Tuesday, November 24, 2015

EdD reading - Han et al 2010; or, A Eureka Day of Reading and Thinking

Blimey, I’ve read 1 paper, (Han et al, 2010) and got nearly 1500 words of comment on it. And a eureka moment. A possible research question arises directly from this paper - well two, the first theoretical, the second practical: Should we be obligating new Scots to learn English, and if “yes”, are we going about it efficiently and fairly? Points for further reading and thinking are marked in bold

Han et al 2010 is a qualitative study of interviews of ESOL teachers at a London college, and of a focus group at the same college. In a discussion to the background of citizenship and language it is noted that “immigrants are encouraged, even coerced, into adopting the majority culture at the expense of their own.” This gets to the heart of my current thinking, of L2 speakers as “emergent bilinguals.” I recall teaching one-to-one a middle aged woman from the sub-continent, who had lived on Tyneside for many years and who was at a very simple level in all domains. This leads me to think, what is to prevent (say) an Urdu L1 speaker playing a full role in their own "community", being employed, paying taxes, raising (and maybe teaching) children, and not getting beyond CEFR A2 in English? What would be a reasonable objection to that scenario? (See Clayton 2005, below, for significant objections). 

I lived for a year in Catalonia, socialising with English speakers (L1 and L2, but, frankly, more comfortably with the former), scraping by in Castellano and Catalan. To be sure, my Castellano improved every day, and if I’d stayed, eventually I would have likely become fluent in that language and in Catalan. But I knew other English ex-pats who had lived there for, in some cases, decades, and who stubbornly refused to learn Castellano, never mind Catalan. Many in my (English L1) community regarded this as “ignorant” or “lazy”. But these non-linguists paid their taxes, obeyed the law (moslty), employed other people, including Castellano and Catalan L1s, (as builders, taxi drivers, waiters). This brings us on to the issue, what does it mean to be part of a culture, a country, a nation, a community?  It might be useful to explore the experiences of British ex-pats who are resident in other L1 countries, such as Spain. And in Spanish speakers (for example) in the US. 

So my thesis could be, English as an L2 is all fine and dandy, and we should make provision for teaching and learning for new Scots. But we should remove it from vertical discourse surrounding inclusion, and citizenship. (I could go on to CDA and critically pedagogue the living daylights out of the citizenship test[s]). 

I can draw on subjective experience as an “other”, in Spain, France, Czech, Turkey, Libya, Saudi… Bloody hell. This feels like a reframing of the whole discourse. 

I’m not sure how or why, but the inclusion of Welsh and Scots Gaelic as alternative languages for Citizenship tests seems significant here… [Get numbers on this]. Han et al have it (p65) “the option to use these official languages of Scotland and Wales, clearly included to placate the nationalist parties, is evidence of a confused policy.”  You can almost imagine an absurdist drama on this theme. Abdulrahman from Syria is trying to settle on the Isle of Barra. There is Scottish Government money for Gaelic classes, but not for English. So, he reasons that most of his new neighbours speak Gaelic, and we follow his adventures as he delivers pizzas around the island speaking his new L2, getting to C1 level in a year, to the delight of his fellow Gaelic speakers, but is unable to follow his beloved Manchester United online because he has bare A1 English… 

Han et al also raise the questions, should we be having any language tests at all, and if we do, are the tests of any use in preparing people for citizenship? It reminds me of the Solicitors’ Final Examination in the 1980s, in which candidates were given details about fictional clients, and then (in closed exam conditions) required to draft a will for them. In another paper they were required to draft a property conveyance. These were meaningless tests of the abilities of practitioners, who would have access to many volumes of books of “forms and precedents” to fit almost every circumstance. But candidates knew they were not being fitted for legal practice in these tests, they were being made to jump through hoops, to demonstrate their fitness to join a sub-culture. It would have been only slightly less absurd to give them a test of table manners, or ability to remain awake in court after a good lunch. 

An American friend of mine took a form of his country’s citizenship test online out of interest a few years ago, and was unable to get a multiple choice about the name of a woman whose portrait appeared on dollar coins. He was shocked that I knew the answer - and I knew it simply because one of the options was for someone called Susan or Susanne, as as a feminist supporter in the 1980s, I recalled the hullaballoo which surrounded this portrait going on to coins, and that US feminists had name the coin “a Suzy”. By pure historical and personal chance, I knew a detail of American culture which my Texan friend did not. I need to critically examine the content and format of citizenship tests, and look into any work which has been done regarding their validity.

Han et al note, p72, that EU citizens have no language requirements, they can settle, vote, and have all the benefits of citizenship. It might be constructive to look for research on the lives of EU citizen communities, such as Poles in Glasgow. There is, for example a Polish church in Dennistoun, and Polish sections in large supermarkets such as Tesco. 

The point of government policy here is to ensure non-EU migrants are integrated, but also to demonstrate to an electorate who they perceive as being influenced by right wing media and political parties that they, the government, are “doing something”.C

Reference is made to Cantle, 2001, which opines (p9) “Separate educational arrangements, community and voluntary bodies, employment, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks, means that many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives. These lives often do not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges.”  I recall a lecturer when I was an undergraduate expressing concern that some women, members of communities from the sub-continent, did not interact outside their own homes. He noted that this situation was not being helped by the technology available at that time, because they would stay at home watching VHS Bollywood movies. 

But (think of this as a thought experiment) why is that so bad, per se?  After working on my allotment, I go to a working class pub, and sit quietly relating to people in my community on my iPhone, for example on Twitter. I spend 40 minutes or so in the physical proximity of people with whom I engage politely but at a minimal level. What is wrong with that? Should I put the phone away and join in their discourse? If so, why? Cantle again, p9: “A Muslim of Pakistani origin summed this up: ‘When I leave this meeting with you I will go home and not see another white face until I come back here next week’.”  What is there necessarily wrong with communities operating on the basis of paralell lives? Don't all sub-cultures do that, e.g. the Goth who functions effectively in a call centre all day, but listens to her sub-culture's music in the evenings and spends time with like minded people at weekends?  Or the gay man who works in a gay bookshop and goes to gay pubs in the evenings, and spends his holidays with a group of gay friends? It seems to me oppressive to say “This is problematical, you ought to get more integrated.” 

The subjects of these thought experiments might, (might, indeed) enjoy richer lives if they mixed with other sub-cultures more, but what right does the wider culture have to say to individuals, Thou shalt have a richer life? 

On the other hand, (and although I’m not giving it anywhere like as much room as my devil’s advocacy and thought experiments regarding non-integration, above, I consider it to be an equally important argument), there’s Clayton 2005, who suggests that those who are least educated and most isolated are more liable to suffer abuse and discrimination. 


Cantle, T. (2001). Community cohesion. London: Home Office.

Clayton, P. (2005). Blank slates or hidden treasure? Assessing and building on the experiential learning of migrant and refugee women in European countries. International Journal Of Lifelong Education, 24(3), 227-242. 

Han, C., Starkey, H., & Green, A. (2010). The politics of ESOL (English for speakers of other languages): implications for citizenship and social justice. International Journal Of Lifelong Education, 29(1), 63-76.