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Activities & Lessons
Social Justice & Student Voice
Human Restoration Project, Creative Commons-BY-SA. Created by Drs. Carrie Gillon and Megan Figueroa as part of Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022.
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These lessons aim to help educators understand the concept of linguistic discrimination and fight back against this dehumanizing practice in schools.
Linguistic discrimination is a widely accepted form of discrimination because it is built into our institutions and disguised as “common sense.” This multi-part course is created by Dr. Carrie Gillon and Dr. Megan Figueroa, both experts on linguistics and language learning who host the podcast Vocal Fries. This course introduces participants to the various ways the educational system is set up to perpetuate the status quo of white linguistic hegemony and, ultimately, white supremacy.
These lessons are designed for teacher professional development. However, they could easily be converted and used for classroom use, especially in the humanities.
The collective molding done by our educational system has worked so well that:
“…the overwhelming majority of Americans have been instilled with a rocklike conviction that certain linguistic forms are correct, while others are wrong. Even those Americans who are uncertain about precisely which forms are correct are usually confident that to find the answer they need only look the matter up in the right book or consult the proper authority.” (Burling, 1973, p. 130).
Reflect on when you first questioned the standardized language ideology that we all learn in school.
Read: James Baldwin’s If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?
Reflect on how the institution of school made you feel about your language(s). Did you feel validated? Alienated? Was it something you were made to feel about your speech/sign or was it just your writing? If you have worked in a classroom, how have you un/intentionally perpetuated the standardized language ideology? Outside of the classroom, how have you un/intentionally perpetuated the standardized language ideology?
Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Álvero Rios joined us on the podcast to talk about growing up in the Borderlands, specifically in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, MX. He shared this with us about speaking Spanish in public school:
You got swatted… for doing something bad. So, we didn’t just learn, you know, our first lesson in language, we got our first lesson in making an equation. And our parents said listen to your teacher… You know that you’re going to get swatted for speaking Spanish, and you know that you speak Spanish, and you know you get swatted for doing something wrong. You make the equation. You’re feeling this with the body. Second grade comes around and the equation widens out. Your body is a little bigger and it fits more now. Because now it’s been demonstrated: you get swatted for speaking Spanish and you start to recognize by second grade your parents speak Spanish your family speaks Spanish and if Spanish is bad, they, then, must be bad. Now you don’t say that out loud, but you have learned it through the mechanisms of the body, not the intellect.
Answer the following: what are the ways in which children are making this “equation” in classrooms today?
In 1918, the Chicago Women’s Club held “The Better American Speech Week.” Here’s the actual pledge children recited:
I love the United States of America. I love my country’s flag. I love my country’s language. I promise:
1) that I will not dishonor my country’s speech by leaving off the last syllable of words.
2) That I will say good American “yes” and “no” in place of an Indian grunt “umhum” and “nup-um” or a foreign “ya” or “yeh” and “nope.”
3) That I will do my best to improve American speech by enunciating distinctly and byspeaking clearly, pleasantly, and sincerely.
4) That I will try to make my country’s language beautiful for the many boys and girls of foreign nations who come here to live.
In the opposite spirit of “The Better American Speech Week” pledge, share a few mantras about language that you want your students to know to be true.