Saturday, March 17, 2018

Spain's influence on Texas education

This piece by Dr. Lino Garcia, Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, is quite informative about our early Texas educational history. 

It is interesting to consider that the concept of compulsory education together with the idea of "public free" schooling in Texas, the Southwest, and in the U.S., generally, begins with the Spanish during the colonial period.  Later, when Texas became a republic, it is noteworthy to consider that it was the Tejanos—and not the Anglos—who advocated for a system of education in the new country.  Accordingly,

The irony of all of this is of course the achievement gap and harmful stereotype that Mexican Americans do not value education when the roots for this run deeply in not only a diametrically opposite direction but in one that has had a defining role with respect to the evolution of education in Texas and the U.S., as a whole.  

True, our indigenous forbears valued education just as much, but the taking away of their lands and identities undercut tribal governance, including education.
When we speak of the potentially redemptive power of culturally relevant curriculum and Ethnic Studies, these are the kinds of subjugated histories and knowledge that can make a difference for our youth.   

Palabra! / In Truth!

Angela Valenzuela

Spain's influence on Texas education

By Lino Garcia
Tejano Talks
Hispanics have always enjoyed a penchant for education, and especially for endowing their children this love of learning.
Long before Spain began the colonization of the Americas in 1521, it had developed top universities noted for their excellence in all aspects of university life.
During the Middle Ages, King Alfonso X had already outlined the different segments comprising these institutions of higher learning when he wrote his “Las Siete Partidas (The Seven Portions).”
We know that the oldest known university in Spain is the Universidad de Salamanca, which was established in 1218 by King Alfonso IX.  
The Universidad de Oviedo was founded in 1608, and offered instructions in Arts, Canon, Law, and Theology to its students.

The Spanish brought to the Americas that penchant for learning first established in the Iberian Peninsula. The Universidad Autónoma de México in Mexico City was established in 1551 by a Royal Decree of King Carlos V. (Photo: Tejano Talks)

Nursing this love for education in their citizens, the Spanish authorities brought to the Americas that penchant for learning first established in the Iberian Peninsula. We know the Universidad Autónoma de México in Mexico City was established in 1551 by a Royal Decree of King Carlos V, King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
It was first known as the Royal Pontífice Universidad de México, and in 1910 became known as the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México or UNAM.
So, when the call came from the Spanish authorities seeking faculty members and well-trained priests, hundreds of young men left Spain to dedicate their entire lives to establishing schools designed to educate the Native Americans, Spanish soldiers and their children. They followed the Queen Isabela and King Fernando decree that, during the Age of Discovery in the 15th Century, had declared a desire to convert newly discovered civilizations to the “Santa Fe (Holy Faith),” and made them loyal subjects of the Spanish Crown. Thus, were born the Spanish Christian Missions in Texas and other parts of the then Spanish Southwest, where educational components were established.

As the Spanish meandered into what is now Texas, they brought priests who would not only Christianize the Indians but would become the educators of the native tribes of the Lone Star State as well as the children of the Spanish soldiers stationed in missions and presidios throughout the land. From El Paso to San Antonio and La Bahia, education thrived. (Photo: Tejano Talks)

Max Berger in his “Education in Texas during the Spanish/Mexican Periods” tells us about the efforts by the citizens of Colonial Spanish Texas to establish the first system of public schools.  Thus, every mission had as its component an industrial school for instructions in industry and agriculture. The first mission with its educational component was established in Texas in 1690, and within five or more years 25 more were also erected. The first settlement in Texas by Spanish families and soldiers was the founding of San Fernando de Béxar (later San Antonio) in 1718. The first such non-mission school began its operation in San Antonio in 1746. Another such school was opened in San Antonio in the year 1789, but closed in 1792.
In 1802, the Spanish government of Texas called for a school to operate that prescribed compulsory attendance, penalizing parents for any failure to comply, The schools were to be tuition-free with lay teachers, who were to be provided a small salary.  That set the stage for the “Public Free Primary School” that Mexican authorities supervised after 1821.
At La Bahía, a soldier named Galán taught a class of 18 children, receiving donations of meat, lard, salt, and the small salary he received as a soldier. It was difficult to sustain an educational system during the turbulent years of unrest between 1810 and 1821, when Texas was also liberated by the Independence Movement — El Grito — of 1810. In 1828, then governor of Texas José María Viesca encouraged parents to send their children to the best schools possible.
Classes were held from 6 to 10 in the morning during the summer, and 7 to 12 in the winter months; with classes held in the afternoon from two to six during the whole year.
The instructor was to open the school with a prayer, and observe religious events. The lessons included the “three R’s,” with lessons in manners, morals and religion. The teacher was hired on a four-year contract at a salary of $500 a year, payable in monthly installments.
These early schools in Spanish/Mexican Colonial Texas existed until the year 1834. A teacher from the north was hired, but was soon released for lack of proper documented passport to be in the Texas of that time. Northerners arriving with Stephen F. Austin after 1821 were required to erect schools in each new colony, and all instructions were to be given in Spanish.

Both Navarro and Seguín attempted to donate thousands of their own land for the purpose of establishing the first university. (Photo: Tejano Talks)

Early advocates of schools after 1836 were such Tejano patriots as Lorenzo de Zavala, Antonio de Navarro, and Juan Seguín.
It was Zavala who introduted legislation to establish the first system of higher education in Texas.
Both Navarro and Seguín attempted to donate thousands of acres of their own land for the purpose of establishing the first university.
In addition, in the 19th century land-owners — both Hispanic and Anglo — set up schools to educate the children of the vaqueros in the ranchos across Texas.
Despite obstacles encountered in the New World, the Spanish settlers found ways to bring education to all.
Today, Hispanics students make up 52 percent of all students enrolled in Texas public schools, well forecasting the future workforce now taking shape.  We can thank the early Spanish/Mexican efforts in establishing institutions of learning that now benefit all Texans.
Lino Garcia Jr. is an eighth-generation Tejano from Brownsville. He holds the chair of Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and is a supporter of the Tejano Civil Rights Museum and Resource Center in Corpus Christi.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Indigenous history, culture now mandatory part of Ontario curriculum

This is very exciting!  Canada requiring Indigenous history and culture as a mandatory part of Ontario's curriculum shows how this movement is taking root in other places beyond the U.S.  

Structurally, as one can see from this report, they have a "Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation."  Wouldn't it be great if all of our countries had cabinet-level positions like these?  This is obviously not possible under the current administration, but perhaps in future administrations.  

Like Canada, we also all need Truth and Reconciliation Commissions so that we as a polity can reconcile ourselves with our racist, genocidal past.  I would love to see such things in other places like Mexico and throughout Central and South America, too.

Thanks to UT  Education Policy and Planning masters student, Karissa Jobman, for sharing this excellent news!

Angela Valenzuela

Indigenous history, culture now mandatory part of Ontario curriculum

Revisions to courses like Social Studies and History have begun, to be complete by fall 2018

By Rhiannon Johnson, CBC News Posted: Nov 08, 2017 4:29 PM ET Last Updated: Nov 08, 2017 4:29 PM ET

Ontario will incorporate the contributions, histories, culture and perspectives of Indigenous peoples into a revised curriculum for all students in the province, the education minister announced Wednesday.
Mitzie Hunter made the announcement at Milliken Mills High School in Unionville with David Zimmer, Ontario's Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
"As part of Ontario's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report, our commitment was to bring learning about First Nation, Mé​tis and Inuit people [into] Ontario's education curriculum," said Hunter.
The announcement was made in conjunction with Ontario's Treaties Recognition Week.
"This is about recognizing the role of treaties; this is about bringing education into the classroom for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students," said Hunter.

Revisions started

Students will learn about the histories, culture, and contributions that Indigenous people have made to Canada. The curriculum revisions already started this fall and will be fully implemented by fall of 2018. Courses in both elementary and secondary schools such as Social Studies, History and Geography will be revised.
The revisions were made in co-ordination with residential school survivors, First Nations, Métis and Inuit partners.
"The announcement today around curriculum and the education system in Ontario now formally recognizing treaty recognition is a huge step forward," said Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day.
"With reconciliation, you need truth. Part of the education effort is to actually get to the bottom of the real history of the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous people."

Response to Calls to Action

Bringing knowledge about treaties, Indigenous rights, cultures and perspectives to the classroom as a mandatory part of the province's curriculum is a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action 62 and 63.
The province is investing $2.7 million support capacity building for educators to teach the new curriculum.
The gym at Milliken Mills High School was filled with about 1,000 students and faculty for the announcement.

Neha Naqvi, a Grade 12 student, said Indigenous issues should be talked about at school.
"We shouldn't ignore these issues just because they happened in the past. It still affects people today and we should talk about them not only with the government but First Nation people themselves and help each other."
This is the second annual Treaties Recognition Week in Ontario, running Nov. 5-11.


Why America Needs Ebonics Now

Great piece on African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) or "Ebonics" that every educator should read. In my earlier years as a sociolinguist, it was called "Black Vernacular English (BVE) and "West African dialect." Even if certain linguistic patterns are identifiably West African in origin, all of this gets quickly complicated by the fact that West Africa boasts and has boasted numerous dialects and languages historically.

This wonderful piece and must-see video is nevertheless a good followup to my recent post on Ebonics in a piece titled, "Julie Washington’s Quest to Get Schools to Respect African-American English."  Beyond the clear benefits of Ebonics instruction to student achievement—which is major and defensible unto itself, I agree—I also think that what must acknowledged in the process is the powerful and positive impact of Ebonics on American culture, especially pop culture and aesthetics.

Overall, what is needed  is an informed and respectful consideration of Ebonics as an effective pedagogical tool in the culturally relevant classroom.  Sadly, not all classrooms are culturally relevant—even if they should be.  That said, it's still good to know what you don't know—and by extension, what you absolutely must know if we're to seriously begin to impact the achievement gap. 

Thanks to education writer and journalist, Alexander Russo, for sharing. 


Why America Needs Ebonics Now

By Michael Hobbes
September 25, 2017


Script, Animation, Editing and Voiceover - Michael Hobbes
Michael is a contributing writer and producer for Highline.
Creative Direction & Design - Sandra Garcia
Sandra is the creative director of Highline.
Development & Design - Gladeye
Gladeye is a digital innovations agency in New Zealand and New York.
"Jocose Jon" by Monk Turner
"The Place Beyond the Clouds" by MindsEye

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Latinos Won’t Turn Texas Blue Anytime Soon

The gerrymandered Latino vote is trending, but slowly as conveyed below in this informative Texas Monthly piece by R.G. Ratcliffe.
While Hispanic voting was at its highest level ever in 2016, it was an incremental increase to 19 percent of the total turnout, up from 17 percent in 2012. The long-term demographic trends favor Hispanic voting strength over white voters, but at last year’s level of increase, it would take about two more presidential election cycles to close the gap between Republican and Democratic votes. 
Dr. Rogelio Sáenz, dean of the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio, had already researched and explained all of these things in a December 31, 2016 piece published in the San Antonio Express-News titled, "White births, migration explain why Texas remains a red state" where he also mentions that whites face fewer blockages to their vote relative to Latinos and minorities, generally.

Dr. Saenz also calls out Republicans' deliberate attempts to limit the political power of both Latinos and African Americans, such as through the passage of voter ID laws and gerrymandering, as well as through the "slashing of public education funding in public schools that are majority non-white and mass incarceration, which has taken away the vote of many persons of color."

Our policy and legal challenges are significant, but with good research and information such as that which is provided in these and other publications, provide excellent guideposts for the future.

Angela Valenzuela


FEB 21, 2017

Growing Latino vote may be years away from deciding statewide elections.
For the past twenty years, Texas Democrats have entered every election saying demographics are on their side. They’ve been hoping that the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population will carry the party back into power. If the 2016 election loss of Democrat Hillary Clinton in Texas proves anything, it is that the state’s Latino vote is less the Sleeping Giant than a growing adolescent who has not yet come of age. And probably won’t anytime soon.

Last fall I reported that there was a surge in Texas of about 530,000 Latinos who had registered to vote amid the anti-Mexican, build-a-wall rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. That registration increase apparently played a major role in the spike in Latino voters who showed up to vote in Texas last November. About 395,000 more Latino voters went to the polls than did in the 2012 presidential election. But it was still far too little to make a difference for Democratic candidates statewide. That trend—increasing numbers of Latino voters, but not enough to help Democrats win consistently in Texas—seems likely to continue for the next few elections cycles.

The caveat to that is whether President Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants might motivate a group of voters who usually don’t vote, no matter the ethnicity: young voters. A Pew Research Center report estimated that 32 percent of the 2016 eligible Hispanic voters in Texas were between the ages of 18 and 29. Because the great migration of undocumented immigrants from Mexico to Texas occurred before the year 2000, that means many of these young voters were born here and are citizens even if their parents or older siblings are undocumented immigrants fearful of deportation. Trump’s hard-line immigration policies could prompt these youthful voters to flock to the polls next year.

Short of that kind of sea change, Texas Republicans can feel confident of holding the advantage in statewide elections for years to come. Non-Hispanic whites may constitute just 43 percent of the state’s population, but in 2016 they represented more than 65 percent of all the votes cast, according to state voting results provided to me by the Legislative Council. And Anglos gave about 69 percent of their votes to Trump.

To get an idea of how much Hispanic voting will have to grow to offset the white vote, consider this: If the Spanish surname votes of Bexar County, Corpus Christi and all the counties of South Texas and along the Rio Grande to El Paso were added together, they would account for almost half of all the Spanish surname ballots cast in 2016. However, all those ballots together are still outnumbered by the votes cast by whites just in three heavily Republican counties combined: Collin, Denton, and Montgomery.

While Hispanic voting was at its highest level ever in 2016, it was an incremental increase to 19 percent of the total turnout, up from 17 percent in 2012. The long-term demographic trends favor Hispanic voting strength over white voters, but at last year’s level of increase, it would take about two more presidential election cycles to close the gap between Republican and Democratic votes. But elections for governor and most other statewide offices occur in off years, and the gap is even wider. The number of Hispanic votes cast in the past two off-year elections was almost stagnant, increasing only by 14,500 from 2010 to 2014. The Republican advantage in the 2014 off-year elections was close to a million votes.

One thing that might make a difference is a major voter registration drive. The state’s Hispanic population is estimated at 10.4 million, but there were only 4.8 million Hispanics eligible to vote last year, according to Pew estimates. After children too young too vote and non-citizens are winnowed out of the population, Hispanics only make only up 28 percent of the eligible voters. The Texas Secretary of State’s office reported that there were about 3.5 million Spanish surname registered voters in 2016, so the 1.7 million turnout accounted for close to half of all the registered Hispanic voters. But that means more than a million eligible Hispanic voters are still not registered to vote.

Matt Barreto, a University of California Los Angeles political scientist and pollster with Latino Decisions, told me that if Texas Democrats want to increase voter turnout, they first need to increase voter registration. “You’re never going to get a humongous increase unless you get a humongous increase in registration,” he said. “That’s the first thing that needs work in Texas: voter registration drives in the big cities and the Valley.”

Barreto, who has been an expert witness for the Texas Democratic Party in redistricting cases, said the state party also needs to encourage more minority candidates to run for statewide office—even if the prospects of winning are not good. “They won’t all win. A lot of them will run and lose. That’s how you turn a state. You run and lose. That will bring more people into the system. … If you don’t think the system cares about you, there’s almost nothing we can do to get you to vote.

“They need to be encouraging candidates who look like the future of their party to be running for every single office. That will eventually lead to a belief among the voters that the party actually cares about them. If you look up and every year you just have more white candidates running, it creates an idea that the party doesn’t care much about you.”

In fact, the last two Democratic Party nominees for governor were white—former Houston Mayor Bill White in 2010 and former state Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. Barreto said Davis never fully connected with Latino voters and in some San Antonio precincts that are heavily Hispanic, Davis was out voted by Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Leticia Van de Putte, a Latina.

A test that may be brewing involves Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who will stand for re-election next year. Cruz appears vulnerable after his failed 2016 presidential campaign and reluctance to endorse Trump for president. He’s mostly vulnerable to a Republican primary challenge. However, he likely will also face a challenge in the general election from either Joaquin Castro of San Antonio or Beto O’Rourke, with a base in heavily Hispanic El Paso. Both are current members of the U.S. House. Cruz is of Cuban heritage, while Castro is Mexican-American.

The greater likelihood is that the growing Hispanic vote will affect local elections first, as they did in Houston last year.

Harris County had the biggest spike in Hispanic voter turnout in 2016. The county saw 73,000 more Hispanic voters than in 2012, and the percentage of the vote grew from 16 percent to almost 20 percent. (For comparison, the number of Spanish surname voters in Bexar County increased by 45,500 over 2012; Dallas County, 33,000 votes; and Travis, about 17,000; even very Republican Tarrant county had an increase of 20,000 Spanish surname voters.)

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said the impact of Hispanic voting in Harris County could be seen in how poorly Trump performed there. He received 40,000 fewer votes than 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, while Clinton gathered 120,000 more votes in the county than Obama. “Trump’s weakness with urban Hispanics hurt the Republican ticket badly as one can see from precinct level data from Harris County,” Murray said. “That wiped out all down ballot Republicans, despite the fact that the most reliable Democratic voters in Harris County, African Americans, turned out at only about 90 percent of their 2012 vote.”

OK, now, every time journalists write about the growing Hispanic vote and the Democratic Party, the instant response is that not all Latinos vote Democratic. And that’s very true. Latinos who live in predominantly Anglo neighborhoods tend to vote like their neighbors. Wealthier Hispanics are more likely to vote Republican. But Latinos predominantly vote Democratic. How much so is often a point of dispute, and one reason is that exit polls get it wrong.

The first time I really encountered the exit poll problem was 1998, when George W. Bush won re-election as governor, claiming an exit poll showed him receiving half the Hispanic vote. The television networks’ Voter News Service said Bush had won 49 percent of the Texas Hispanic vote. However, exit polls by the William Velasquez Institute set Bush’s margin at 39 percent. In effort to settle the question, I used the Texas Legislative Council’s redistricting computer to look at 180,000 votes cast in 426 urban precincts that had a Hispanic voting age population of more than 70 percent. The result was that Bush received 39 percent of the vote. The big difference, my study was based on tens of thousands of actual votes while the television network’s exit poll was based on interviews with a mere 201 Hispanic voters.

Barreto told me the big problem with using exit polls to tell you much of anything about Hispanic voting in Texas is that the exit surveys usually are set up in swing precincts because the networks are more interested in calling a race than giving an accurate demographic picture of an election. Barreto said in 2014 there were no exit polls south of San Antonio and the surveys were only done in English.

That prompted me to take another look at the 2014 exit polls that showed Governor Greg Abbott receiving 44 percent of the Latino vote over Davis, and U.S. Senator John Cornyn capturing 48 percent. Looking at mostly Hispanic counties of South Texas, it appears that Abbott’s real Latino vote probably was somewhere between 25 and 35 percent. (If anyone knows of a more accurate precinct level study, please let me know.)

A pair of political scientist, Francisco Pedraza and Bryan Wilcox-Archuleta, in a recent Washington Post article challenged the notion that Trump received 34 percent of the Latino vote in Texas. In a study of 4,372 precincts across Texas covering 75 percent of the state’s Hispanic population, they determined that Clinton had won 77 percent of the Hispanic vote to Trump’s 18 percent—very different from the exit polls that showed the results at 61/34 percent.

(For those who want to challenge my analysis or explore further, click here for the 2012/2016 spreadsheet. SSTO means Spanish Surname Turnout. TO is Total turnout of all voters. The Spanish surnames are compiled by the Secretary of State’s office from a list of common surnames in the United States. And, of course, it is possible for someone to be Hispanic and not have a Spanish surname.)

The bottom line is that Democrats will continue to benefit disproportionately from increases in Hispanic turnout, but barring a major change in current trends, it won’t be enough to turn Texas blue for years into the future.

Tom Steyer’s Need to Impeach to File More than 200 FOIA Requests Demanding Information About Trump and Kushner’s Business Interactions

CONTACT:                                                                                                                                         Erik Olvera, Head of Communications                                                                                                    Need to Impeach                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      415-994-3242
Tom Steyer’s Need to Impeach to File More than 200 FOIA Requests Demanding Information About Trump and Kushner’s Business Interactions
Requests, to be made on Freedom of Information Day, also seek information into cabinet members’ spending
(SAN FRANCISCO, March 15)—Tomorrow, Tom Steyer’s Need to Impeach campaign will submit more than 200 Freedom of Information Act requests seeking government records of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s business interactions with federal agencies, cabinet members’ expenditures, and dozens of other requests that demand transparency from the Trump Administration and the federal government.
The requests will be made on Freedom of Information Day, an annual event celebrating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the birthday of President James Madison, who was a fierce advocate of government transparency. The requests also raise the visibility of the Trump Administration’s refusal to provide information to the public and its rejection of more than 75% of FOIA requests.
“Every single person across the country has a right to know if Donald Trump’s private business dealings are intertwined with the federal government and whether taxpayers are footing the bill,” said Steyer. “We are filing each and every one of these requests with the public’s well-being at heart. This president entered office with more conflicts of interest than any other in history, but because he and his family have skirted disclosure practices, we don’t know how those conflicts have influenced his administration. We need to lift the curtain to see if his inner circle’s financial entanglements with foreign governments have put our safety at risk, if they’re fleecing working people of their tax dollars, and if political appointees are exploiting their offices to enrich themselves.”
The FOIA requests include inquiries about the following:
  • Information about the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation into Apollo Management that was dropped just weeks after Jared Kushner received a large loan from the corporation.
  • Details on federal support for a ferry service from downtown New York City to one of Jared Kushner’sprivate properties in Long Branch, NJ.
  • Emails conducting federal business from private email accounts, potentially endangering national security.
  • How much taxpayer money has been spent on Kushner’s Office of American Innovation, which aims to reduce federal bureaucracy but lacks any documented achievements.
  • Expenditures by the offices of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and others.
The Need to Impeach FOIA requests are part of a new public education campaign intended to raise the visibility of Trump and his family’s business dealings and the growing list of offenses that legal scholars agree surpass the standard for Trump’s impeachment. Just last week, the campaign launched a new ad analyzing the connections between Trump’s businesses, Russian investors, and potential interference with the 2016 election.
Steyer launched the Need to Impeach campaign on October 20, 2017, through national television and social media ads. More than 5 million people have since signed on to support the campaign, creating a digital army that several political strategists call one of the most powerful political tools in the Democratic party. So far, six national commercials have aired, reaching more than 2 billion viewers through television and more than 454 million through social media. A seventh commercial—the first in Spanish—began airing nationwide this week.
Learn more at

Need To Impeach, PO Box 538, San Francisco, CA 94104 United States

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Intersectional Qualitative Research Methods Institute for Advanced Doctoral Students | UT-Austin, June 24-29, 2018

I'll be speaking at this Institute this Summer.  They're still taking applications from Advanced Doctoral Students.
-Angela Valenzuela
Please spread the word about a unique training opportunity for doctoral students:  

Intersectional Qualitative Research Methods Institute for Advanced Doctoral Students (IQRMI-ADS) focuses on methodological skills, completion of a doctoral degree, navigating the job market, postdoctoral fellowship applications, and writing for publications in preparation for a successful research career. 

IQRMI-ADS at The University of Texas at Austin will take place June 24-29, 2018. Apply here. 

The Latino Research Initiative is committed to help build and strengthen pathways to successful research careers for underrepresented minorities in the fields of behavioral and social sciences and education. We appreciate your support in this effort by spreading the word to doctoral students, colleagues, listservs, and networks. 

Director, Latino Research Initiative
Professor, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies
The University of Texas at Austin | 512-475-9315 |

Great opportunities in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, this Summer for those interested.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Julie Washington’s Quest to Get Schools to Respect African-American English

It's great to see linguist William Labov cited in this piece as his research strongly and positively influenced my understanding of Ebonics, or West African dialect.  So happy to see that he got noticed early on, as well, by the Atlantic.  I'm happy to read about Dr. Julie Washington's advocacy and research in this regard, too.  

In the Mexican American community, we also struggle for respect of our code-switching into Spanish and English.  What people do not know is that you have to be able to command two grammars in order to code switch correctly, whether it's between or within spoken phrases or sentences.  Same with Ebonics, or African-American English, that has its roots in West Africa.  Very exciting work!

Thanks to Dr. Deb Palmer for sharing. 

-Angela Valenzuela
Tim Tomkinson

Julie Washington’s Quest to Get Schools to Respect African-American English

The speech pathologist believes that helping kids switch seamlessly between dialects is a key to their success.

Studying African-American Vernacular English wasn’t Julie Washington’s plan. But one day in the fall of 1990, her speech-pathology doctorate fresh in hand, she found herself sitting with a little girl at a school outside Detroit. The two were reading the classic P. D. Eastman picture book Are You My Mother?, which tells the tale of a lost hatchling trying to find its way home. The girl—4 years old, homeless, and a heavy speaker of the dialect known as African-American English, or AAE—listened attentively as Washington read:
“Are you my mother?” the baby bird asked the cow.
“How could I be your mother?” said the cow. “I am a cow.”
Washington closed the book and asked the girl to recount the story from memory. The girl hesitated, then launched into it. “She goes, ‘Is you my mama? I ain’t none a yo’ mama!,’ ” Washington recalls. “She did the whole thing in dialect.” Washington found the girl’s retelling deft and charming, and she left the classroom smiling.
 Only later, sitting in her office at the University of Michigan, did Washington have the flash of insight that would redirect her career. “As a scientist, I stepped back and thought about what that girl had to do,” Washington told me recently, while waiting to address a gathering of linguists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “She had to listen to a story in a dialect she doesn’t really use herself, understand the meaning, hold the story in her memory, recode it in her own dialect, and then say it all back to me.” The girl’s “translation” of the book might not sound like much, but translating it? “That’s hard,” Washington said, especially for a young child. The experience convinced her that dialect was playing a significant and unrecognized role in the reading achievement of millions of children—and very likely contributing to the persistence of the black–white gap in test scores.

In the decades since, Washington, now a professor of communications sciences and disorders at Georgia State, has devoted her career to exploring the challenges that speakers of African-American English face in the classroom. Not all African American students speak the dialect, but most do. Teaching kids to “code-switch” between their home dialect and the dialect spoken at school, Washington has come to believe, is an important step toward creating a more level playing field. She is not, of course, the first person to make this argument. Linguists pioneered the case for code-switching in the 1960s, and over the years at least half a dozen programs have sought to teach speakers of AAE how to speak standard English in the classroom. Most of them, however, have provoked furious backlash and quickly met their end.
The most notorious of these controversies occurred in 1996, when the school board of Oakland, California, approved the use of “Ebonics” as a tool for reading instruction. The board had hoped to raise students’ scores by teaching kids to code-switch. But the prospect of encouraging the dialect in the classroom elicited national, and near-universal, censure. As the White House and editorialists for the country’s top newspapers condemned the plan, several states banned the use of AAE in education, and Oakland’s superintendent was called before the U.S. Senate. The school board’s program was never implemented, and the word Ebonics became a national punch line. New research by scholars like Washington, however, suggests an interesting possibility: Maybe Oakland was onto something.

Washington grew up in an all-black part of Seattle, at the height of the civil-rights movement, surrounded by African-American English and fascinated by language from an early age. As a young girl, she played a game with herself, eavesdropping on her mother’s phone calls and trying to guess who was on the other end. She found that she could always tell just by listening to the different ways her mother spoke after saying “Hello?” Her father was a high-school history teacher and her mother was a gospel singer; like many middle-class parents in the neighborhood, they held AAE in low regard—they considered the dialect a barrier to “mainstream” success—and forbade Washington and her siblings from speaking it in the house. But Washington picked it up from friends. Today she code-switches effortlessly and unremarkably.
At the conference in Madison, linguists threw around phrases such as auxiliary alternation and diachronic precursor, speaking an academic code Washington avoids. She mostly kept her distance, skipping talks with boring titles; she lacks a linguist’s tolerance for obscure grammatical disputes, declaring herself more interested in “functional” matters. (“Oh my God,” she remarked after one particularly pedantic lecture.) As she waited to deliver her own talk, on the language and literacy of African American children, she walked me through one of her career’s guiding questions: Why don’t all kids learn to code-switch as easily as she did?
Like speakers of any nonstandard dialect, from Swiss German to Cypriot Greek, most speakers of African-American English do learn to code-switch naturally, Washington explained. “Some start during kindergarten, then we see a big wave at the end of first grade and another at the end of second. Then you get to third grade and it’s over.” At that point, about a third of them still can’t speak the standard dialect, and “code-switching isn’t going to happen unless you teach it. We know those kids will have trouble.” By the end of fourth grade, “switching” students—that is, students who are proficient in both their home dialect and standard English—score at least a full academic year ahead of their nonswitching classmates in reading.
Why exactly does speaking a nonstandard dialect stymie kids as they’re learning to read? In his seminal 1972 book, Language in the Inner City, the linguist William Labov advanced the reigning theory. A teacher writes a word on the blackboard—something simple, like told or past—sounding it out letter by letter as she does. For a speaker of standard English, the lesson is clear: The four letters represent the four sounds that make up the word. But the rule is more complex for AAE speakers. In the black vernacular, many consonant clusters—such as the -ld in told, and the -st in past—aren’t fully pronounced when they appear at the end of a word. A speaker of African-American English is likely to say told the same as toll (or even toe), and past the same as pass. The profusion of homonyms obscures the fundamental sound-to-letter principle: AAE-speaking kids are presented with an enormous number of words that are all pronounced the same yet spelled in nonsensically different ways. To help kids grasp the dialect of the classroom, Labov wrote, teachers should employ “the methods used in teaching English as a foreign language.”
Labov’s recommendation was largely overlooked outside his field. But last June, Washington completed a four-year study of almost 1,000 low-income elementary-school students in a southern city—the most extensive study ever of the dialect’s role in education—which led her to a similar conclusion. Strikingly, she discovered that African American students’ lagging growth in reading was accounted for almost entirely by the low scores of the students who speak the heaviest dialect. And location mattered: The majority of kids in the city she studied, Washington found, use a regional variety of AAE that is especially far from standard English. This suggests to her that children who speak one of the dialect’s “really dense” varieties are having an experience in the classroom not unlike that of, say, native Spanish speakers.
Compounding these challenges is the fact that most AAE speakers have teachers who are hostile to their dialect. In an illuminating investigation published in 1973 (but, according to several linguists I spoke with, still reflective of classroom conditions today), Ann McCormick Piestrup portrayed the AAE speaker’s experience as one of incessant interruption. Black children at the California schools Piestrup studied often answered questions correctly, only to be pounced on for irrelevant differences of pronunciation or grammar. This climate had a drastic effect: As time went on, Piestrup saw students withdraw into “moody silences”; when they did speak, their voices were soft and hesitant. The interrupted students had the lowest reading scores of any children Piestrup observed.
The social effects of this type of classroom environment have been acknowledged for decades, but what’s come to concern researchers more recently is the extent to which dialect differences between student and teacher increase the student’s cognitive load. “What does it do to your response times when you have to stop and interpret something before you can move on?,” Washington asks. “Over the course of a school day, those moments have to add up.”
In this way, Washington believes that dialect may very well account for a significant part of the black–white literacy gap. At the start of kindergarten, she notes, research finds a relatively small academic gap between black and white children, and what little gap exists can be entirely explained by controlling for socioeconomic status. Yet by first grade, the gap between them has widened considerably. If recent research on the effects of mismatched dialects is right, Washington reasons, one way to narrow the gap is to help kids learn the dialect of school, while also helping schools accept the dialect students bring with them.
To this end, one group of researchers has developed a code-switching curriculum called ToggleTalk, which has met with modest success; last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second-largest school system, implemented it in a few dozen classrooms. (Teachers in the district have also requested lessons meant for speakers of Chicano English, a Spanish-influenced dialect used by a large minority of students there.) But getting code-switching lessons into schools remains a challenge.
As Washington learned early in her career, even seemingly benign conversations about African-American English can be fraught—and often, it’s speakers of the dialect who most fiercely resist efforts to incorporate it into the classroom. In preparation for one of her first studies of AAE, she sent out consent forms to parents, describing her goal of studying “the role Black English plays in children’s oral language.” Weeks passed, and not a single form came back. Eventually, Washington called a parents’ night and asked why no one had signed the form. Two dozen parents stared at her in silence until, Washington told me, one mother erupted: “How dare you say we talk different than other people! What the hell is ‘black English’? We don’t speak ‘black English’!”
“You do,” Washington said, and to make her point, she code-switched. “I think I said, ‘Look, we ain’t got no business doin’ this,’ ” she recalled. The room burst into laughter. “Okay, we do speak like that,” the mother granted. “But we don’t like you calling it that.” It was a lesson Washington never forgot: The dialect was so stigmatized that even among people who spoke it every day, she needed to tread carefully.
A new insight of Washington’s might offer a new path forward, however. In presenting code-switching lessons as a way to ward off catastrophic reading failure, she says, advocates have failed to convey the upsides of speaking African-American English. In a recent paper, Washington points to research showing that fluent speakers of two dialects might benefit from some of the cognitive advantages that accrue to speakers of two languages. She hopes that this line of thinking might at last persuade teachers and parents alike to buy in. “We see value in speaking two languages,” Washington told me. “But we don’t see value in speaking two dialects. Maybe it’s time we did.”
Washington believes that programs used to strengthen bilingual students’ grasp of English grammar could provide a stealthy way of slipping code-switching lessons into the classroom. “Many of the features covered for students who speak another language are exactly the same ones that cause African-American English speakers trouble,” she said. She has seen firsthand the ways such curricula can benefit kids who speak the dialect. At one elementary school she studied in Michigan, teachers implemented a bilingual curriculum for the majority-black student body and saw a 75 percent increase in the number of students who passed state reading tests.
Despite such results, code-switching remains a tough sell, even in academia. Some linguists I spoke with said they’d come to see code-switching lessons as well intentioned but ultimately marginalizing—a linguistic version of “separate but equal.” Washington told me she understands their concerns, and faults some code-switching programs for focusing too much on the “harms” of not being able to code-switch. But she said she refuses to lose sight of the children, usually poor and black, whose futures are on the line. Until and unless “the places these kids might want to go to learn, work, and live” change fundamentally, she told me, “you’re handicapping them by not teaching them the two codes.”