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Review of Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire
Cummins, Jim (2000) Language, Power, and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire. Multilingual Matters, Ltd, 309 pp. $24.95.
Marc Deneire and Ang�lique Bouch�s, Universit� Nancy 2
[Another review of this book can be found at http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-489.html --Eds.]
OVERVIEW In Language, Power and Pedagogy, Cummins attempts to demonstrate how his own body of work results from a dialogic relation between theory and practice, and has always been informed by broader social and political concerns.
In the first part of the book (2 chapters), C. shows how political authorities in various countries have failed (or refused to) understand the full implications of bilingual education (BE). This has led misguided forms of implementation and counter- productive experiences which these same authorities have used to oppose BE in all its forms. In the second chapter of this first part, Cummins demonstrates how societal relations of power between groups are reflected in the classroom. Micro- interactions between educators, students and communities "either reinforce coercive relations of power or promote collaborative relations of power" (p. 44). The former type of relations reflects an exclusionary/assimilationist orientation and leads to subtractive bilingualism, and the latter type to a transformative/intercultural orientation that results in additive bilingualism.
The second part focuses on issues of language proficiency and assessment. C. first clarifies his BICS/CALP construct (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills/Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) and defends his construct against those researchers and theorists who have "accused" him of adopting a "deficit" theory or an "autonomous" perspective. He uses the work of well respected scholars (Vygotsky, Bruner, Canale, etc.) to support his model, and responds to various critiques (Edelsky, Wiley, Romaine, etc.) in chapter 4. In the next two chapters, C. addresses the assessment of language proficiency for adults (Ch. 5) and school-aged children (Ch. 6). He argues that current research in language testing supports his BICS/CALP distinction. Indeed, as proficiency increases, conversational and academic skills become increasingly differentiated. Furthermore, he argues that the recent psychometric research that showed a high degree of correlation between the different components of the TOEFL test and the Cambridge First Certificate confirms the existence of the CALP construct, since these tests aim at assessing academic proficiency.
The third part of the book (4 chapters) addresses specific aspects of the politics, theory, and practice of bilingual education programs. C. first argues that the interdependence hypothesis (as opposed to the time-on-task or maximum exposure hypothesis) has gained wide theoretical support in a variety of sociolinguistic contexts (Ch. 7). Unfortunately, the role of theory in research implementation and interpretation has often been neglected, leading to a number of well-known controversies. In chapters 9 and 10, C. returns to the issues raised in chapter 2. Chapter 9 examines some of the political debates around the question of bilingual education and proposes a theoretical framework which might re-establish communication between opponents and advocates of BE. Chapter 10 discusses the micro-interactions between educators and students in the light of transformative pedagogy. C. uses a traditional "framework for academic language learning," with a focus on meaning, language and use and shows how a transformative orientation can be built into each of these three focus areas.
CRITIQUE Through this impressive critical review of the research and debates related to BE during the past 20 years, Cummins seems to pursue two objectives: (1) to re-frame his work within the context of socio-political concerns, and (2) to defend his work against those who have accused him of adopting an autonomous approach to BE. Unfortunately, the number of studies mentioned, assessed, and critiqued rapidly becomes overwhelming and soon makes the reading of the book rather tedious, especially for those (like ourselves) who have never viewed Cummins's approach as devoid of broader social concerns. His attempt to reconsider his work within the framework of critical pedagogy also seems somewhat artificial. Indeed, only three chapters (2, 9 and 10) address socio-political concerns and classroom power relations directly while the rest of the book almost exclusively centers on the polemic between the author and his detractors. As a result, we recommend this book to those interested in a broad meta-critical review of BE and Cummins work. However, personally, we much preferred his original work.
ABOUT THE REVIEWERS Marc Deneire obtained in PhD in Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education (SLATE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 1994. His main research interests are in sociolinguistics and language policy, and Language for Specific Purposes. He is presently Associate Professor of English at the University of Nancy 2 (France).
Ang�lique Bouch�s is a graduate student in the English Department at the University of Nancy 2.