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Colorblind bilingual programs can perpetuate bias, study finds

By Karen Nikos-Rose on April 20, 2015 in

Many presume bilingual education can level the academic playing field for English learners, but one UC Davis professor calls foul on current practices.

In a new paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association on April 20, education professor Chris Faltis argues that “colorblind” approaches to multilingualism in education mask agendas that privilege the dominant, or “whitestream,” culture.

Drawing upon research first done by Jodi Melamed of Marquette University, Faltis argues that scholarship on bilingual education during the past 25 years has “strategically erased race” from bilingual education. In its place is “coded language that bilingual education serves mainly poor, Spanish-speaking children and youth; children of undocumented parents; and brown people.”

Racial beliefs about Hispanic children accepted as social reality

Because many bilingual programs are cast as a means “to close the achievement gap between white and Hispanic children,” according to Faltis, the false notion that race and academic achievement are causally linked gets perpetuated. “When bilingual education is presented this way, racial beliefs about Hispanic children are accepted as a social reality.”

Worse still, Faltis says research and practices in bilingual education “ignore the role of social language in learning, destroying local language practices in bilingual communities,” and positioning academic English as superior to Spanish.

“While there are arguments for using color-blindness as a promising approach to advocate for bilingual education,” said Faltis, “in the long run, erasing race from bilingual education scholarship ultimately enables racism to fester and racial injustice to persist.”

Faltis offers an alternative “Race Radical Vision” that resists race-erased “official anti-racist policies and programs” and places greater value on the ability of local language communities to advocate for social justice and resist racist language and practices.

Faltis is presenting “Challenging Race Erased Perspectives of Language in Whitestream Bilingual Education: Toward a Race Radical Vision” at the annual meeting of the AERA in Chicago today.

Media (s)

Karen Nikos-Rose, Research news (emphasis: arts, humanities and social sciences), 530-219-5472, [email protected]

Donna Justice, School of Education, (530) 754-4826, [email protected]

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