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Review of The Foreign Language Educator in Society
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2003 19:12:01 -0500 From: Lynn Pearson Subject: The Foreign Language Educator in Society: Toward a Critical Pedagogy.
Reagan, Timothy G., and Terry A. Osborn (2002) The Foreign Language Educator in Society: Toward a Critical Pedagogy. Laurence Erlbaum and Associates, paperback ISBN 0-8058-3592-X, xiv+185pp, $24.50.
Lynn Pearson, Department of Romance Languages, Bowling Green State University
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK In this book, the authors connect foreign language (FL) education with critical pedagogy with the aim of developing critical awareness on the part of FL educators in the US about issues beyond questions of teaching methodology. Some material was previously published in articles (Reagan, 1997, 1999; Reagan & Osborn, 1998). The book covers such topics as language attitudes, language practices, language rights, language policy, and others to illustrate the social, political, ideological, and economic facets of language education. The book is written for use in FL education programs at basic and advanced levels, and for other courses in critical pedagogy, critical language awareness, sociolinguistics, social and cultural foundations in education. It contains nine chapters of text followed by two sections of questions, the first set for reflection and discussion and the second set relating to classroom practice.
CHAPTER ONE When Methodology Fails: A Critical Look at Foreign Language Education This chapter presents the challenge of expanding the focus in language education beyond teaching methodology to consider other issues that affect learners' outcomes in acquiring target languages (TLs). Although many students take FL courses at some point during their studies, few attain advanced levels of proficiency in the TLs. The failures in language teaching and language learning cannot be explained solely as matter of methodology. Instead, the authors critically examine the 'social, political, cultural, historical, and economic context in which language education takes place' (p. 2). For example, structural and institutional constraints of most FL programs preclude the needed exposure to a TL in and out of the classroom. In addition, the ideological restrictions on FL education are considered, such as the use of 'foreign' to reflect the 'Otherness' of a TL, the preference for certain dialects (e.g., Parisian French vs. other French varieties), and the treatment of native or heritage speakers, who speak a variety different than the classroom norm, as remedial learners. Despite these very real challenges, the authors argue for FL education as way to 'introduce and initiate the individual into our common, human social, and cultural heritage' (p. 12). Through the study of the TL, learners can gain awareness of shared and different realities that exist in the world and develop tolerance and understanding of linguistic and other types of diversity.
CHAPTER TWO From Reflective Practice to Emancipatory Knowledge in Foreign Language Education This chapter focuses on the knowledge base needed to teach a FL effectively and the concepts of reflective practice and critical pedagogy. Using a conceptualization by Shulman (1987), the authors outline the categories of knowledge for a language educator. The authors propose an alternative conceptualization to more accurately reflect the actual work of FL educators, namely, the teacher as 'decision-maker.' The concept of 'reflective practice' has been introduced by education scholars as a way for teachers to reflect on their rationale for decisions in instruction. Reflective practice is a cyclical process with 'reflection-for-practice' (reflection about instructional planning before teaching), and 'reflection-in-practice' (employing knowledge of content, pedagogy, and learners in the classroom), and 'reflection-on-practice' (retrospective reflection post-teaching). By using reflective practice, educators can improve their teaching and empower themselves as decision makers in their instruction. A special note is made of the growing number of native-heritage language educators and how reflective practice can help them to employ their own background knowledge to contextualize the TL in their classes. The concept of 'critical pedagogy' is introduced with reference to the role of public schooling in the US context. Citing the work of various scholars (Freire, 1973, 1974; Giroux, 1992, McLaren, 1989 and others), the authors define cultural pedagogy as the 'recognition that schooling is an intrinsically political activity' (p. 28) instead of neutral or objective. With regard to FL education, critical pedagogy provides a framework to critically analyze the field in order to examine its failures and its potential to 'function as a positive and constructive force in American education' (p. 30).
CHAPTER THREE Whose language is Real? Language Variation and Language Legitimacy In this chapter, language varieties and their legitimacy are examined with regard to social, political and educational contexts. The chapter begins with a discussion of the terms language and dialect and the construct of linguistic legitimacy, defined as 'which varieties are deemed by society (or some subset of the society) to be legitimate, and which are not' (p. 34). To illustrate how the linguistic legitimacy of various languages has been challenged, three examples are presented: African American Vernacular English, American Sign Language (ASL), and Esperanto. Each case is detailed to demonstrate that classification of a language as 'illegitimate' stems from nonlinguistic, social, and political biases rather than actual linguistic factors. For example, the legitimacy of ASL has been questioned because it does not have written literary tradition and the learning of ASL as a FL to fulfill requirements at US universities has been rejected because ASL is not 'foreign' or does not possess a 'culture'. The issue of linguistic legitimacy is extremely important for FL educators because they are a primary source for their students regarding language and language variation. Learners need to be aware of other varieties of the TL and even learn alternate vocabulary and structures, along with those of the mainstream variety. In addition to this sociolinguistic knowledge, FL education can develop learners' 'critical language awareness' about the political and ideological power of language. Instead of reaffirming prejudicial attitudes towards a language and its speakers, FL study can 'empower students to better understand the social roles of language in society' (p. 51).
CHAPTER FOUR Constructivist Epistemology and Foreign Language Teaching and Learning In this chapter, the authors detail the central assumptions and concepts of 'constructivism' and how this theory can contribute to pedagogical practice in FL education and other instructional contexts. A brief discussion of the use of metaphors in educational discourse is presented to illustrate how metaphorical expressions allow comprehension of complicated issues and concepts. For example, use of war metaphors, such as 'being in the trenches' illuminate a teacher's preoccupations with classroom management and his or her responses. Constructivism is an important metaphor in educational literature for understanding knowledge and learning. It rejects both behaviorist and transmission-oriented approaches to learning. In the constructivist model, learners construct their knowledge, making learning an individual and personal process. Learning also an active and collaborative process. Constructivism as a theory has many competing approaches, but two main types that have emerged are 'radical constructivism' (knowledge is the result from the learner's active mental effort) and 'social constructivism' (the learner's individual active and mental processes take place in a sociocultural context). While constructivism is not a theory of teaching, constructivist classrooms exhibit certain features, such as instructional strategies based on students' responses. For FL instruction, constructivist concepts reflect the process of TL acquisition, which is a 'reconstruction' both of linguistic structures and patterns of behavior. The authors provide several examples of constructivist approaches in FL teaching: a communicative lesson on the Spanish verb 'gustar' "to like", the role of grammar explanations, and use of technology for native speaker interaction.
CHAPTER FIVE Critical Curriculum Development in the Foreign Language Classroom This chapter addresses critical curriculum development for the teaching of FLs. Traditional models of curriculum development are hierarchical moving from a starting point of defining philosophical issues, to setting goals, and finally, to the formulation of units and lessons. While such models make connections between curriculum components, their top-down organization is not conducive to the core principles of critical pedagogy with its democratic and holistic approach to curriculum. The authors propose three characteristics for the critical language curriculum to guide development and practice. The first is that the critical language curriculum is based on 'problem posing' with regard to language. The questions and issues presented to learners may concern specific communicative goals in the curriculum, but also incorporate awareness of language, language use, and language attitudes (e.g., language in advertising from the US and other countries). The second aspect of critical language curriculum is its holistic construction and extension beyond disciplinary boundaries. An interdisciplinary curriculum links FL study with other areas. Units or themes for critical interdisciplinary study of culture need to have connective validity by integrating language skills, contextualizing or subjectivizing the domestic or home culture, and giving primary focus to pluralism at the global or local level and language diversity. The third characteristic of critical language curriculum concerns evaluation of learners' emancipatory knowledge. Assessment in this curriculum model would test the ways that learners "construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct the world as related to language diversity" (p. 79). Evaluations can be done in either target or native language and assess students' understanding of language diversity and/or TL skills.
CHAPTER SIX Foreign Language Teaching as Social Activism The role of FL educators as social activists is presented. The authors argue that studying languages in our education systems serves to identify the 'foreign' or the 'Others'. Learners may acquire language skills, but retain ideologies of 'Otherness' with regard to the TL and its speakers. Instead, FL educators can embrace teaching as a 'political act' and counter the foreignness within the FL curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment in favor of an approach that values language diversity. Strategies to incorporate the ideals of critical pedagogy within the traditional structure of FL teaching include various types of curricular nullification to formulate socially transformative pedagogy. Along with critical reflection (see Ch. 2) and critical pedagogy, curricular nullification and other activist practices can change the role of FL classroom from the 'definer of deviance to an educational agency for social change' (p. 89).
CHAPTER SEVEN Language Rights as Human Rights: Social and Educational Implications The chapter outlines the concept of language rights. It provides an overview of language rights within the construct of human rights as detailed in various international agreements. Language rights have been defined as the right to express and develop a language and to have education in a mother tongue. Despite the provisions in United Nations Declarations and the constitutions of various countries, violations of language rights continue to occur throughout the world. Some cases of language right violations in educational contexts are presented with regard to specific languages: Kurdish in Turkey, Russian in Post-Soviet Estonia, immigrant and indigenous language in the United States, and the Deaf communities' languages in various countries.
CHAPTER EIGHT When in Rome (or Pretoria): Language Policy in International Perspective In this chapter, language planning is discussed as an applied sociolinguistic activity using examples from various countries. Language planning and language policy are detailed to show the ways of reforming linguistic codes and language use and the issues that motivate such changes. Some language planning activities include language status planning, to designate an official language, and language revitalization. The ideological bases of language planning are also addressed. As the authors note, language planning activities can empower and liberate, in the case of linguistic pluralism, or serve as a tool to oppress and dominate, as in the case of linguistic assimilation. Next the process of language planning is outlined: 1) Initial fact-finding phase; 2) Formulation of goals and strategies to achieve them; 3) Implementation process; 4) Evaluation of all aspects of the language planning process. The authors propose the application of Kerr's (1976) tests for good public policy to evaluate and language policies and the planning processes. Two extensive analyses of language policy development and implementation are presented: Post-Apartheid South Africa and the case of Irish in Ireland. The chapter concludes with a discussion of language policy at the school level and its relevance for FL educators.
CHAPTER NINE Toward a Critical Foreign Language Pedagogy The final chapter discusses the implications of issues raised throughout the book for FL teaching and learning. FL education is more than teaching a linguistic code and includes developing learners' knowledge about language and attitudes towards language. The authors advocate teaching for the development of metalinguistic awareness as part of the critical pedagogy of FL education. The knowledge about language can include many of the issues covered in the book and others and an outline of metalinguistic knowledge base is presented. Teachers can use various strategies to examine their roles in creating an 'emancipatory FL pedagogy', such as critical reflection, curricular nullification, and employing metalinguistic content in their classes. Two strategies recommended by the authors to begin reflection on teaching and attitudes are teaching portfolios and teacher narratives. The authors also detail their own identities and contexts ('two white guys' in the US who teach and study languages and cultures) as an example of the critical reflection needed for emancipatory pedagogy. The book concludes with appeal for FL educators to expand the scope of FL teaching to not only teach a TL, but also to develop learners' awareness about language.
CRITICAL EVALUATION Reagan and Osborn's book makes a valuable contribution to the field of FL teacher education. The wide range of topics addressed in this volume rightfully expands the scope of concerns for language educators. Readers of the book are asked to consider language teaching within social and political contexts and to examine the role of the language educator as the conveyor of knowledge about the TL, its speakers and cultures. The authors outline several useful concepts and strategies, such as reflective practice, language awareness, and constructivism, among others, to aid present and future FL teachers to develop their critical pedagogy. The various theoretical concepts are related to very real methodological dilemmas that face FL teachers; namely, teaching grammar, assessment, and formulation of FL curriculum. In addition, the book presents current examples from different countries to demonstrate how the phenomenon of language education is shaped by questions of language legitimacy and language planning.
This book is highly recommended to its intended readers: present and future FL teachers. The text is concise and clearly written, making it both accessible for introductory classes and sufficiently complex for more advanced readers. The question sets that follow each chapter provide thought-provoking queries to stimulate discussion and aid readers to examine the various issues in terms of their work as language educators. For classes that do not specifically pertain to language education, the book, as a whole or in parts, will still be a excellent resource for introducing students to the topics covered by the authors.
REFERENCES Freire, P. (1973). Education for critical consciousness. New York: Seabury Press.
Freire, P. (1974). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.
Giroux, H. (1992). Border crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education. New York: Routledge.
Kerr, D. (1976). Educational policy: Analysis, structure, and justification. New York: McKay.
McLaren, P. (1989). Life in schools. New York: Longman.
Osborn, T. (2000). Critical reflection and the foreign language classroom. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.
Reagan, T. (1997). When is a language not a language? Challenges to linguistic legitimacy in educational discourse. Educational Foundations, 11, 5-28.
Reagan, T. (1999). Constructivist epistemology and second/foreign language pedagogy. Foreign Language Annals, 32, 413-425.
Reagan, T., & Osborn, T. (1998). Power, authority, and domination in foreign language education: Toward and analysis of educational faiure. Educational Foundations, 12, 45-62.
Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-22.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Lynn Pearson is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Undergraduate Advisor for Spanish Education majors at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She teaches courses in second language acquisition, history of Spanish, and dialectology. Her research interests include interlanguage pragmatics, teacher education, dialectology, and using technology in language and linguistics courses. She recently completed a project, which employed digital audio technology to teach Spanish dialectology.