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Review of  Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire

Reviewer: Marc Deneire
Book Title: Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire
Book Author: Jim Cummins
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 12.2551

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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 --Eds.]

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

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

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.

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.

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.