En fait de lecture

Bon, la lecture continue tant bien que mal. Je me suis promis d’ecrire quelque chose, mais je ne sais pas exactement quoi. Pour le moment, ce qui me semble approprie, c’est de continuer a lire, lire lire. S’il arrivait que je saisisse quelque chose d’interessant, ce serait tant mieux.

Il y a peu je suis tombe sur ce livre de Mohamed Mbougar Sarr qui vient de remporter le prix Goncourt. A vrai dire, j’ai du mal a me separer du livre depuis que j’ai commence a le lire il y quelques jours. L’histoire accroche et la lecture avance sans que j’aie a forcer. Presentement, je profite d’une petite pause pour ecrire quelques mots sans savoir ou je vais. L’important etant de saisir ma reaction dans le temps. Pour le reste, on verra apres s’il faut s’atteler a ecrire une reflexion plus poussee sur l’oeuvre.


Summer School

It was shortly after I had lost my first public school job. It all lasted a few months. I started in September of that year, and by December I was on life support. By February of the following year, I was officially out of the system. This is how it happened.

I had just finished my first year teaching high school English at Cardinal Hayes High School, one of the well regarded Catholic high schools in New York and beyond. After meeting with the principal, I learned that I would be allowed to return to the school the following year. My performance hadn’t been stellar, as suggested by the principal, but it was good enough for the principal to renew my contract. So clearly, there was nothing to worry about on the job front. I knew I had a job the following academic year. But the minute my plane landed at JFK Airport one summer evening in June, I had been dreaming of teaching in a public school; the salary was attractive for the newcomer I was, and I felt it would help me support the four-month-old daughter I had left behind in the Ivory Coast and, who knows, I could even help those of my relatives who were still struggling to eke a living back home. So when the opportunity presented itself, I could not pass it up. This was the opportunity I had been looking for all these years. I had even sent my credentials to the State University of New York for evaluation for an opening in the city’s public schools, but they had informed me that my degree was deficient in some area, that I needed to take additional courses to qualify as a potential teaching candidate in a New York public school. Meanwhile, I had found employment at ICS, a confessional school in the South Bronx. As a middle school English teacher, my contract was renewed twice until 2004. I had begun my first year at ICS when terrorists crashed their planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, Killing thousands of innocent people.

I can’t remember what we were doing, but it was shortly after the class had begun. The principal’s voice came on the public address system: “Turn on the TV; there’s been a plane crash in Manhattan!” First, I thought it was one of those twin-engine planes that sometimes crash in trees for mechanical reasons or for lack of experience of the pilot in training. I turned on the TV anyway, and boy was I wrong! On the screen, I saw the plane slash through one of the Twin Towers, smoke billowing into the sky. Behind me, I heard a chorus of “Oooohhhhhs!” We sat watching, not sure what to do. Suddenly, we saw another plane flying toward the remaining tower. For a brief moment, I held my breath, unsure if it was going to hit again but hoping there were rescue workers inside assessing the damage caused by the crash; I was wrong again. The second plane slashed through the second tower at an angle, leaving a gaping hole in it! Soon, that tower would crumble to the ground! For us, students and teachers, the day was over. Parents began calling the school to check on their children; many of them even showed up to pick them up. 

When I left the school that morning, I called my wife, who was working downtown at the time, to see how she was doing. She was fine, thank God, although there was “smoke and dust everywhere and people were going home or trying to cross over to the Jersey side.” By her reckoning, the situation was rather chaotic and her boss had told her and her colleagues to stay at their desks. I went to the babysitter to pick up my daughter who was just a few months old at the time, wondering all along what the whole situation meant.

With an expired contract four years later, I had to look for work somewhere else; I would be unemployed for the next six months or so. While waiting and looking for a stable and decent job opportunity, I tried my tutoring skills at my alma mater, where I would later complete my graduate degree in secondary school English Education. The pay was the bare minimum, but I delighted in helping students polish up their writing and grammar. But with a young child and bills piling up, I could not continue working only 20-hour weeks and for a minimum wage. Besides, my wife began complaining and urging me to do something about my situation. The unemployment check was less than $400 a week and couldn’t help cover our regular expenses let alone money for entertainment and other activities I needed for my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I had to start looking harder for a new job that would offer a decent salary. And for a good reason! I was raised to with the understanding that the man of the house was the breadwinner. My father single-handedly raised more than fifteen children on his meager army man salary. I know how this might sound to some, but I was not going to sit back and let myself be groomed by my wife. If anything, I should be pampering her, not the other way around.

The next opportunity that offered itself was at a proprietary language school. This school paid a lot less and offered limited benefits, but after six months of struggle without a source of income, I didn’t have to think twice before accepting the offer. That signaled the beginning of my year-long stint in that school. Teaching ESL to a predominantly Asian and Hispanic student body was an experience that I embraced enthusiastically. Within a few weeks, word had gotten around, and scores of students wanted to take my classes. I taught a variety of courses, including grammar, American history, reading, and writing, listening, in addition to running the noontime conversation class. With the reputation that I had built in my first weeks of teaching at the school, needless to say, the conversation class was packed every day. During my tenure at this school, I received two evaluations, both of which corroborated the students’ enthusiasm for my classes. Unfortunately, I am a person who is always looking for something better although what that means, I am not sure. One December day, before the holiday season kicked in, I tendered my resignation and was on my way to teach for the Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center, the MEOC.

In September of that year, I had found an adjunct position at Hudson County Community College in Jersey City, New Jersey. So one December afternoon, I was walking to the 32nd Street Path Train when my telephone rang. I had just completed an interview at the MEOC about an hour earlier. Although I thought I had done well during the interview, I did not expect a call for at least a week or so. Apparently, I had made such a good impression that Ms. Nelson, a veteran teacher who had conducted the interview with Ms. Brown, then on of the school administrators, called to congratulate and offer me the ESL position. As I crossed Broadway to descend into the subway station, I could barely hear the cars honking their horns and notice other pedestrians rushing to the opposite side of the street before the light turned to let the cars proceed on Broadway. During my train ride, I couldn’t get my mind off the MEOC. My three-hour class that evening felt like a 30-minute chat with my students. The following week, I began teaching at the MEOC as an ESL adjunct lecturer.

My tenure at the MEOC lasted a little more than three years. Here again, as at the proprietary language school, word got around very fast and many new students sought out my classes. I taught an intermediate level ESL class that comprised students from various Spanish countries, as well as Africans. Many students approached me to seek advice on their progress in my class and on career plans. The atmosphere felt like in a small country college; students felt comfortable asking questions and speaking to teachers, and teachers felt close to students. I am not sure about other teachers, but I personally had a genuine interest in my students’ queries pertaining to education and work. Indeed, I felt that it was part of my responsibility to orient them to the best of my knowledge. Consequently, we build mutual respect and a relationship akin to a big brother relationship. Back then, I used to work the morning shift, which ran from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM. Twice a week, I would commute to Jersey City in the evening for an evening course I taught at Hudson County Community College. Even with both salaries, I had a hard time making both ends meet. Paying the then $600 or $700 monthly rent for our two-bedroom apartment was sometimes a real struggle. Hence, it wasn’t surprising that I kept looking for other opportunities. Anything that paid better would be welcome even if I had to leave New York. It was on one of my electronic forays that I chanced upon, I believe, an article about the new chancellor of the Washington Public schools, Michelle Rhee. As I read the article, I felt that I could be part of the innovations she was bringing to the school system. Besides, I felt that I could make a lot more than the meager income I was making at the time. As I dug deeper, I realized I could sign up to teach summer school in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS)! Without hesitating a second, I completed the online application process. A few weeks later, I received an email informing me that I was being offered a summer position. My dream of teaching in the DCPS was well on its way to becoming a reality. With a light heart and high spirits, I went on with my two jobs at the MEOC and Hudson County Community College, knowing that come June, my life would change for the better.

On June 25, 2009, I embarked on a Greyhound bus, DC-bound. A few weeks earlier, I had made arrangements, via the internet, to rent a room in Washington, DC. Dorothy, the woman with whom I had been communicating via the internet and by telephone was to pick me up and take me to her house, where I would be staying while I taught summer school. I arrived in DC in the afternoon. It must have been around 4:00 PM or 5:00 PM; I can’t remember the exact time, but I do remember I had to wait for a long time before Dorothy eventually made her way to the Greyhound station in North East DC to pick me up. While I was waiting, I sat down to watch one of the large-screen TVs in the station waiting area. Soon, CNN began broadcasting news of Michael Jackson being carried unconscious to a California hospital. My first reaction was that he had overdosed on some substance and would be out of the hospital in a day or two, but in any event, no more than a week. It was on this hopeful note for the pop icon that I got in the back seat of the jalopy in which Dorothy had come to pick me up.

As we drove to her house, we made small talk since we were meeting for the first time. But the radio was on and the conversation soon veered to Michael Jackson. I can’t remember the exact content of our conversation, but I know all three of us in the car, Dorothy, myself and the male driver, prayed that Michael would get out of the hospital soon. The drive from the Greyhound station in Northeast, DC to Dorothy’s house in Southeast, DC lasted about 30 minutes. Before we got to our destination, we were clobbered by the news of Michael Jackson’s death. At first, we were in disbelief. But as more and more radio stations broadcast the news, we eventually awoke from our disbelief. Yes, Michael Jackson had just died at the age of 50! Who could have believed his life would be cut short so unexpectedly at a time of unprecedented medical advances? But he was gone as the hours that followed would confirm to us. Once in the house, we began an impromptu tribute to The King of Pop. We played all of Michael’s songs we could get our hands on and stayed up in disbelief into the wee hours of the morning.

Dorothy lived in a two-bedroom house with the living room and kitchen on the first floor and the two bedrooms on the second. The house also had a basement, where she kept her washing machine and drier, as well as any junk that would normally be in an attic. There was a shared bathroom and shower on the top floor and a simple bathroom on the first floor.  The backyard had a deck, where we once had a barbecue, and a two-car parking space. As part of my rent, I had a television set with cable in my bedroom. In this room, I would take my quarters until the end of summer school 2009. Every weekend, I would walk to the supermarket about a mile away to buy groceries, which I kept in the large refrigerator in the kitchen. I set time aside to cook at least twice a week so I could have fresh food when I came back from work. I didn’t bother my host and didn’t expect her to cook or provide for me. But sometimes she did share a dish. On such rare occasions, she would tell me, “Steven, I made this or that… you can help yourself.” In general, I felt comfortable sharing the house and kitchen with Dorothy since there were just the two of us. One of her nephews visited once for a barbecue and her brother joined us toward the end of that summer, which was not much of a problem since he spent much of his time in a third room Dorothy had reserved for her daughter.

In DC, they celebrate the Fourth of July with a lot of firecrackers apart from the official fireworks, which are common in almost all cities across the country. I was sitting on the back deck one June night when I saw a group of youngsters walking up and down the big yard, many houses shared. Then I heard a succession of explosions. I knew they were firecrackers because we used them many years ago in the Ivory Coast around Christmas and New Year’s. Dorothy and I sat there, enjoying a six-pack of Heineken I had purchased from the grocery store off Wheeler Road. The merriment went on until very late, probably into the wee hours of the morning. Firecrackers could still be heard when my host and I turned in for the night.

Before summer school, all the teachers and administrators had to attend a day of professional development. I found this useful since it was my first time teaching in the District. Several workshops were led by local teachers and administrators, covering the curriculum, the standards, and mandatory assignments. The day was also an opportunity to meet and exchange with future colleagues and learn about the experiences of those who had already taught summer school in DC.

When summer school finally began, I was glad to learn that I would be working with sophomores and juniors. I felt that these students would be more mature since they were older than the ones I had had at a public middle school in New York prior to joining an adult English language program. My experience was not what I had expected, which is why I spent only a few months at that school. With older students, I expected to provide activities that were more engaging, convinced that they knew what they wanted from summer school. Most of them needed passing grades in the respective subjects they were taking in order to be promoted to the next grade. 

The program ran mainly in the morning and early afternoon, with each class meeting for three hours. As I had expected, my classes ran uneventfully. Most of my students, in both the sophomore and junior classes, appeared to be attentive. At any rate, they did not disrupt the class or talk out of order. These students showed a genuine disposition for learning. Indeed, for the first few weeks, they mostly came to class on time, completed their assignments as expected, and participated actively for some and not so actively for others. I was enjoying my days in summer school, to say the least. Obviously, with students so well-behaved, who wouldn’t want to secure a permanent job in the Nation’s capital? Such was my desire to work in Washington, DC and to make a difference that I resolved to apply for a full-time position. I would stay in the Nation’s capital to explore the possibility of bringing the rest of the family once everything was on track.

Around the end of summer school, I heard about job fairs organized by the DC Public Schools in different parts of the city. Using my DC Metro map, I planned my route to attend some of those fairs. In the process, I interviewed with several schools, but the outcome wasn’t very promising. I eventually got to a table attended by a man and a woman. I greeted them and proceeded to grab some of their literature to read on the metro, and maybe call them up to see if they had an opening. At this point, they finished with the lady they had been interviewing. Directing they look toward me, they asked in unison, “Are you looking for an interview?” I paused for a second; my mind was not on having an interview now. I had just finished half a dozen already and I was thinking about what to make for dinner that night. I hesitated one more second, but before I had had a chance to say something, I heard the lady say, “What’s your subject area?” I answered, “Secondary English.” From then on, things went fast and I ended up with an offer of employment at a school in South East! The paperwork was immediately processed and I was asked to report to the DCPS central office to be processed by Human Resources.

Meanwhile, classes were still in session at my summer school assignment. Following the interview and the offer of employment, I proudly walked into the school building as usual. I picked up my material and proceeded to the classroom; I might as well have hit the lotto jackpot! The students I had in my morning and afternoon class were in high school, and I didn’t have any management issues with them. My only challenge was to motivate the handful who were not really into what we were doing in class. Most of my students knew that their promotion to the next grade depended on their performance in my class, so they usually completed their assignments and made their best effort to be in class on time. Now, working with the two high school classes was one reason why I was elated at the offer of a permanent position within the District of Columbia Public School system.

At noon, we the faculty usually gathered in the teacher’s lounge on the first floor, where we shared the space with the administration. A few minutes earlier, I had bought my chicken salad sandwich from a grocery store a few blocks away. I had sat down to eat lunch when my summer camp supervisor inquired about the interviews the previous day. I answered that I hadn’t been very successful in securing interviews and that I had been looking to work in a high school. I told him I was offered a position at a middle school, which I had accepted and intended to report to the DCPS office to complete the paperwork the following Monday when we had concluded summer school.

“Congratulations!” he said with a smile across his face.

“Thank you, I am really excited that I will be able to continue my career here in Washington, DC,” I replied before adding, “The school is in South East. The name… wait, I forgot. I think it was Johnson.”

His face changed immediately as he asked me quizzically, “Did you say, Johnson? I would think twice before accepting a position at Johnson.” I was not exactly sure why he had cautioned me about Johnson. That was the least I had expected. However, I did not seek an explanation right then because I wanted to savor the notion that I would be working in the DC public schools. Around 3:00 PM, I collected my teaching materials as usual and proceeded to the metro station, homebound, musing my supervisor’s response. In time, I would learn what he had meant by his comments. For now, I was content that I was going to work in the Nation’s capital. At the end of the day, I collected my stuff and sauntered through the hallway, down the stairs, and into the train station

At the metro station, I decided to call Charlie, a friend of mine from New York who had moved to Maryland a few years earlier to share the good news. He was excited that I would be in Washington, maybe in Maryland, and that we would be able to visit each other frequently. When our telephone conversation was over, I descended the stairs to the platform. My train pulled up a few minutes later. I boarded and the doors closed. A new experience was about to begin.


A Short History of Bilingual Education in the US

Contrary to what the average American may believe today, bilingualism has existed in the United States since the early colonial days. Crawford (2004) mentions many languages spoken on the island of Manhattan in the mid-1600s. In fact, a plethora of languages was spoken with German, Swedish, Irish, Welsh, Dutch and French among the most prominent (Crawford, 2004, p. 81). However, as time went by, fear of the “alien” grew and eventually developed into an outright English-only movement.

From Bilingualism to the Rebirth of Bilingualism

Bilingualism was common in the early days of the American colonies. On the small island of Manhattan, for example, at least 18 languages were used, and people from all walks of life could be heard using non-English languages. As an illustration of the prevalence of other vernaculars, a poster for runaway domestic workers listed the language skills of one individual who spoke some “Dutch, German, Spanish and Irish” (Crawford, 2004, p. 81). Moreover, bilingual education existed in many places and was accepted or rejected according to the dominant language in each area. For example, there were German public and parochial schools where German was the dominant language. Other languages are known to have been in use in public and parochial schools until the mid-1800s were Swedish and Italian (Crawford, 2004, p. 85).

At the turn of the 20th Century, however, fear of immigrants and their cultures was so high that a poem published in the Atlantic Monthly referred to immigrants as ” These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,/Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws./In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,/Accents of menace alien to our air…” (Aldrich). In 1918, this sentiment will lead to an era of Americanization efforts conducted by Ellwood P. Cubberly, dean of the Stanford school of education. Ellwood advocated the dispersal of immigrant groups to teach them Anglo-Saxon values and culture. Ellwood’s efforts will eventually lead to the rise of language restriction in many states and territories, including Puerto Rico, where English will be imposed as the language of instruction in public schools. The overall trend at the time was Anglo-conformity, the forced espousal of everything of Anglo-Saxon origin. Americanism even led to the forced removal of Indians from Eastern states (Crawford, 2004).

Eventually, in early 1960, in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, Dade County, Florida will lead the way to the rebirth of bilingual education. With an influx of Cuban refugees fleeing from the revolution, three events militated for bilingual education. These were the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, the Anti-Poverty Initiatives of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson (which brought social inequalities to the forefront), and the Cold War (which triggered to search for scientific talent and forced a greater involvement of the federal government in designing education policy) (Crawford, 2004).

Evolution of Bilingual Education Policy

Initially, three laws signaled the shift in education policy: the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA), the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The first of these laws aimed to ensure that the United States had enough qualified scientists to compete with Soviet scientists whose work had resulted in the launch of Sputnik, the first spacecraft. It supported more college enrollment and made funds available to promote interest in math and science (princeton.edu). The second law forbade discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin (US Senate Committee on the Judiciary), and the third one aimed to ensure improved academic achievement for the “disadvantaged,” train and recruit educational personnel and provide language support for LEPs and immigrant students.

With the passage of these laws, New Mexico ushered in a new era of bilingual education beginning in 1969. Despite these legislations, the government had focused mainly on discrimination against African American while children of Mexican immigrants continued to suffer the brunt of discrimination. This contradiction will be addressed on May 25, 1970, when Pottinger, the then director of the Federal Office for Civil Right will write a memo requiring schools to provide services for language minority students. Here again, the impact of this notice will be minimal. Eventually, it is in courts that Mexican students will secure a favorable mandate through the Serna v. Portales Municipal Schools (Crawford, 2004). Texas will follow suit in 1981 with a mandate by Judge William Wayne. Even though this mandate will be reversed a year later, it set the stage for programs destined for language minority students in the state of Texas. Hence, through legal victories, including the famous Lau v. Nichols (1974), it appeared that the needs of LEP students were being addressed. However, the were no clear directives or proposals regarding programs and only 6% of qualified LEP students were receiving proper accommodation. To address the situation, Senators Ted Kennedy, and Walter Mondale will introduce legislation to include at least 15% of qualified LEPs (Crawford, 2004, pp. 111-112).

Even though the future looked promising for LEPs, an American Institute for Research (AIR) report released in 1977-1978 will claim that there is no evidence of the effectiveness of bilingual education (Crawford, 2004). Strengthened by the findings of this report, the Washington Post’s Noel Epstein will release “Language, Ethnicity and the Schools,” a paper in which he critiques bilingual education, going so far as to label it “Affirmative Ethnicity.” For Epstein, teaching children ethnic pride was a parental prerogative, not a government obligation. Hence, he staunchly opposed the use of taxpayer dollars to finance bilingual education programs (Crawford, 2004). Epstein’s paper convince many, including President Reagan, who opposed maintenance programs, that is, bilingual programs that promoted the preservation of students’ first language. At the time of the re-certification of Title VII in 1984, proponents of bilingual education had to make some concessions limiting the scope of bilingual education. The new programs would be known as Special Alternative Instructional Programs (SAIP’s). These programs made provisions for parents of LEPs, gifted students, the replication of effective instructional models and limited Developmental Bilingual Education. Frustrated by the inertial of the OCR, more parents will now take their cases directly to federal courts (Crawford, 2004, p. 128).

Bilingualism or Monolingualism?

For over 200 years, English had been the de facto official language of the United States, but constitutionally, the US had no official language. Still, to the Average American, English was the official language (Crawford, 2004, p. 131). It was not until Senator Hayakawa’s call for English as the official language of the United States failed that pro-English sentiments began to grow. Bilingual education became an easy target, especially for those who thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ money. Previously, it had been seen as one of the most successful ways of ensuring both academic success and the maintenance and development of students’ first language (Crawford, 2004).

Around this time, US English, an English-only organization was created under the impulse of the then former California Senator Hayakawa. The objective of the group was to advocate for English to become the official language of the United States. They claimed that English was threatened. Hence, their agenda was to convince federal and state institutions to mandate English as the only language used in any program they funded. Soon, the group began to enjoy the support of many celebrities and politicians. Attacked by opponents on charges of racism after some its members used racially charged language to describe immigrants (Crawford, 2004, p 135), US English hired a Hispanic president, Linda Chavez, who recast the group’s image as an organization concerned with the welfare of the United States. By positing the group’s agenda as a way of bringing new immigrants into the mainstream, the group garnered support again. However, this victory was short-lived. After a racially charged message had become known to the public, many of the group’s leaders began to distance themselves from it, and the popularity of US English declined (Crawford, 2004, pp. 135-139).

This decrease led to the birth of a new group called English Plus in 1985. This new group comprised members of the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination (SALAD). The two groups will create the English Plus Information Clearinghouse (EPIC) with the aim of promoting cultural and democratic pluralism, as well as multilingual skills as a path to cross-cultural understanding and better world trade.

Even with many of its leaders gone, US English kept exerting influence on policy makers. They met many times with Reagan administration officials, especially with former ESL director and author Rosalie Porter, to discuss educational policy. Though Porter got support from the organization and was apparently pushing their agenda, she claimed the support she received from the group had no strings attached. As criticism of bilingual education mounted on the impulse of those convinced by English-only proponents, including then education secretary William Bennett, Congressman Augustus Hawkins asked the General Accounting Office of Congress to assess the real effectiveness or lack thereof of bilingual education. The assessment conducted by an independent group of experts overwhelmingly rejected Secretary Bennett’s critiques. In fact, in their results, the team found that students who had been in bilingual programs had the best scores on the standardized test and in many cases did better that native speakers of English.

Even though these results clearly supported bilingual education, it would take a lot of diplomacy for advocates of bilingual education to make gains. They had learned that politics takes precedence over research when it comes to educational policy. Consequently, around 1993, a group known as the Stanford Working Group devised a document called A Blueprint for the Second Generation. Their goal was to have bilingual education included with the overall school reform agenda. They wanted equal opportunity for all students and special programs for limited language students (Crawford, 2004, pp. 149-150). The group also broadened its agenda to include Title VII. With the beginning of the Clinton administration, many of the group’s recommendations would be adopted. The recommendations encouraged bilingual education, specifically developmental bilingual programs, defined states’ role in ensuring adequate LEP programs, and mandated districts to identify and provide services for LEPs and involve their parents in the decision-making process. Finally, it seemed that the proponents of bilingual education had made important gains.

ESL/Bilingual Education in New York City

New York City has witnessed a proliferation of ESL/Bilingual programs over the past decade and a half. As the demographics of the city changes, so do programs intended to serve the new populations. Hence, in New York City in general, and particularly in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, many schools have opened to address the needs of an increasing LEP population. Currently, around 100 schools citywide offer some form of bilingual or ESL program, and the languages include French, English, Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole and Korean (Bilingual Education Student Information Survey, Winter 2010). The message on the Department of Education ELL page states that the DOE is dedicated to serving ELL’s, people with limited English language skills and their parents through professional development for teachers, the publication of better educational materials and an environment that promotes academic achievement, language development cross-cultural understanding.

To accomplish its stated goals, the New York City Education Department has created many curricula targeted specifically to LEPs. Depending on the type of program offered, schools may have school curricula entirely in a foreign language for specific grade levels. The website provides general guidelines for creating a school curriculum in the foreign language, but no ready-made curriculum is available. On the other hand, there was a school curriculum made specifically to help LEPs understand the same concepts their other peers are learning. For example, a school programs for grades 2-4 states that “Students will listen, speak, read and write in English for information and understanding” (ESL Elementary Grades, p. 34). In one of the tasks, students, and their teacher go on a neighborhood walk and observe people engaged in various occupations. Once they get back to school, they work in pairs to complete a chart for the jobs they found. The task and instructions vary slightly for beginning, intermediate and advanced level. Another unit on fractions uses many pictures of words that might be difficult for students to understand. The instructions also recommend pre-teaching certain vocabulary words that might hinder comprehension.


Diversity is a reality in American schools today, just as it was in areas of the country even in the early colonies. With the NCLB mandate, all education stakeholders need to ensure no child is left by the wayside because of language challenges. The development and implementation of a bilingual program need the conjugated efforts of educators, second language acquisition experts, and parents. Teacher education programs can help by using the findings of research on LEPs to prepare not only ESL/bilingual teachers but also content area teachers to provide support to their students.


Aldrich, T. B. (Date unknown). “Unguarded Gates” (accessed at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/liberty/aldrichp.html)

Crawford, J. (2004). Educating English learners: language diversity in the classroom. 5th ed. Los Angeles, CA: Bilingual Educational Services.

National Defense Education Act (1958). (Accessed at http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/National_Defense_Educ ation_Act.html)

New York City Dual Language Programs (2010). Bilingual Education Student Information Survey (Accessed at http://www.cfn107.org/uploads/6/1/9/2/6192492/dual_language_programs.pdf)

New York City Education Department English Language Learners (2013). The Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners (accessed at http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/ELL/default.htm)

New York City Education Department (2013). Spanish Native Language Curriculum Guide (accessed at http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/CF6EDD53-9581-44FF- B390-8F5AEA5461F7/0/SNLACGFinal092413_khFINAL.pdf)

New York City Education Department (2013). Sample unit on fraction for 5th grade (accessed at http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/ELL/EducatorResources/Common+Core+Lear ning+Standards+for+Mathematics+Sample+Units+that+Support+English+Langu age+Learners.htm)

New York State Education Department (2009): English as a Second Language: Elementary grades 2-4 (accessed at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/biling/resource/ESL/03Elem.pdf) US Education Department (accessed at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/beginning.html)

US Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (accessed at http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/about/history/CivilRightsAct.cfm)

Black Scholars and Racial Bias, Uncategorized

Predicaments of a Black Educator

While browsing the Internet, as I often do in my spare time, I chanced upon an article about the challenges Black scholars face. Although I have not experienced discrimination personally, I can certainly attest to its prevalence in many colleges.

In the late 2000s, while completing my master’s degree in English Education, I was privileged to take several courses taught by Two Black professors. One of them, a female professor, was on track for tenure. About a year after I graduated, however, the professor abruptly left the college. Her decision to leave came as a shock to me, but I never approached her to find out why she had decided to resign when she was so close to becoming a tenured professor with all the benefits that such a status entailed. To make a long story short, the professor went on to start a blog and eventually published a book of poems with, I hope, many more to come. So the problem was not a lack of scholarship, apparently.

I will not claim any scholarship in sociology, but I did observe that most of the students in the courses my professor taught were white. As often happens prior to the start of a class, we all have our little conversations on everyday issues or on the courses we are taking. The time before the professor arrives is appropriate for such discussions… tongues are loosened, and many things are said. By nature, I listen more than I speak, but I could feel the heaviness of the atmosphere and the general discontent in the words of many of my classmates. But I had no idea what the problem was. The fact is that the professor ended up leaving.

Shortly after the Black professor left, a new professor, a white one, was hired to teach the previous professor’s courses. About a year later, the new professor had secured tenure. For those who are familiar with the tenure process, I do not need to say that this climb was extremely fast. I don’t know the new professor, but I have no doubt that she is qualified for the position. Qualification is not the issue here. The point is the accelerated ascension to tenure. The previous professor, the Black one, had been at the school for more than two years but never got her tenure. After only a year at this college, the new professor was guaranteed a lifelong career!

Was race a factor? I can’t pretend that is wasn’t given what I heard in the students’ discussions and their aversion to the Black professor. Did any of them rate her poorly for whatever reason? Possible. How many other scholars of color have faced and continue to face similar predicaments? Thousands probably. Now how do we detect bias of this nature? How do we address it? Are you a Black or minority scholar who has experienced a similar treatment? Feel free to share your thoughts or leave a comment here.

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality, as well as Dr. Wanda Alderman’s thoughts, are in order for those who want to understand the depth and subtlety of this issue.

Let’s all have a discussion!

Etienne A. Kouakou

April 4th, 2020