority students to enroll in teacher preparation programs, focus should be given to “make teacher preparation programs an inviting place for college students who want to learn and work hard—no matter what their race—by making the professional coursework more rigorous and substantial.”

Walsh also suggests seeking effective solutions without sacrificing teacher quality for the students who most need great teachers. “Rather than perpetuating the myth that teaching is a job that anyone can do, let’s increase recruitment efforts and seek out the people who have the academic aptitude to become our next generation of great teachers.”

Personally I would say that all students need great teachers, not just minority students. All students would benefit from sitting under a diverse teacher population. The advantages for increasing teacher diversity are not only a benefit for minority students, but also benefit majority students, while contributing toward creation of a more equitable and respectful society.We all need to learn from each other and learn to respect each other rather than weighting our preferences for those most similar to ourselves culturally. Walsh’s write-up and suggestions are good, but she doesn’t go far enough to make the case for diversity among the workforce. Read her entire article here. Then add your own comments below.

Developing cross-cultural understanding and appreciation

There is an effort to develop cross cultural understanding and appreciation in spite of the fact that this school is only teaching one lesson a week. Just being introduced to other cultures is helpful for understanding one another and looking beyond our own narrow perspectives. Consider what this school is doing to promote cross-cultural understanding. Then let us know your thoughts! How can each of us become more active in developing appreciation and understanding of people from other perspectives?


Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education

There is a great deal more attention given to the languages used in children’s education these days. This attention is a result of a growing realization that starting children in a foreign language such as English is significantly less productive than beginning them in their mother tongue.  While many governments and aid groups are working hard to provide universal primary education for all children across the globe, ignoring the language issue means those efforts often result in less effective education. Children need to begin their learning through a language they understand and speak every day. Using their mother tongue, or first language, enables children to understand the teacher and comprehend the lesson. Building on learner’s everyday experiences and home culture also aids learning considerably. Literacy in the mother tongue has a significantly positive impact on developing literacy in any other language subsequently. Children thrive when their mother tongue is used in school. Beginning with the mother tongue also helps them achieve higher proficiency in second and third languages, like their national language and English.

This post from Australia indicates that mother tongue-based bilingual education contributes toward inclusive and equitable quality education for all learners and particularly for speakers of non-dominant languages. For the full story click here.

Likewise, Indonesia is addressing the same issue of inclusive and equitable quality education for minority language speakers. Educators state that when the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, is used in schools children cannot follow what the teacher is saying because they don’t hear that language at home. They become embarrassed that they don’t understand and keep quiet in class as a result, essentially remaining disengaged. For the Indonesian story click here.

Likewise Bangladesh is struggling to implement mother tongue-based multilingual education as an effort toward addressing human rights issues. When children are educated in their mother tongue they learn better and read better, empowering them in multiple ways. See their story here.

Many countries around the world are working hard to strengthen education programs by adjusting language policies from dominant language education to mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB MLE). Celebrating all languages in the classroom is a strong means of supporting and valuing diversity.

University of Regina Conference: Public engagement and the politics of evidence

The conference proceedings of the University of Regina Conference on Public Engagement and the Politics of Evidence are now available at http://www.politicsofevidence.ca/.  First Nations scholar Dr. Marie Battiste gave a critical perspective of the Canadian initiatives in higher education  that aim to empower indigenous scholars within mainstream higher education through indigenization of education (http://www.politicsofevidence.ca/marie-battiste/). Indigenization of education includes provision of more equitable opportunities for indigenous peoples in higher education as well as representation and teaching of indigenous knowledge. However, according to Dr. Battiste the analysis and solutions are created out of a Eurocentric perspective without considering or including the experts among indigenous people in either analysis or response. Thus activities are based on assimilation while ignoring the contexts from which indigenous scholars originate – oppression, poverty, class hierarchy, white dominance, privilege and discrimination. Battiste suggests that any decolonization initiative needs to address issues of self-determination, indigenous knowledge reconstruction, damage done by past systems, discourses of deficits and benefits of assimilation among other topics.

One participant asked Marie to respond to the negative, deficiency narratives that arise with each initiative of indigenization of education. These negative discourses suggest that indigenization of higher education is a “form of damaging accommodation that is an affront to academic education”. Marie’s response focuses the need to move forward and engage everyone as complicit in the futures of indigenous people. Rather than viewing indigenization as a step backward, we must see the process as moving forward toward a better future for all.

This conversation is an interesting contrast to the last post on this site about the hiring of minority teachers in Boston. It appears that mere hiring of minority teachers during a crisis does not actually address issues of equity. On going conversation with leaders in minority communities to understand their perspective, the context within which they live and work and their own ideals and desired futures would contribute more to crafting initiatives that may truly contribute to social equity. Simple hierarchical decisions made by dominant leaders will not create change, nor does it acknowledge that everyone is complicit in the futures of both minority and majority students.