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Bilingual Education and Cultural Capital

Hispanic Hartford students read the article by Ana Celia Zentella “Latin@ Languages and Identities” found in the anthology Latinos Remaking America edited by Manuel Orozco Suarez (available online for those with Trinity library privileges, or at Amazon). Zentella researches language use and literacies in Latino families, and her point in this article is that all children have cultural tools (languages, value systems, non-verbal communication cues, etc.) that allow them to operate in their society successfully. However, if children have tools that are not useful in a community, or that are scorned, that they lose “symbolic” or “cultural capital”, or the “social buying power” that those tools provide. If a child speaks Spanish only to find out that people in his community are insulted by his not speaking English in public, then he will learn to feel ashamed of his cultural heritage, and not use the tools at his disposal, making it more difficult for him to become successful and at peace with his identity. She questions the logic of permitting monolingual educators and those who study and promote “anthropolitical linguistics” to determine that bilingual children are somehow linguistically deficient.

In our visit to a wonderful first grade class in a program of Hands on Hartford, we spoke with the children in both languages, only to find that these six-year-olds, although perfectly bilingual, greatly preferred to speak English with us, and one even told us he “hates being Spanish”. We were surprised that children felt so strongly so young, and that Zentella’s notion of children losing cultural capital was indeed alive and well right here in Hartford. Another article we read in the same anthology, “The Schooling of Latino Children” picks up the thread of Zentella’s ideas by discussed the phenomenon of “subtractive schooling” or the notion that curricula that ignore children’s cultural heritage take away important tools of their learning. Luis Moll and Richard Ruiz posit that communities must create their own infrastructures for educational development that take advantage of their cultural strengths and resources, a practice they call “educational sovereignty”. It is this practice that will ultimately diminish drop-out rates for Latinos.

Do you believe that Hartford schools practice educational sovereignty or subtractive schooling? What are some examples? Here are some of the essays that Trinity students wrote in response to our afternoon with bilingual Hartford children.

Griha and Yuki’s essay on “La necesidad de tener un balance en la educación bilingue”

Andres’ essay “La educación y el bilinguismo en Hartford”

Jeff’s essay “La polémica de la educación bilingue en Hartford”

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