Preparing for the retreat and exploring language bias

A lot of what I did this week involved logistics to get myself and my team ready to move into the interviewing phase and the coming retreat. I read my teammates’ blogs to catch myself up on their thinking, I drafted some more interview questions, and I contacted a resource who I think will be integral to the process. The questions I wrote this week were created with the parents of New American and ELL students in mind, and I’m hoping that the meeting this weekend will help me to move forward and create prompts that I know will be effective and probing. I’m trying very hard not to write leading questions, because I think that that’s my tendency, but I also know how important (and challenging) it is not to assume that we already know everything about the situations we’re exploring and the change that needs to happen. I’m afraid that in my attempts to do this I might be writing questions that are too vague and unspecific, and I also want to learn more about best practices for leading an interview such that it becomes a meaningful and organic conversation.

The person I contacted is not only a student at the VT high school probably best known for having a diverse population, she is also very immersed in Vermont education and legislation. Her response was really enthusiastic, and I believe that her input can be extremely valuable. I was also considering contacting a teacher at my school, but I held off because on a group scale I’m wary of reaching out to too many people and then finding that actually scheduling and performing interviews with all of them is unrealistic, forcing us to rescind our offers. I know that the teacher would probably be happy to grant an interview and I’m sure that she would give excellent and insightful responses, so it’s highly likely that I will reach out to her, but I also know that because we’re in such close contact this doesn’t have to happen very far in advance.

The most meaningful part of my work this week was actually born of a suggestion Greta gave me in a comment on one of my recent posts. She pointed me in the direction of an article about a language teacher at Middlebury College who focuses on the stereotypes associated with accents, and the bias often inherent in the people hearing them. I feel like this would be a really interesting and enriching angle to explore, and could be a good segue into discussing the ways in which Eurocentrism is prevalent in our society (and the ways in which this is connected to racism). For example, we could discuss the fact that English (and many other European, especially western European) accents are often romanticized and seen as proof of intelligence and refinement, whereas accents from places which are not perceived as prosperous and/or in which much of the population are people of color are often received negatively. This was something that really struck me the first time I heard about it, and I think that it could be a really interesting aspect of the conversation on this topic as it points to some of the ingrained prejudice which is often dismissed as innocuous but which in reality has very devastating effects.


Featured Image by jurek d.

Clara Lew-Smith

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