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					                                                 Of Equity



         I must confess with certain embarrassment that the first time I saw that I was to write on the
subject of educational equity, the first image that came to mind was a home loan instead of a moral or
educational ideal. In retrospect, however, perhaps this impromptu word association was more logical
than I originally thought: in our twenty-first century society, equity has essentially become just another
business buzzword floating around the modern lexicon. Those who speak of equity, more likely than not,
are using the word in reference to money, not to ethics or desirable attributes, and as such we have
recently seen much of the concept’s original context fall by the wayside. To de-contextualize equity,
however, especially where educational matters are concerned, is to commit a grave error: by so doing,
we not only neglect one of the most important aspects of teaching—the inclusion and education of all
students, regardless of socioeconomic status, religion, culture, or national origin or ancestry—but we
also do ourselves an unspeakable disservice as both educators and human beings. An educator, after all,
is a learner himself, a person continually engaged in the learning process as pertains to refining his
methods and furthering his goals of engaging students in the classroom. And perhaps in no educational
capacity is the concept of equity more prevalent, and therefore of paramount importance, than that of
the foreign language instructor.

         When we educate students in a foreign language—correctly—we do much more than simply
teach them new words, previously-unknown verb conjugations and vocabulary; rather, we show
students the innate value in a culture and linguistic context other than their own. To give a personally-
and globally-relevant example, the Spanish-speaking population in the United States has seen
unprecedented growth in recent years, with the influx of immigrants from Central and South America
creating a larger community of Spanish speakers than there are in the whole of Spain. Increasingly, we
have seen businesses, non-profit corporations, and governments recognize the new importance of
Spanish and those who speak it as their native language…the only institutions that seem to lag behind in
this trend are our schools. Despite being the United States’ largest ethno-linguistic group (apart from
Caucasians, that is), Spanish speakers, regardless of the country they hail from and how they self-
identify—there are seemingly innumerable terms, such as Latino, Chicano, and Latinoamericano, many
of which contain further subdivisions indicating where a person is from and how he or she relates to the
rest of the Hispanic community— are often underrepresented in the classroom.

         One need only look at the statistics to realize that Spanish, as both a language and as a linguistic
sphere of influence, lags behind: in many large, urban school districts, English as a Second Language, or
ESL, is often poorly planned, inconveniently implemented, and instructed by teachers who neither speak
Spanish nor know much about the countries and cultures that their students call their own. Instead of
feeling encouraged to take pride in their own identities and cultivate a self-identity that accurately
reflects who they are, some Spanish-speaking students are instead taught, indirectly, at least, to devalue
their “old” culture—that associated with their parents or their countries of origin—and “assimilate” into
Anglophone society. Unfortunately, in such a context, “assimilation” is little more than an attractive
euphemism for “turning brown kids white” (as a Mexican friend of mine phrased it), a word which has
been used time and again in history, most often to paint an undesirable practice in a more palatable
light. Importantly, having studied the Hispanic classroom presence and the policies most often
implemented to engage it, I realize that assimilation-based initiatives do not arise out of malicious intent
or ill will on anyone’s behalf; there is no overarching teachers’ movement, to my knowledge at least,
aimed at making every student a carbon copy. In almost every case, teachers encourage assimilation
because they want their minority students to succeed, and they see a student’s integration into Anglo-
American culture as pivotal to success. Despite these good intentions, however, such policies are
unavoidably inequitable, and thus must be avoided whenever possible. As teachers, we must realize
that our Spanish-speaking students, along with all other minority students regardless of origin, are part
of a cultural and linguistic heritage no less valuable than our own, and carry with them a sense of self
that is perfectly capable of coexisting and achieving great things without having to change into
something uncomfortably foreign. In any school system, especially one wherein educational equity is of
the utmost importance, we absolutely must remember this fact and strive to keep it at the forefront of
our teaching practices. By so doing, we provide students with an invaluable benefit—a sense of pride in
who they are and who they can become—but when we neglect to do so and take the easier,
assimilation-based route, we put up roadblocks to progress in spite of our underlying good will.

         One might reasonably think that equity in education is accomplished once the needs of minority
students are provided for, but just as attempting to “anglicize” non-Caucasian children is harmful to
their development as learners and as human beings, failing to educate other students in a foreign
language, along with everything that language entails, is no less of a disservice. Language education is a
two-part process during which each component must be given equal emphasis: one the one hand, we
have the traditional, most-emphasized elements of language in grammar and vocabulary—what I often
refer to as linguistic structure. On the flip side of the coin, however, and of equal importance as
structure, is linguistic context: the culture, religion, music, art, and lifestyles of the people who speak the
language in question. In fact, one might go so far as to say that linguistic context is the entire language
sphere minus the grammatical aspects (structure); I would perhaps be a bit reluctant to use this
definition in regular practice, as it seems to be just a bit too close to the “blanket statement” genre for
my own personal comfort, but I must nonetheless say that there is nothing glaringly incorrect therein.
However, regardless of how we choose to define linguistic context, there is no room for interpreting the
importance of teaching it alongside linguistic structure. As all of my teachers and professors have
emphasized—the reason for which I now share and defend their beliefs—the relationship between a
language and its context functions rather like an architect’s blueprint. In designing a building, one
makes sure to include important information in the blueprints such as a sizing scale, notes on where the
building is intended to go up, and what materials are to be used in its construction. In such a way,
everyone involved in the building process can reference the blueprint, make note of the designer’s
preferences, and act accordingly. If we took away everything on the blueprint except the actual drawing,
however, what would be the end result? In all likelihood, we would find ourselves with a large group of
confused construction workers, all staring at a meaningless drawing and asking each other, “What do
they want us to build this building out of…steel, glass, concrete, or wood? Which building materials go
in which sections of the structure? How big is everything supposed to be?” And, perhaps most
important of all, “Where is this building supposed to go?!” Of course, such a situation seems completely
ludicrous to anyone who has even the slightest idea of how buildings are built. To draw up a blueprint
without every detail needed to complete the project would be, in effect, to waste time creating a
worthless template, and thus, such blueprints simply do not exist. Language classrooms, on the other
hand, are another species entirely. I have seen more occasions than I care to count where only linguistic
structure is taught, while linguistic context is left to the side, perhaps only touched on from time to time
if an interesting headline appears in the local newspaper. If we would not build a building without a
correct blueprint, and logically so, why should we try to teach a language in this same fashion?

         Not only is context absolutely instrumental in the successful teaching of a foreign language, its
teaching is also required of us if we hope to create an equitable leaning environment. Because any
linguistic context, by rule, encompasses so many attributes, from culture to the arts to religion and
lifestyle, those who study these contexts subconsciously gain appreciation for the world around them,
as well as for the other students who may be sitting next to them in the classroom. As such, in teaching
foreign language the way it is supposed to be taught, through a grounded, context-based approach, I
believe that an equitable education for all students is not just possible, but readily attainable, with
immense benefits for educator and student alike. It would be a true privilege to have the opportunity to
finally put my beliefs—a philosophy I have acquired not just through years of language study, but
through my entire life experience as a learner and a student—into practice in the classroom, and to
share my own enthusiasm for Spanish with others.

				
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