Reader Response Journal

The Mapping of a Framework: Critical Race Theory and TESOL by Tonda Liggett

In this article, Liggett connects critical race theory (CRT) to the experiences of linguistic minority TESOL students. She positions her examination in the current, hostile political climate and uses current events to inform her analysis and as examples of the phenomena she writes about. She notes that linguicism has become accepted as a way of continuing discrimination against racial groups, couched in linguistic rather than racial terms in the public discourse, but that the two systems are mapped onto each other. Applying the core tenants of CRT to TESOL, she argues that linguicism is 1) an ordinary, invisible and pervasive feature of life for ELLs and perpetuated at the institutional and structural levels, just like racism is. One example she gives is the way No Child Left Behind sanctioned removal of resources from ELLs, despite Title VI’s mandate that students have access to fully funded educational programs regardless of race, even though ELLs in the US are predominately students of color. Racialized linguicism is also 2) part of the colonial legacy of white supremacy, and that discrimination against racialized language learners plays out at the policy level even today. Examples include Oregon requiring ELLs to take state standardized tests in English after one year, despite the fact that research shows academic language proficiency takes 5-7 years to develop, and California’s Proposition 227, which eliminated the possibility of funding for bilingual education. 3) Linguicism can be challenged through counterstorytelling, as a way to ‘‘analyze the myths, presuppositions, and received wisdoms that make up the common culture about race and that invariably render blacks and other minorities one-down (Delgado 1995, p. xiv).’’ This actively positions individual experience as worthy of theorization and helps teachers understand their students’ identities, situations and understandings of their own learning. As Liggett writes “Key to this interchange is connecting individual identity construction/ deconstruction to broader contextual factors that work to frame worldviews and ideas about individual possibility” (p. 118). Within TESOL, these three tenets of CRT help decenter White Anglo epistemic privilege and acknowledge students’ intersectional identities. Letting students “name their reality” is important because reality is socially constructed through storytelling, provide a psychic outlet for marginalized groups to heal their pain and challenge ethnocentrism. All of this happens within a postcolonial framework, where marginalized people try to “force its alternative knowledges into the power structures of the west as well as the non-west” (Young 2003, p. 7), which is important because of the ways the global economy structures migration from poor, rural and developing areas to those that are richer, urban and more developed. Using CRT to inform how we look at the intersections between race and linguicism allows us to better understand the perspectives that our students bring to the classroom.

Having researched the intersections between racism and linguicism extensively, and having used counterstorytelling as a core framework in my thesis, I was delighted to read this article. I really agree with her points and the ways she connects the two areas feel accurate to me. I also appreciated the ways she links the ideas she’s talking about to specific current events that illustrate them, because it makes the importance and relevance much more concrete. Overall, I think the 3 aspects she focuses on (the permanence and invisibility of linguicism, the colonial legacy and counterstorytelling) are going to be useful mental touchstones for me as I continue to think about these issues in the future. It also makes me want to read some of her references, especially those about CRT in its original form (ie not applied to TESOL), to make sure I have the proper grounding in the original theory.

Delgado, R. (Ed.). (1995). Critical race theory: The cutting edge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Liggett, T. (2014). The mapping of a framework: Critical race theory and TESOL. The Urban Review, 46(1), 112-124.

Young, R. (2003). Postcolonialism. New York: Oxford University Press.

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