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Advancing Language Justice: Decolonizing Classrooms Through Linguistic Equity

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Language is powerful. It is more than just a tool for communication; it is an expression of culture, identity, and history. However, within our education systems, language is often a field of contention. As we strive to decolonize education, we must address the essential issue of language justice and support multilingual education.

Language justice is the right for all individuals to learn, communicate, and thrive academically in a language that authentically represents their identity and culture. It necessitates valuing the innate worth of all languages equally.

Language intrinsically ties to identity. It allows us to make meaning of the world while situating ourselves within it. However, in many education systems today, linguistic injustice prevails. Too often, education systems are monolingual, favoring the dominant language at the expense of others. Schools often elevate dominant languages like English while marginalizing nonmajority mother tongues and dialects. This exclusion poses a significant challenge for speakers of languages marginalized by colonialism and other forms of oppression, who must navigate an education system that does not fully respect or reflect their rich linguistic heritage. Herein lies the crux of the language justice issue: the right of individuals to learn, grow, and express themselves in their Indigenous or native languages.

Supporting language justice and multilingual education is an essential step in decolonizing education. Ensuring all languages are valued and included creates more equitable and inclusive learning environments. But how do we go about it?

Here are some questions and suggestions to consider.

1. Recognize all languages as strengths: Acknowledge that every language holds value and represents a unique culture and worldview. Promote a culture of respect and inclusion for all languages within the learning environment.

  • How might valuing some languages over others perpetuate linguistic imperialism? What are the risks of an English-only approach?

  • If language represents culture and identity, what is lost when languages face extinction or marginalization in education systems?

  • How might terms like "English Language Learners" center English as the default? What mindsets or assumptions could this encourage?

2. Intentionally incorporate multilingual education: Implement dual language programs that teach in two languages and foster bilingualism and biliteracy. Create communities of practice for teachers to strengthen their multilingual teaching skills collaboratively.

3. Advocate for policy change: Advocate for educational policies that respect and honor all languages and support multilingual education. Push for systemic change that ensures language justice at all levels of education.

Building Level:

  • Ongoing professional learning focused on working with multilingual students and families from a strengths-based, asset-driven mindset. Instead of seeing language diversity as a deficit, challenge, or problem, reframe it as an asset and resource to leverage in instruction.

  • Value the cultural wealth and background knowledge students bring.

  • Center the voices of those impacted by linguistic injustice and examine complicity in maintaining oppressive systems.

  • Establish restorative practices for addressing linguistic discrimination between students and staff.

  • Take a justice-based approach focused on reflection, understanding impact, and reconciliation.

District Level:

  • Audit existing policies, structures, and curricula through an equity lens. Identify areas of marginalization and develop an action plan to address them.

  • Lobby school boards to pass resolutions affirming linguistic diversity and a commitment to translating district materials into students' home languages.

  • Advocate for district policies that fund dual language programs, hire more multilingual staff, and provide language proficiency training/certification for all teachers.

  • Facilitate partnerships between schools and community organizations to offer after-school language enrichment and support.

State Level:

  • Push state departments of education to provide grants and resources for districts to expand multilingual education models.

  • Demand legislation requiring world language credits and promote State Seals of Biliteracy and Pathways to Biliteracy.

  • Call for equitable funding formulas that allocate more per-pupil spending to multilingual and dual language learners.

Federal Level:

  • Advocate for Title III policies and funding that increase investments in multilingual teacher pipelines, curriculum development, and family engagement.

  • Reexamine what “quality instruction” is and demand full federal enforcement of laws (Lau v. Nichols) requiring quality instruction for English learners.

  • Push for passage of the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act to support Indigenous language revitalization.

With explicit policies that protect and promote language rights at every level, languages can avoid extinction or exclusion from mainstream education.

Supporting language justice is about more than just teaching and learning in multiple languages. It's about acknowledging linguistic diversity as a strength and a resource. It's about respecting each student's cultural and linguistic heritage and ensuring its place in the classroom. And fundamentally, it's about decolonizing education and creating a more equitable and inclusive learning environment.

Remember, language justice is not a solitary battle. It's a collective movement. Let's work together to ensure all voices are heard, all languages are respected, and every student is given the opportunity to thrive in their native tongue.

As part of my dedication to support this process, I offer specialized decolonizing coaching and consulting services tailored to individuals, teams, or institutions seeking additional guidance and support. Reach out and schedule a discovery call, where we can delve into your specific needs and explore how I can assist you on this journey.

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