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Negotiating Language Policies in Schools: Educators as Policymakers

reviewed by Peter Snow - October 04, 2010

coverTitle: Negotiating Language Policies in Schools: Educators as Policymakers
Author(s): Kate Menken and Ofelia Garcia (eds.)
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415802083, Pages: 296, Year: 2010
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This book is the most recent contribution to the growing literature on language education policies, an increasingly significant subfield of general education policy that examines language planning in school systems serving multilingual populations. The fourteen essays in this collection are unique in that they foreground the role of educators at the local level in the interpretation and implementation of language education policies and present educators as agents of change who frequently find themselves bridging the gap between the intentions of policymakers and the realities of life in the classroom.

Research on language planning and education began to gain currency in the late 1950s following Haugens (1959) discussion of language planning in Norway. In subsequent years, the attention gradually shifted from the languages that were being planned to the speakers of languages who necessitated the planning (Fishman, 1972) and, later, to theorizing education as a type of language planning (Cooper, 1989). With this new volume, the editors have wisely chosen to focus an analytical lens for the first time on the educators, particularly classroom teachers, tasked with transforming macro-level policies into micro-level interactions.

The contributors to this wide-ranging yet coherent volume recognize the value of analyzing the heretofore-unexamined dynamic negotiation of language policies that takes place everyday in classrooms the world over. By carefully illustrating how language policies are socially constructed through quotidian discursive practices, the contributors reveal how educators, while they may not be the official policymakers are, in fact, the real policymakers. According to the editors, language education policies are the joint product of the educators constructive activity, as well as the context in which this constructive activity is built (p. 256). To demonstrate this, the editors have assembled an impressive collection of essays spanning six continents and thirteen different educational contexts. In the introductory chapter (pp. 1-10), the editors concisely establish the framework for their approach and explain why they have chosen to place the agency of educators at the center of their analysis of language education policy. They also describe the organization of the book and briefly discuss their rationale for dividing it up into three sections.

The first section of the book, Negotiation of Language Education Policies Guided by Educators Experiences or Identity (Individual), contains seven essays, Chapters 2-8, in which the authors approach to language policy implementation is guided by individual forces or their own personal experiences. The second section, Educators Negotiation of Language Education Policies Influenced by Situation/Context/Community (Social), contains six essays, Chapters 9-14, in which the authors approach is guided by social forces exerting influence upon the individual actors. Each of the chapters in these two sections concludes with anywhere from 2-7 Discussion Questions, some more useful than others, aimed at teachers and future teachers. The third section, Moving Forward (Chapters 15 and 16), consists of a concluding chapter and a final, brief consideration of ten guiding principles and practical suggestions for educators involved in the negotiation of language policies in schools. The book has both an author index and a subject index.

Chapter 2, Appropriating Language Policy on the Local Level: Working the Spaces for Bilingual Education (pp. 13-31) by David Cassels Johnson and Rebecca Freeman, focuses on the role educators of all stripes - including administrators, teachers, and researchers - can play in developing and promoting bilingual policies and programs. The authors of this chapter effectively combine ethnographic research conducted in public schools in Philadelphia (USA) with discourse analysis of bilingual education policy discussions in the surrounding community to reveal how educators and researchers can collaborate on the local level to promote bilingual education despite the fact that access to bilingual education programs in the United States has been restricted in recent years due to federal educational policy.

In the third chapter, Two-Teacher Classrooms, Personalized Learning and the Inclusion Paradigm: Whats in it for Learners of EAL? (pp. 32-51), Angela Creese discursively analyzes transcripts of everyday classroom interactions in two different London (England) secondary schools in order to illuminate the challenges and opportunities associated with the implementation of three different language policies in the United Kingdom. Creese reveals how these policies - two-teacher classrooms, personalized learning, and the inclusion approach - while designed at the policy-making level to assist students learning English as an additional language (EAL), are not always implemented by teachers in ways that allow English language learners to negotiate meaning and succeed. Creese insightfully demonstrates how discourses of inclusion and personalization, produced by EAL teachers, are frequently overpowered by discourses of competition, which are fueled by the classroom teachers need to transmit the curriculum to the entire class.

In Chapter 4, Tu Sais Bien Parler Maîtresse!: Negotiating Languages other than French in the Primary Classroom in France (pp. 52-71), Christine Hélot considers the paradox of French language policies that promote bilingualism for French-speaking students and, at the same time, promote monolingual French instruction for nonnative speakers of French. By analyzing the reflective process of two student teachers working in a pre-primary school in the Alsace region of France, Hélot reveals in a straightforward way how teachers even though they may be constrained by official language policies can make language choices that have a tangible effect on the lives of their students.

Chapter 5, Angles Make Things Difficult: Teachers Interpretations of Language Policy and Quechua Revitalization in Peru (pp. 72-87) by Laura Alicia Valdiviezo, ethnographically examines teachers interpretations of a Quechua revitalization project in the context of a Quechua/Spanish bilingual education program in rural Peruvian classrooms. Valdiviezo describes how the bilingual teachers in the program even though they had received no training on pedagogical approaches to language revitalization - still managed to create policy from the ground up, showing that teachers are in fact central to the improvement of indigenous revitalization efforts (p. 85).

Carole Bloch, Xolisa Guzula, and Ntombizanele Nkence also examine the challenges teachers face when tasked with implementing a bilingual education program in a multilingual society, this time in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The authors of the sixth chapter, Towards Normalizing South African classroom life: The Ongoing Struggle to Implement Mother-Tongue Based Bilingual Education (pp. 88-106), describe how teachers working in the townships on the outskirts of Cape Town are grappling with both the theoretical and practical issues involved in implementing a Xhosa/English bilingual program. By analyzing the preliminary results of a long-term research project focusing on the use of Xhosa in the classroom, the authors demonstrate quite clearly how language policy implementation can require both teachers and students to change their attitudes towards language varieties and rethink the role those varieties may play in the classroom.

In Chapter 7, Enacting Language Policy through the Facilitator Model in a Monolingual Policy Context in the United States (pp. 107-122), Bonnie English and Manka Varghese describe and analyze the collaboration between two teachers (an English-as-a-second-language or ESL teacher and a classroom teacher) in a linguistically diverse school district in Washington State. This case study reveals how the negotiation of language policies must be contextualized and interpreted within a particular educational model (similar to Creeses discussion in Chapter 3). In addition, the chapter demonstrates, quite poignantly, that although there can be successful collaborations between classroom teachers and ESL teachers, such collaborations tend to be quite exceptional. The authors suggest that unless more resources (financial, staffing, and professional development) are made available, such collaborations will remain exceptions rather than becoming the rule.

The final chapter in the first section of the book, Between Intended and Enacted Curricula: Three Teachers and a Mandated Curricular Reform in Mainland China (pp. 123-142) by Yuefeng Zhang and Guangwei Hu, presents case studies of three primary school English teachers in Shenzhen (China) in order to analyze how teachers are responding to the top-down promotion of the task-based approach to the teaching of English. The authors demonstrate how, once again, teachers were provided with little information about the policy and how it should be implemented. It was effectively left to the individual teachers to decide if they would actually adopt and implement this curricular innovation. The authors convincingly articulate how the teachers own language ideologies played an important role in their interpretation of the policy.

The first chapter in the second part of the book, Maori Language Policy and Practice in New Zealand Schools: Community Challenges and Community Solutions (pp. 145-161) by Mere Berryman, Ted Glynn, Paul Woller, and Mate Reweti, moves away from the role of individual actors in the interpretation of language policy and considers instead the role of social forces. In this case, Maori teachers, families, and communities all contributed to the development of a culturally appropriate and culturally responsive Maori-medium curriculum in response to the loss of the Maori language and cultural practices. The authors point out that although the program like all of the bilingual programs considered in this book - is fraught with challenges, there are good reasons to be optimistic about its future success.

In Chapter 10, (Re) Constructing Language Policy in a Shii School in Lebanon (pp. 162-181), Zeena Zakharia examines the reconstruction of language policies during periods of sociopolitical conflict by focusing on the practices of four language teachers in a multilingual school in Beirut (Lebanon). Zakharia demonstrates quite clearly how teachers utilize a community-centered approach in order to create safe spaces for language development, political expression, and engagement of contemporary social concerns (p. 170).

Chapter 11, Cases of Language Policy Resistance in Israels Centralized Educational System (pp. 182-197) by Elana Shohamy, carefully examines the relationship between top-down language policies and the bottom-up forces that must interpret the policies. By analyzing this relationship within the context of Israel and in three separate ideological sites the teaching of spoken Arabic, in bilingual Arabic-Hebrew schools, and the teaching of English to young language learners Shohamy manages to show how even in centralized educational systems spaces remain for bottom-up initiatives motivated by social, economic, and political realities to take root.

Michael Daniel Ambatchews essay, Traversing the Linguistic Quicksand in Ethiopia (pp. 198-210), is the twelfth chapter in the volume. In it, the author briefly examines Ethiopias ambitious language education policy that allows for all of the approximately 80 languages spoken in the country to be used as media of instruction. Ambatchew considers the ways in which teachers in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) adapt language education policy (mainly through code-switching) and the ways in which parents circumvent the policy in order to enroll their children in schools with their chosen medium of instruction.

In Chapter 13, Language Policy in Education and Classroom Practices in India: Is the Teacher a Cog in the Policy Wheel? (pp. 211-231), Ajit Mohanty, Minati Panda, and Rashim Pal examine the sociolinguistic situation in India and suggest that state language policies are responsible for the creation and perpetuation of a double-divide: one division between English and vernacular languages and the other between vernacular varieties and other languages. According to the authors, this divide has permitted English to emerge as the dominant language in schools while all other languages have been almost completely neglected. This means that teachers, yet again, must establish and maintain their own linguistic spaces in their classrooms if they hope to resist what the authors call an unjust and inadequate (p. 228) state policy.

Chapter 14, Chilean Literacy Education Policies and Classroom Implementation (pp. 232-246) by Viviana Galdames and Rosa Gaete, is a fitting way to close the volume. The authors carefully considered analysis of language and literacy policies introduced by the Chilean Ministry of Education since the return to democracy in 1990 and teachers interpretations of the policies cogently restates what all of the essays in the volume have expressed in one form or another. Namely, that teachers are never just passive participants and that their classrooms become laboratories for experimentation and transformation of policy (p. 232).

To sum up, the editors have assembled a unique collection of state-of-the-art essays on language policies and education that focus on the role of teachers in the implementation of language policies in a wide range of educational contexts. All of the essays are informative, interesting and of a very high quality. Educational linguists, sociolinguists, applied linguists, teachers, future teachers and anyone else interested in the impact of language policies on classroom interactions would do well to read this volume.


Cooper, R. L. (1989). Language planning and social change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fishman, J. A. (1972). The sociology of language: An interdisciplinary social science approach to language in society. Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers.

Haugen, E. (1959). Planning for a standard language in Norway. Anthropological Linguistics, 1, 8-21.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 04, 2010
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16185, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 8:42:50 PM

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