Despite the fact that we as North Americans—even in our higher education institutions—are frequently myopic about such things, the Spanish language influence is so profound that it finds expression across the entire U.S. American landscape that is dotted by Spanish and indigenous names (cities, towns, rivers, landmarks, etc.). Mexicans are of course mestizos/as (mixed bloods) and these identities are overlapping, fluid, and very much still at play today—and for many of us, in an everyday way.
Saying these things doesn't mean that we as indigenous peoples weren't colonized by the Spanish either. Indeed, at one time Spain was a truly foreign, imperial power that enslaved, committed genocide, and wreaked havoc on our ancestors (Galeano, 1997). Rather it's calling out the clear alienation—and possible willful ignorance—of those holding power today like policymakers, politicians, state agency heads, and news writers themselves—from the very children and community that they ostensibly want to serve.
My criticism would matter less if this ideological ambiguity were to find no expression by the teachers holding power in the classroom. However, we know that ideas, framing, assumptions, biases, and structured silences matter. If Utah's Latino/a—especially Mexican-origin—children are treated like "foreigners" on U.S. soil—rather than as the descendants of cultures and communities with a presence on this continent that dates back at least to 13,500 B.C. (Dixon, 2000)—then children stand to get systematically deprived of an important, affirming connection to history, place, and self. And how multiply tragic for this to be so when the Mexica or Aztecs whose linguistic roots belong to the "Uto-Aztecan" family, suggesting strongly a connection between the Utes (after whom Utah was named) and the Mexica. There's a lot of richness to discover here that scholars like Cintli Rodriguez (2014), Colín (2014), and many others have researched in an in-depth manner.
Unfortunately, our nation's culturally chauvinist curricula to which our youth are routinely subjected, by definition, fail to construct a meaningful educational practice out of students’ lives—indeed, students of any culture—albeit most egregiously so for the descendants of native inhabitants of this continent. The outcome is a routine practice (politics) of erasing dialects, cultures, community-based identities, funds of knowledge, and generational and contemporary histories of struggle against repressive policies and politics. Will our children get at all exposed in Utah, for example, to their civil rights history? Will they even be seen as having a history?
It's important for our children to know these histories and stories so that they can learn that personal problems, more often than not, attach to larger social issues about which they need to be change agents. And learning these stories can further serve as guides to action.
Moreover, particularly at the present moment wherein our children are regularly exposed to toxic, anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant rhetoric and messages, they need a curriculum that instills them with a strong, positive identity and sense of cultural uplift and pride. They need to see their communities and themselves as nurturing, resourced, and agentic so that they won't suffer from despair against racism and other forms of oppression.
To counter these dominant narratives into which their lives are inescapably enmeshed is to instill a sense of possibility in all that they seek to accomplish in life. Our communities very much need to organize there and everywhere and be part of this unfolding. Otherwise, our communities are objectified, treated like objects to whom stuff gets administered, as opposed to negotiated and co-constructed.
Fortunately, there are teachers in Utah schools and beyond that get this and they'll be happy to see their pedagogy validated in this post. They'll surely nevertheless feel a sense of urgency about curriculum and the extent to which it is a "domesticating" or "liberating" one. The late Brazilian educator Paolo Freire (1970, 1998) articulates this problematic best throughout his writings.
Given that so few books and so little curricula exist at all levels in comparison to that which exists for the mainstream (or "whitestream" [Urrieta, 2009]) America—the kind of informed knowledge, pedagogy, teacher recruitment and preparation that would optimally attach to all bilingual, dual language classrooms and programs—is in short supply. This problematic isn't unique to Utah; it's an unfortunate ubiquitous problem throughout the U.S.—even here in Austin, Texas. As you can see from this video of our local efforts embodied in our Saturday academy, "Academia Cuauhtli," we're trying to do something about this. (Like us on Facebook.)
There's actually a long history of multiculturalism—and debates over multiculturalism—that easily dates back to the 1940s in Texas, so this really isn't new. I would simply say that ours is an invigorated agenda today in places like Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona—despite real political repression against Mexican American Studies there. It would be awesome to bring Utah on board. Our universities would need to get involved—or be involved more. Your bilingual and dual language teachers could lead the way as so many of them are doing here in Austin, Texas. See this post for a good description of our efforts in Austin and statewide.
All told, this is an important and admirable step that Utah is taking. As with any endeavor, it's always good to know what you don't know. I truly hope that Utah teachers and school leaders will lead in every way possible. It is a new day and you should be very proud.
Cintli Rodriguez, R. (2014). Our sacred maíz is our mother: Indigeneity and belonging in the Americas. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
Colín, E. (2014). Indigenous education through dance and ceremony: A Mexica palimpsest. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dixon, E. J. (2000). Bones, boats, and bison: Archeology and the first colonization of western North America. Albuquerque, NM: New Mexico Press.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare teach. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Galeano, E. (1997). Open veins of Latin America: Five centuries of the pillage of a continent. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.
Urrieta, L. (2009). Working from within: Chicana and Chicano activist educators in whitestream schools. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
But it may the first in one respect. Following the recommendation of the nation's leading bilingual education groups, officials in the Beehive State will establish a two-tier seal of biliteracy to separately honor advanced and intermediate speakers.
The two-tier biliteracy seal was among the recommendations presented by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and other organizations that drafted recommendations for the seal of biliteracy in spring 2015.
Using ACTFL's proficiency guidelines for speaking, writing, listening, and reading languages, the state will award platinum seals to students who reach an "Advanced Mid" level. According to the
"Advanced Mid speakers contribute to conversations on a variety of
familiar topics, dealt with concretely, with much accuracy, clarity and
precision, and they convey their intended message without
misrepresentation or confusion. They are readily understood by native
speakers unaccustomed to dealing with non-natives."
Gold seals will go to students at the Intermediate Mid level. According to the guidelines:
"Intermediate Mid speakers are able to express personal meaning by
creating with the language, in part by combining and recombining known
elements and conversational input to produce responses typically
consisting of sentences and strings of sentences. Their speech may
contain pauses, reformulations, and self-corrections as they search for
adequate vocabulary and appropriate language forms to express
themselves. In spite of the limitations in their vocabulary and/or
pronunciation and/or grammar and/or syntax, Intermediate Mid speakers
are generally understood by sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to
dealing with non-natives."
Intermediate Mid speakers are able to express personal meaning by creating with the language, in part by combining and recombining known elements and conversational input to produce responses typically consisting of sentences and strings of sentences. Their speech may contain pauses, reformulations, and self-corrections as they search for adequate vocabulary and appropriate language forms to express themselves. In spite of the limitations in their vocabulary and/or pronunciation and/or grammar and/or syntax, Intermediate Mid speakers are generally understood by sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to dealing with non-natives."
Utah will offer its biliteracy seals to students proficient in English and one or more world languages or the indigenous languages of Navajo or Ute. The honor is available to all students, including English-language learners, starting with the graduating class of 2017, said Gregg Roberts, a world languages and dual-language immersion specialist with the Utah State Office of Education
Other states that offer biliteracy seals have toyed with the idea of a two-tier system, but face a quandary: set the bar for proficiency too low and the honor loses some of its luster because students aren't truly proficient in the language; or set the bar too high and make the seal nearly unattainable?
"We want to make sure that students are truly achieving in that second language," Roberts said.
The state school board in December unanimously approved the plan to offer the seal. The seal will be administered at the state level and school districts may not opt out.
"For equity reasons, we wanted to make it available to all students," Roberts said.
Roberts said a committee of language-learner experts will meet in the coming weeks to determine which assessments the state will use to measure students' proficiency in the second language.
The ACTFL, the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages, the National Association for Bilingual Education, and the TESOL International Association, recommend that students demonstrate proficiency on state tests for English/language arts for all students and English-language development exams for English-learners; and that native English speakers seeking to demonstrate proficiency in another language should achieve a state-determined minimum score on any number of tests, including Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, and tribal-language assessments.
Establishing the seal of biliteracy in Utah is just the latest push in the state's effort to boost foreign language education.
In recent years, government and industry leaders in Utah have ramped up resources and funding for dual-language learning, offering languages ranging from Portuguese to Mandarin, with the goal of developing a multilingual work force to lure international companies to their state in an increasingly competitive job market. The state is among a growing number that see foreign language acquisition as the key to accessing the global economy.
Seal of Biliteracy Approved Guidelines