chapter  1
8 Pages

Critical Issues in Language Policy in Education

ByJames W. Tollefson

The chapters in this collection deal with a wide range of important issues in quite different contexts. All of the contexts, however, have been profoundly influenced by the major social, economic, cultural, and political changes that have accelerated since the last two decades of the 20th century. Often grouped under the term “globalization,” these fundamental transformations, especially migration, urbanization, language loss, and language shift, have created new political movements and forms of resistance, new social relations, emerging social identities, and deep personal anxieties. In “Language Policy in a Time of Crisis and Transformation,” I explore the implications of these major transformations for language policies in education. The chapter includes an overview of the history of research on language policies in education, focusing specifically

on changes in research questions and research methods. This historical summary also examines ideological shifts, in particular the increasing attention to power and inequality, which have characterized language policy research since the 1990s. The chapter analyzes the impact of the current economic and political crisis on language policies in education, the implications of the weakening of the nation-state and its associated forms of nationalism, and new methods of language policy research. In recent decades, the number of actors involved in language policymaking has expanded considerably, along with the social domains, including education, in which language policies are important. In “Multiple Actors and Arenas in Evolving Language Policies,” Mary McGroarty examines these new actors, particularly in the private sector. She emphasizes that policies are increasingly contingent and multilateral, although in public education they remain tightly constrained by traditional ideologies, shifting political pressures, institutional inertia, and a shrinking resource base. In many settings, public institutions are ceding control of educational language policies to private institutions and influence, and to various forms of public-private partnerships. Although medium of instruction policies remain crucial in many settings, new factors, including the fragmentation of education, the growth of alternative forms of teacher education, micro-level processes and local contingencies, raise fundamental questions about whether current educational systems can develop the language abilities required for democratic participation, critical consciousness, and human imaginative capacities. The weakening of public institutions is particularly evident in the United States. In “A Brief History and Assessment of Language Rights in the United States,” Terrence G. Wiley summarizes the history of two main rights: (1) the right to access an education, which allows for social, economic, and political participation; and (2) the right to an education in one’s mother tongue(s). His chapter argues that both rights are necessary if language minority students are to participate in the economy and sociopolitical system, and to maintain continuity with their communities and cultures. In his analysis, Wiley locates educational language policies in their relationship to other societal policies (e.g., immigration), dominant beliefs, and power relationships among groups. The analysis includes implicit, covert, and informal practices, which can have as much impact as official policies. The chapter identifies and explains the importance of key federal cases involving rights for educational equity, access and accommodation, and it chronicles the rise and fall of federal support for bilingual education. A major focus of Wiley’s analysis is the negative impact of policies during the past 20 years that have increasingly restricted language minority rights. In particular, he focuses on the role of the state of Arizona in promoting regressive policies. This movement to restrict minority rights is linked with the revival of the concept of “states’ rights,” which throughout US history has shaped policies affecting minority education.