What is DEI-SLT?
DEI-SLT is a project that was born from our willingness to combine the teaching of second languages and social justice pedagogy.
When we teach a language we are doing more than teaching grammar and vocabulary, we are (hopefully) opening a new horizon of possibilities to our students. In doing so, we need to make sure that ALL students, from all backgrounds, are part of this journey. But, how can we do this?
Most of our textbooks and materials tend to focus on the behaviors, the art and the linguistic trends of the dominant groups of our cultures. For instance, in a Spanish textbook you may find a little note about Equatorial Guinea, a Spanish speaking country in Africa, while there will be an entire chapter about Spain. The first step is reflection: we need to realize these inequalities to then be able to address them. Once we have reflected on them, and realized the bias, it is time to address them. In order to do so, students need to be exposed to a multiplicity of narratives that give voice not only to canonical sources and cultural groups, but also to minorities and minoritized groups that are part of and shape the landscapes of our cultures.
Through this website we aim to provide instructors with ideas, trainings and materials that would help them include the topic of social justice in their second language classroom.
What is the basis of our project?
In 2016, the American Council for Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL) stated that diversity and intercultural competence are qualities that must be embraced in the US and throughout the world. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Second Language Teaching (DEI-SLT) is a project whose mail goal is to raise awareness about multicultural education and bring social justice into languages curricula. As defined by Sonia Nieto, social justice is “a philosophy, an approach, and actions that embody treating all people with fairness, respect, dignity, and generosity” (2010: 46). In order for it be successful, it needs to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes that foster inequality and discrimination; to provide students all the necessary resources to fulfill their highest learning potential; to bring into the classroom students’ talents and strengths; and to create a safe space that promotes critical thinking and agency.
As Norton points out, language “is not only a linguistic system of words and sentences, but also a social practice in which identities and desires are negotiated in the context of complex and often unequal social relationships” (2016: 476). It is through language that a person defines himself/herself/themselves after multiple negotiations at different times and places. It is also through language that a person is granted access -or denied- to social networks that give him/her/them the opportunity to speak (Norton, 2000: 5). Therefore, when students learn a second language, they not only learn a group of rules and vocabulary that combine to create meaningful sentences, but they also have access to new spaces whose entrance and right to speak are constrained by unequal relations of power. These relations of power are mediated, among other factors, by students’ identities. Their race, gender and sexual identity, religion, linguistic background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, among other aspects, have a significant impact on their way of understanding the world and envisioning the new communities they are trying to access when learning a second language. All these elements are part of what is defined as the students’ cultural capital. However, the problem is that very frequently the cultural capital that is valued in educational institutions is not the cultural capital possessed by marginalized students. In order to make sure that each student has a voice and same opportunities to be part of the community of practice, it is essential that educators ensure that the themes and topics discussed in the classroom encompass our students’ identities and interests, discuss social issues that are important to them, and pay attention to the history, contributions, struggles and perspectives of diverse groups of people.
There is significant literature that proves the importance of developing curricula, lesson plans and materials that allow ALL students to actively develop and engage in ways of mediating themselves and their relationships to others in communities of practice (Kanno 2008; Kendrick and Jones 2008; Luke 2009; Nelson 2009; Pavlenko 2004; Pavlenko and Lantolf 1995; Taylor 2004; Trofimovich and Turuseva 2015) . In fact, learning a new language is a transformative socialization, which is how learners, instructors, and their communities enact new communicative selves as they collaboratively construct and negotiate multiple identities (Anya, 2007: 4). We strongly believe in the importance of culturally responsive teaching, which is based on the assumption that when academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of references of students, they are more personally meaningful, have higher interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly (Glynn, Wesley and Wassell, 2018, pos. 549). By doing so, students will be acquiring a higher level of global and intercultural communicative competence, as it is demanded by the ACTFL´s statement we quoted at the beginning of this document.
Therefore, this project is rooted in the conversation between social justice theory and second language acquisition where critical pedagogy, intercultural competence, transformative learning and community-based learning are key terms in order to create awareness about privileges, marginalization, oppression and dehumanization of specific members of the community, as well as to promote change.