Dual Language Advocacy: No Place for Neutrality

By: Dr. José Medina, Founder and Chief Educational Advocate, Dr. José Medina: Educational Solutions

As I serve dual language programs around the United States, I often state that dual language is not for the weak of heart. I stand by that statement.

To serve on behalf of emergent bilingual students in this country takes determination, grit, flexibility, a growth mindset, patience, and above all, courage.

Dual language educators/advocates are different. We must be willing to stand up and declare that we are defenders of equity and social justice. This is a difficult task, especially when facing an educational system that has often marginalized entire student communities. Making matters more difficult, is the anti-immigrant, anti-foreign language sentiment that is present in today’s political climate. In fact, once again, we are moving closer to the flawed notion that somehow English monolingualism, equals American patriotism.

Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator and philosopher, as well as author of the seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, stated that, “washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” When posed with these words, many dual language educators begin to realize instantly, that we must be a constant voice in search of truth and equity. We must not remain silent, if we are to create change that will better allow us to serve all students. But, what does this advocacy look like in practice, as we engage in the daily work of dual language implementation?

To get to the core of what the question poses, we must first revisit the fact that dual language programming must create educational access for student populations that have not readily had this type of opportunity. Moreover, we must fight against the idea that somehow bilingualism & biliteracy, high academic achievement in both program languages, and working to become more socioculturally competent – is somehow more appealing when we see these goals embodied by students that are already linguistically privileged. That is, we must stop seeing dual language programming as a way to have minority-language students learn English, while for native-English speaking students, the goal is to create citizens that are ready for a global community.

Photo with Jose Medina

Continue reading to find out more on José’s opinions on Dual Language Education…

As an example, sometimes, as I view promotional videos created by dual language schools and/or districts, I see a native English-speaking student, perhaps, White or African-American, speaking in Spanish. The student might still be struggling with some Spanish words and there is an accent present, but most of us will get excited, and comment, “see, dual language is working!

However, absent from some videos, might be María or Jorge, who are native Spanish speakers. They too, might be making some errors in English and speaking with an accent as they add an additional language to their repertoire. However, in their case, we might worry and mention that maybe we should “intervene to make sure they learn English.

This double standard, grounded in bias, is something that we must talk about, and not remain neutral about, if we truly are advocating for all emergent bilingual students in dual language programs.

Photo with Jose Medina

The great news is that there are tens of thousands of dual language students, parents, teachers, administrators, and district leaders who are not remaining neutral, and who advocate for dual language programs every day! We are not alone in this journey! Together, united, we can move forward as we allow every single student the opportunity to reach her/his/their full potential via dual language.

It is this feeling, the ganas, the desire to serve and advocate that I most see each and every day as I visit dual language classrooms, schools, and districts. It is these dual language advocates that give me the courage to engage in this work with joy and hope. I am eternally grateful for this gift.

The following are just a few of the examples of dual language advocacy that I have been blessed to witness. No neutral here!

Continue reading to find out José’s examples of dual language advocace…

  • Throughout the U.S., emergent bilingual students are learning content through two or more program languages!
  • In Texas, district leadership ensures that every single department in the district is represented at dual language professional learning opportunities. Everyone begins to understand that every district employee must know dual language programming and embrace their role as a dual language advocate!
  • In Florida, dual language teachers action-plan alongside administrators, in order to have a plan that will allow art, music, physical education, special education, and gifted & talented services to be offered in both program languages!
  • In Colorado, school district educators work collaboratively to ensure that the curriculum scope and sequence is aligned to biliteracy instructional best practices, and that a new adoption is selected and shared district-wide through a dual language, and not a monolingual lens!
  • In Maryland, dual language educators focus on biliteracy instructional best practices, including overt elevation of the minority partner language. This includes work to authentically instruct and support the language in every dual language classroom!
  • In Washington, conversations around assessment in dual language classrooms are at the forefront of all professional learning planning!
  • In California, job-embedded coaching for dual language administrators is the foundation for all leadership professional learning!
  • In Illinois and Georgia, professional learning facilitated completely in Spanish, offers dual language teachers an opportunity to engage in work that directly impacts the Spanish instruction they facilitate in their classrooms!
  • In Washington DC and Texas, parents participate in learning opportunities focused on biliteracy instruction, cross-linguistic connections, and sociocultural competence!
  • In North Carolina, a focus on dual language support and resources is that the core all instructional decisions!
  • In Wisconsin, New Mexico, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Virginia, a multi-year plan for dual language professional learning is protected at all costs!
  • A special global salute to our international dual language colleagues in China and Hong Kong who are also working diligently to ensure that all students are actively working to achieve the three goals of dual language!

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