Revolutionary Scholarship--could it work for Language Justice?

Review of Warrior Scholars & Bridge Builders: Civic Dreaming in ELA Classrooms by Nicole Mirra, Jerica Coffey, and Ashley Englander in Journal of Literacy Research,Volume: 50 issue: 4, page(s): 423-445, 2018.


This study was at the high school level in English language arts (ELA), but a similar approach can be adapted for other disciplines and grade levels. They say that they leveraged disciplinary literacy practices. When we think of leveraging something, we take advantage of a resource we have created or obtained in some advantageous way. In this case, they are leveraging the "broad possibilities for civically oriented learning" (p. 19) that ELA offers. That is, since ELA has a wide range of topics related to civics, they could take advantage of that, and bring those topics to the classroom in the literature they chose for the students to read, the kind of writing assignments they gave, and the sorts of oral discourse the students engaged in.


The end result for these civics-minded choices was that students "explore[d] their identities as citizens and imagine[d] a more just and equitable democratic society" (p. 1). The evidence for this was from quotes from the students during class. For example, one student compared a text to his own background and his own choices within that world.


The authors talked about using a "figured worlds framework"-- what is this? The idea is that each social context we find ourselves in has a different set of conventions for knowing information and being in that world. This sounds a lot like a culture; in fact, the overlap between the concept of a culture with its material products, everyday practices, and underlying beliefs and a figured world is enormous, especially in the knowing (perspectives) and being (practices). Ok, so we encounter various sets of perspectives and practices with each social context. Next, the authors explain that this has some bearing on what it means to be literate and what it means to be a good citizen.


So why does all of this contrast with neoliberalism? The authors explain that neoliberalism, the defense of the free market and limitation of state interference to allow technological (and other types of) innovation to progress, is the mindset that dominates educational institutions. The results, according to this view, is that students are reading and writing and discussing in order to prepare to make consumer choices and make money. Their big point is that they are teaching students about this figured world alongside others so they can decide how they want to read, write, and discuss civic issues.


The LHI believes this approach to civics can be applied to create language justice in the specific educational sector of our communities. We particularly think that one topic that can be addressed in the warrior-scholar classroom is that of access to translation and interpretation services for those who are dominant in non-English languages. We applaud the critical approach in which students gain awareness of the underlying conventions in various social situations and even question them.


TAKEAWAYS


For teachers: if you can leverage civic topics such as language access in your classroom to promote literacy and citizenship building, please do for language justice among other important civic issues!


For students: talk to your teachers about how you can address language justice in your classroom. Ask your librarians for books that will bring the issue of language access and language justice to your attention.


For parents: let teachers and administrators know that you'd like to see the civic topic of language access and language justice addressed in your child or children's classrooms. Apply the figured worlds concept in your family discussions-- how do we know and be in each social situation? What are the consequences in following the status quo for language justice?