Multiple Actors and Arenas in Evolving Language Policies Mary McGroarty
In recent decades, scholars have identified more actors and environments relevant to language policy and planning (LP) and thus promoted contemporary awareness that LP endeavors are far more complex and dynamic than the models of the 1950s through 1980s could capture. This contemporary understanding, based on the important foundational work in LP that took place after World War II as refined and challenged by later critiques of applied linguists and other social scientists dissatisfied with both the explanatory adequacy and the predictive power of LP theory and research, can generate new insights for researchers and practitioners involved in LP activities in many settings (Ricento, 2000; Tollefson, 2010). Lo Bianco’s (2010) review notes that the models of language planning that emerged in the post-World War II period tended to present related endeavors as an objective science amenable to mechanistic representations, and thus oversimplified solution processes, despite the fluid and dynamic conditions to which they are applied. In contrast, he defines language planning as “a situated activity, whose specific history and local circumstances influence what is regarded as a language problem, and whose political dynamics determine which language problems are given policy treatment” (p. 152). The purpose of this chapter is to elucidate this more complex contemporary understanding of LP, discuss selected aspects of recent related LP research, done mainly in the United States, concentrating on the area of educational LP (still a dominant focus, although it is far from the sole arena of consequence), and show how it exemplifies several social science trends. The goal is to improve awareness, introduce findings of current research in a variety of areas relevant to educational LP particularly, raise questions, and suggest directions for theory building and research that interested readers can use as guides for analysis and action. Although examples will come principally from the US educational environment, they will be presented with
sufficient detail to enable readers to determine the extent of their relevance to other settings. The traditional focus for much LP activity on public education continues; issues of long concern in educational LP such as medium of instruction remain relevant and often contested in the United States and elsewhere (Tollefson & Tsui, 2004). Public educational programs manifest a country’s hopes for its collective future, and thus provide key evidence of the abilities, values, attitudes, and skills, both essential and optimal, required for social and economic success and personal fulfillment (Lo Bianco, 2008a; Nussbaum, 2010, 2011a, 2011b; Reich, 2002). The type of government (autocratic, democratic, or other) and degree and type of professional and lay involvement in education vary greatly across, and sometimes within, nations (McGroarty, 2008), as does the level of resources available to support education. Along with the historic patterns of access and participation, these structural differences affect the extent and nature of education offered at all levels. At the outset, then, let us stipulate that educational language policies remain a central concern. At the same time, though, in order to understand the multiplicity of forces affecting them, it is essential to enumerate the other actors and environments, macro-level processes, and national and local trends and tensions pertinent to educational LP. It should be emphasized that many of these have been recognized by scholars for many years; they demand enumeration in this chapter because, to varying degrees, they demonstrate the complex social and political configurations that have ongoing but locally and temporally varied effects on education generally and on language education, in both native and later-acquired languages.