Multilingualism and Multiculturalism: Transatlantic Discourses on Language, Identity, and Immigrant Schooling
34 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2012
Date Written: November 12, 2012
This essay explores the interconnections among language, identity, and schooling as they relate to the right of linguistic minority children to a “meaningful” education. In doing so, it uses contrasting discourses on multilingualism and multiculturalism in the United States and Western Europe as a framework for examining how history and politics have shaped attitudes on immigrants and their languages and how the current political rhetoric at times defies the reality of education policies. It begins with the United States, where the argument for preserving immigrant languages in the schools enjoys diminishing political and legal support despite widespread embrace of an unofficial “multiculturalism lite” in a society that prides itself on its diverse immigrant roots. By way of contrast, the essay discusses Western European nations where most notably the European Commission and the Council on Europe officially promote multilingualism (in certain “national” languages) in the interests of European integration. Meanwhile, in the face of mounting immigration, multiculturalism has come under broad attack, even among European leaders, as harmful to a cohesive society. Bilingualism for immigrant children, moreover, is afforded low priority, if at all, among European educators and policymakers.
In response to these challenges and seeming contradictions, the essay examines research findings supporting the emotional and academic benefits that students derive when schools affirm their home language. It thereby makes the case for recognizing immigrant languages not as a negative barrier to social and political integration but as a critical constituent of culture and identity and a positive national resource. In conclusion, it calls on both European supranational institutions, historically standard bearers in protecting language rights as human rights, and the United States federal government, to articulate an overall vision of immigrant schooling that state actors can put into practice within a range of linguistic and culturally sensitive approaches informed by transnational research, dialogue, and collaboration.
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