Listen: Envisioning Public/Engaged Scholarship
The year 2016 marked the centennial of John Dewey’s Democracy and Education, in which he deliberated upon the connections among education, the individual, and democratic society. In tribute, the Swarthmore community gathered together to explore the role of public/engaged scholars and how their work connects to the current state of democracy.
“Envisioning Public/Engaged Scholarship at Swarthmore” brought faculty, students, and community members together to both highlight and investigate the concept of public/engaged scholarship. The event included a keynote address by Nelson Flores '03, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a panel discussion of Swarthmore faculty members, and small group discussions jointly led by faculty members and students.
Some of the essential questions addressed include: What is public/engaged scholarship? Does it include civic engagement, community-based learning, community-based research and experiential learning? Why should we value public scholarship? How do we create reciprocal relationships with communities? What “counts” as scholarship in academia, and how does/should Swarthmore support public scholars/ship? What is the relationship between public scholarship and policy change? Where and how does civic, or political, action fit within the work of a public scholar?
This event is part of a year-long Public Discourse & Democracy series that kicked off with a talk by political scientist Diana Mutz on speaking across difference and culminated with a talk by Bryan Stevenson on American injustice. The series is sponsored by Swarthmore's Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Center for Innovation and Leadership, and Aydelotte Foundation for the Advancement of the Liberal Arts.
President Smith: Good afternoon everyone. I am truly honored to be here this afternoon to welcome all of you to this inaugural colloquium on public and engaged scholarship at Swarthmore College.
I'd like to begin by thanking the Department of Educational Studies for taking the lead (applause) in initiating this important discussion. And also the dean's office and the Lang Center for helping to organize this event.
Our special thanks go to Dr. Nelson Flores, from Swarthmore's class of 2003, who was an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania's Grad School of Education, for serving as our keynote speaker.
I'm also grateful to all of the dedicated faculty members who are participating in panel discussions and facilitating small group discussions as we talk together about the most useful, and appropriate ways to define and practice engaged scholarship at Swarthmore.
And finally, thanks to all the students who've made time to participate, and who are here as equal and dedicated partners with our faculty and our community partners.
Envisioning engaged and public scholarship at Swarthmore in an important and timely discussion for our college community, because it connects to our core values and mission. In our mission statement, Swarthmore pledges, and I quote, "To help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern." Today we'll have an opportunity to discuss how engaged scholarship can help our community carry out that mission.
Swarthmore alumnus Eugene Lang from the class of '38, who has contributed to Swarthmore in so many ways. Expressed a similar aspiration for the liberal arts in general. In a 1999 essay called, "Distinctively American". In this essay he writes the following: "The philosophy of liberal arts is the philosophy of a democratic society, in which citizenship, social responsibility, and community are inseparable. An educated citizenry is the essential instrument for promoting responsible social action and community well being. It is characterized by an ongoing effort to development informed, humane, and thoughtful judgments of social issues and to act appropriately on these judgements."
Eugene Lang established the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility for just these reasons. To help Swarthmore develop scholars and citizens who can contribute to their communities and promote social flourishing.
Last year, the Lang Center hosted four receptions, at which faculty members shared their interest in and hopes for public and engages scholarship on campus. Some faculty wished for more robust support for interdisciplinary collaboration. Many wished for greater access to resources, not just funding, but also advising and logistical assistance as well. They sought these resources and support to help them begin or continue their work in engaged scholarship. But they also asked for greater clarity. For a campus wide conversation that could refine the language and the rhetoric we use to talk about engaged scholarship, so that we would be working with a common shared sense of purpose with common definitions and a shared understanding.
So, it's that last request that really informs the purpose for today's gathering. Together, we hope today to be able to wrestle with the meaning of public and engaged scholarship at Swarthmore, and to share ways in which these practices can inform research, teaching, and service.
So again, thank you all so much for being here today to share your perspectives and your experiences in these important conversations. I trust that you will all be inspired, and enlivened, and enriched by the conversation today. So again, thank you all so much for being here.
Ben Berger: Thanks so much President Smith, for that introduction. I'm Ben Berger. I teach political science in the Department of Political Science, and I'm the director of the Lang Center. I want to add to President Smith's gracious acknowledgements also, in addition to Dean Diane Anderson, Edwin Mayorga, and a lot of folks in the Ed Studies department. Arto Woodley, scholar and residence at the Lang Center has been absolutely a driving force behind putting this whole thing together. I want to thank him really for that.
So, I'm really pleased to be able to introduce a Dr. Nelson Flores, who's an Assistant Professor as President Smith mentioned in the Educational Linguistics Division of UPenn's Graduate School of Education.
He has a PhD from CUNY, the City University of New York, and just as importantly, I'm going to resist my urge to say, "More important" he's got his BA with high honors from Swarthmore College (laughter) in 2003. And really importantly to me, his was the first senior thesis that I ever advised along with Eva Travers. Eva did all her own heavy lifting, but that was my first year here, and it was a great introduction into what's teaching and advising at Swarthmore would be like.
Under the category of small world also, Nelson has published recently with Professor Kay Minkin at CUNY, and she's a dear friend of my family's from way, way back, so all these academic circles have a lot of connections to them.
I want to point out just how appropriate it is to have Nelson, and I'm going to call him Nelson now because we go so far back, and stop calling you Professor Flores. How appropriate it is to have Nelson as our keynote speaker today, because this is this great community discussion and colloquium, hopefully the first of a number of discussions on envisioning engaged and public scholarship at Swarthmore College.
In Nelson's career has embodied engaged scholarship since the time he was here at Swarthmore College. Took a wide range of liberal arts courses, but also as an Ed Studies and Poli-Sci honors major. Took courses in with those honor [inaudible 00:06:45] and social and cultural perspectives and education. There was practice teaching with Ann Renninger. Nelson got then, on the bridging theory and got certified to teach. It was social studies, right? And taught ESL for three years after college then, before going to graduate school.
His honors thesis, which was on the TNO [SP? 00:07:08] educational communities in particular, charter school movement and the limitations as well as a promise of that movement in the low income Latino communities in Philadelphia. Was also an exemplary instance of engaged scholarship, even as an undergrad and I think is the case Nelson, that those same communities have continued to inform your scholarly agenda, throughout your career. And that kind of continuity is just wonderful to be able to see.
Nelson has served in the practical realm as well. Private Director for the CUNY New York State initiative on emergent bilinguals, which see, that's an Education Department initiative. And it's trying to improve the educational outcomes of emergent bilingual speakers for seminars for teachers, but also through the presence of CUNY faculty. And he is now the principal investigator of the Philadelphia Bilingual Education Project.
Some of Nelson's current work aims to illustrate ways in which the concept of academic language. Itself marginalizes language minoritized students. And it aims to develop alternative conceptualizations of language that resists that kinds of marginalization. And again, you can see just how much engaged scholarship is shot through Nelson's work, both in undergraduate and also right now as a professor.
This is aspiration to apply knowledge to needs to use higher education to serve societal betterment. And I think a lot of us not only have been interested, but are even more interested now at this particular point in time in that kind of aspiration.
So without further ado, I'm so pleased for you to join me in re-welcoming our Nelson Flores back to Swarthmore College.
Nelson Flores: Okay. Good afternoon everybody.
Audience: Good afternoon.
Nelson Flores: It's an honor to be here talking about my work at my alma mater, as Ben was saying.
When I was originally invited to give this talk, Diane was the one that sent the original email, and I sent her an email back saying, "Are you sure you have the right person?" (laughter) "I'm not sure that I'm the best person to talk about this work. I don't necessarily identify as a public scholar." And then she was like, "No, you're exactly what we want." And I said, "Okay." So let me think about this a little bit. Let me think about how my research, and my experience can help us to think deeply about what it means to be a public scholar, and what we can learn from it.
So, what I'm going to do in this presentation, is to try to kind of give a general idea of how I understand public scholarship. Thinking about what public means. Thinking about what scholarship means. And then kind of give examples from my own scholarship that I think maybe speaks to some of these issues. I don't want this to come off as if I'm saying this is the model for doing this type of scholarship. I would like it to be a model that we can talk about and that we can engage with as a community together.
So I wanted to talk kind of just at the beginning about what it means to be a scholar on the tenure track at a university. So, I'm currently on the tenure track at the University of Pennsylvania. I sent in my tenure portfolio in March.
We'll see. Don't clap quite yet.
But there are lots of expectations that go into being a scholar on the tenure track. It's pretty particular at a school like the University of Pennsylvania. So one, you're expected to present at academic conferences and get your work out there. And so this is me, I want you to remember which conference this was. But really, trying to get my work out to my peers, to other academic's so that people become more familiar with my work.
We're also expected to publish in top peer journals in the field that also have a very limited audience. Right? Most people in the world are never going to read the Harvard Educational Review, as much as Harvard may be sad that more people in the world aren't reading it. The reality is that very few people are going to be reading the journal articles that come out in this journal. Right? Only experts and scholars who are interested in this topic are going to do that.
As somebody as who works with and for marginalized communities, this leaves me in a bit of a dilemma. The dilemma being, I am using the experiences that I have learned from these communities in order to publish and work in spaces that many people in these communities wouldn't be welcomed into themselves. Right? In many ways, if I'm not really reflective on how I'm doing that, I could actually be contributing to their marginalization by using their experiences to get myself tenure while doing very little to actually impact and improved their lived experiences.
So this is kind of the dilemma that I think we have to think about when we're thinking about what it means to be on the tenure track with particular social commitments where we actually want to also impact the world.
So kind of briefly about who I am. This is me. This isn't a Polaroid. I don't even know if some of you young people know what a Polaroid is, but this is a Polaroid picture, when I was in middle school. I was actually born and raised in Philadelphia. And I'm a product of Philadelphia public schools. I went to Central High School, for those of you who are from Philly, High Schools mean a lot.
As someone who was born and raised in Philadelphia, the children of immigrants. When I began college, I was interested in using my education as a way of giving back to the community that I come from. Right? So for me, it was never about getting educated and getting a good job for myself, which was part of it. It was what my parents wanted certainly. But it was getting an education so that I could give back and improve the community that I come from. So this is me more recently as a scholar.
And just again, give you a little bit of background about kind of the theoretical kind of framing of my work, before we get into concrete examples. What my work seeks to do is to really unpack what I call racial linguistic ideologies. Which ideologies that co-construct language and race, in ways that position racialized communities as perpetually linguistically deficient. Often times in ways that are unrelated to what they're actually doing with language.
Quite differently, if we look a what racialized children are doing with language, they're doing many complex and interesting things. But the framings of those language practices are often times talked about as if they're a problem. So theoretically, my commitment is to try to unravel those racial linguistic ideologies, historically, by looking by how it is we've come to have these ideologies and contemporarily, by thinking about policies and practices can be reformed in order to combat those ideologies. And so that's kind of theoretically what my commitments are. In this presentation, I'm going to try to talk about how I tried to engage in public scholarship with those theoretical commitments.
So I wanted to start with the public, in public scholarship. To really think about, "Okay, what do we mean when we say public?" As I was brainstorming ideas, these are some of the ideas that I came up with. And I thine we could probably come up with a lot more together. One, often times, people just mean just kind of a generic communities. Right? Public being the communities that we work with and those could be lots of different things.
As someone who works in education, another public that I would consider are practitioners. Teachers, principals, people who are involved in the practice of teaching would be part of a public that I would seek to engage as a scholar.
Also, non-profits who are doing work in the fields that we work in. For me, there are many non-profits who do work in education that I seek to engage with. One in particular is The Children's Literacy Initiative in Philadelphia, where I serve on their board and help them to really think about how to align their mission with research based practices when working with minoritized communities.
Another one, a journalist. Right? Journalists who are doing stories and would like an expert opinion on what it is they're doing is another public. Another part of the public that we can think about as part of the public.
Policy makers. People who are involved in actually creating policies would also be part of our public.
And then finally, academics. And I put academics on this list, because I think it's sometimes tempting to position academics as somehow outside of the public. Right? We're the experts who are detached from the public, and we're coming and giving them our expert opinion on these things. But academics are part of the public, which means that academic knowledge production can also need public intervention. Right? And so, I would encourage us to include academics in our conceptualization of the public. And I'm going to talk a little about later, what I think that means.
Then so, what is the scholarship in public scholarship? Right? So there are lots of different things that we can see as scholarship. As someone who's on the tenure track, I can say, most of my colleagues, when they think of scholarship, they think of general articles and books. Right? Articles and books that are targeting other exerts in the field. And that certainly is part of scholarship. However, action research, or participatory action research, where you're actually doing work with communities in order to improve those communities could also be considered part of scholarship. And that's part of kind of the work that I do with communities.
Writing policy briefs, where you're trying to inform policy makers about what it is that they should be doing is also a part of public scholarship. And something that I've done and continued to work on, in particular, there's new education legislation called, ESSA it used to be NCLB now it's ESSA. And I'm working with a group of people to develop policy briefs to inform politicians about how they should be interpreting these policies in ways that are going to improve the experiences in education of minoritized students.
Then there are some that kind of go together. Interviews with journalists, I would consider part of our scholarship. Public testimony, when we're testifying in front of school reform commissions, or policy makers in any way. And podcasts where we're trying to get our information out to a broader audience than people who just read journal articles.
Finally, because we live in the social media age, I would say there are ways that social media could also be framed in terms of scholarship. So blog posts, even Facebook posts, and even Tweets. Edwin and I were just talking about whether he could Tweet the things that I was saying here, and I said, "Yes that's part of public scholarship. Right?" It's part of getting the word out to people who aren't able to be here, but who may be interested in these types of issues.
So when we think of scholarship, I encourage us to take a broad view of these issues and really think about what are the types of things that can count as scholarship, if we've tried to kind of broaden our notions of what these things are. And of course, I don't mean this to be an all encompassing list, I'm sure many of you have other ideas of things that you can add here, and I would encourage you to think about as we continue to have these conversations.
Then putting this together, I was thinking, "Okay, so what is public scholarship?" And so a tentative definition that I've come up with is kind of two fold. One, it's the connection of research and practice in order to challenge the oppression of marginalized communities. And then related to that, it's an attempt at making academic knowledge accessible to different communities while using community engagement to transform academic knowledge.
And I kind of want to emphasize the dialectical nature that I'm thinking of that here. So it's not that we go and are giving information to communities, it's that we're going to engage the community. We're giving them our perspective and then we're learning from them in ways that possibly transforms how it is that we understand these issues. So that's a two directional relationship. And to me, that's kind of the two folded definition of public scholarship, is working to connect research and practice in order to challenge oppression, but also working to transform academic knowledge by incorporating the voices of people who normally wouldn't be considered academics in that way.
So then, I kind of just made these up as I was putting the presentation together. So, if people have questions, or feedback, I'll more than welcome them. (laughter) Because Diane said I was a public scholar, I had to think about, okay.
(laughter) What does this mean? And so, kind of the first bullet, and I'm going to talk about each of these in more detail, but I just wanted to introduce them as kind of a core together, is that public scholarship requires scholars to confront their oppressive history of academia. So, as much as maybe as we don't want to admit it, academia has often times been part of the problem, as opposed to the solution in working with marginalized communities. And something that we have to think about as people who have academic knowledge, is how we position ourself in relation to communities in light of this history, so that we don't reproduce this history.
Connected to that public scholarship provides counter narratives to dominate framings of marginalized communities and so, rather than taking these main stream deficitizing [SP? 00:20:14] discourses at face value, public scholarship is the way to speak back to these deficitizing [SP? 00:20:16] discourses. Public scholarship includes developing resources that benefit marginalized communities, so as important as publishing in journals are for my career, I have to also think about how it is I can develop resources that the communities themselves can actually use and are going to find useful to them.
Then public scholarship in the 21st Century engages with social media. We live in a social media age. I'm going to be talking a little bit later about this, but just to kind of give you a prelude, I would say that we have our first social media president. Someone who know how to use social media, to mobilize particular forces, and that we need to provide a counter to that.
Then finally, many of the benefits of public scholarship cannot be quantified. Right? This is something that I would like us all to think about, because as we think about whether we want to include public scholarship as part of tenure, and promotion, often times that means quantifying it in some way. Like it does when you talk about research. And I think we have to think about how it is we try to consider something for tenure and promotion, when some of the benefits of it aren't necessarily things that fit neatly into boxes and can be easily turned into numbers.
Now I'm going to go to each of these tenants, kind of briefly, and kind of give you a sense of how I feel like these tenants are reflected in my own scholarship.
So the first one is a public scholarship requires scholars to confront the oppressive history of academia. To begin that, I would like to begin with the question of who counts as a public scholar. I promised myself I wasn't going to cry here, but this is my father, who recently passed away. He passed away unexpectedly in December. He was someone who came to this country with a sixth grade education when he was 17. Was able to not only develop a successful career as a business person, but also was someone who was an avid kind of someone who always wanted to learn things. He was always watching the discovery channel. He was always learning about history. He knew so much about Latin American politics. He was someone who would engage the people that he knew around him in these types of conversations. So I would say in many ways, he was the public scholar, because he was a member of these communities, he had this information, and would engage people as equals in order to kind of engage people in developing knowledge together.
However, because of the hierarchies of our society, someone like my father would unlikely be invited to give this type of keynote presentation about public scholarship. So something I had to think about in my role as an academic, is how I use the space and the privilege that I have access to these spaces in order to provide value to types of knowledge that people like my father had. Who may not ever be able to access to these spaces. And I think that's something that we all have to think about, as people who have access to spaces that many people in the communities that we work with may not.
What does this mean? How do we position our scholarship in ways that challenges the suppression? One question for us to think about when we're thinking about this, is how do we use our power to affect social change? And of course Spiderman says, "With great power comes great responsibility." Right? So what is our ethical responsibility to the communities that we work with? Especially knowing that we often times are using the data that we're collecting from those communities as part of our own tenure and promotion.
How is it that we then use our power and the access that we have to spaces that they may not have access to in order to speak back to power? The two questions that I think about in order to do that would be to ask what counts as knowledge and who counts as knowledgeable? Kind of what I was just doing, using my father as a case study is one way of thinking about how we can begin to answer that question. How we can speak back to narratives about what counts as knowledge and who counts as knowledgeable by really pointing to the vast amounts of knowledge and knowledgeable people that we work with in the communities that we work with. And really speaking back to discourses that may position them as not having knowledge because they don't necessarily have formal education.
Also, important is how do we position ourselves as newcomers to a community? It's interesting for me as someone who was born and raised in Philadelphia to then come back to Philadelphia wanting to engage in this type of scholarship as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
The University of Pennsylvania for those of you who are not necessarily familiar, has a somewhat contentious relationship with, in particular, West Philadelphia, but I would say the city as a whole. In that often times, people feel like it doesn't necessarily as an institution have the best interest of people who live in Philadelphia as its priority. So when I go to community, and say I'm from the University of Pennsylvania, that doesn't necessarily give me anything, besides suspicion, which I think is valid suspicion. So it's my job and my responsibility to position myself in a way that so that they see that I'm necessarily there to impose a particular agenda on them. That I'm actually there to engage them as equals in the community. And that takes a lot of work, and that takes a lot of patience, and that takes a lot of humility, which is something that I think some academics could use a little more of.
I think part of how we think about how we challenge oppression, is how we engage with the people we're engaging with, so that we're engaging them in ways that are anti-oppressive, so that we're the change that we want to see in the world.
Finally, one of the tricky questions, I mean all of these are tricky questions. But another tricky question is then how do we address the politics of representation? I as a scholar write up based on my experiences in communities. So, how do I represent what's happening in communities in ways that are fair to the people, who I'm working with? Many of whom, I would say although some researchers would be mad at me for saying this, have become people who I would consider friends. Because it's not that I'm engaging them as an outsider, it's that I'm engaging with them in the same struggle so we develop solidarity and friendship with each other.
Then I have to write about them for a scholarly audience. So how do we think about the politics of representation and how do we do it in a way that's fair, also speaking back to their oppression? One way I've been thinking about this, is kind of a materialist anti-racist framing of language policy, which is what I do. And I would encourage you to think about based on your expertise and discipline, what implications of this would be for you. It's really thinking about situating linguistically responsive practice and the types of practices of the people in the communities I engage with are using within a broader social context.
So, situating it within critiques of neo-liberal policies. I won't define that, because we don't have time, and it's very complicated, but I'm assuming most of you probably have heard the term before. Thinking about how we revitalize low income areas. Thinking about how we develop inclusive policies in gentrifying areas. And thinking how we develop struggles for fully funded community schools.
What I do with this kind of framing, is to emphasize the structural barriers that communities that I work with confront, rather than the individual actions of the people that I work with. So by doing that, I'm changing the locus of annunciation from whether they're doing the right thing or the wrong thing, which I don't is a useful point of entry. And analyzing what we do with communities. To thinking about the barriers that they confront in doing the work that they do. The ways that structures impact the agency that the people are able to express in any given context.
That's kind of how I'm currently thinking about representation. Really thinking up a focus on the structural barriers, rather than individual action. But I think there are other ways that we could also think of representation, that I would encourage us to think about as we continue to have conversations about this.
Then tenant too, is public scholarship provides counter narratives to dominant framings of marginalized communities. In my own scholarship, some of the deficit framings of racialized communities that I confront that I challenge in my scholarship are even seemingly objective terms like: English Learners. There's a lot of discussion among academics, and this is why academics are also part of a public we need to engage.
Children from racialized communities having a word gap, when you compare them to middle class white communities. There's also the framings about the students not having a strong language foundation. Talk about using improper English. Right? So these are framings of the communities that I work with that are not exclusively, but in addition to all perpetuated by academics. Academics aren't the only ones perpetuating these discourses, but academics are part of perpetuation of these discourses.
One of my challenges is, how do I develop counter narratives and alternative representations? One way that I do this, is through actually observing young children from racialized communities and their use of language, and using this as a point of entry to providing an alternative representations of their language practices.
I'm just going to give you one sure clip that kind of illustrates. What I mean by this, where one on my doctoral students noticed that a first grade student, who was one of our focal students in our study, she was in a dual language bilingual class program, which one of her teachers taught her in English, and one of her teachers taught her Spanish. The student noticed that the teacher who taught her Spanish, pronounced her name Adailiies [SP? 00:30:36], and the teacher who taught her in English, pronounced her name Araillis [SP? 00:30:40]. My doctoral student who was trained by me and so was interested in similar questions to me, was very interested in what this child thought about this. So he asks her about it, and then this is her kind of explaining the different pronunciations of her name. So I'm going to put her voice, so we can actually hear say it.
Speaker 5: Actually, could I ask you a question? How do you like people to say your name? Because your teachers last year and this year have said it differently.
Speaker 6: It's okay because they can't pronounce it right.
Speaker 5: Okay.
Speaker 6: It's okay.
Speaker 5: So how do you pronounce it? How do you say it?
Speaker 6: Araillies. Araillis. [00:31:16 Gave two different pronunciations, Spanish and English]
Speaker 5: Araillies. [Spanish pronunciation]
Speaker 6: Araillis is a name. [English pronunciation]
Speaker 5: Okay. And Arailles is better? [Spanish]
Speaker 6: Sometimes they call me Arail-ees.
Speaker 5: Oh, they sort of mixed it up. They use some from both pronunciations.
Speaker 6: Yes
Speaker 5: Okay.
Nelson Flores: So, there's a lot of interesting things happening here. And we can certainly get into the politics of name pronunciation, which I think is an important conversation to have. But what I like to use this example for, is to think about the complex linguistic knowledge that Arailles is demonstrating here, as part of just something that naturally occurred as part of her lived experience as a bilingual child.
She's able to analyze the different ways that people pronounce her name and is able to associate them with different types of people. So people who speak Spanish pronounce it this way, people who speak English pronounce it that way, and then some people seem to be mixing the pronunciation so she doesn't really know what to do with that. So we could talk about Arailles as having a word gap, I suppose. Or we could talk about the brilliant social linguist that she is and the ways that she's able to analyze language.
So, in my work, I seek to reframe racialized students away from these deficitizing discourses. And really, thinking about these students is what I call language architects. So we think of an architect. Right? An architect is someone who follows general principles of building design, because if not, the building collapses. But each architect has their own unique style. And they make decisions about how the building is going to look. A language architect similarly takes the general principles of how language works, and adapts it to fit their own unique voice and perspective.
All children, but because my work focuses specifically on racialized students, I would say racialized students are language architects who already are engaged in a range of language practices that cause multiple language varieties. And who shift language to accommodate their audience. This is something that, in particular children from bilingual homes do as part of their normal daily lives where they have to accommodate their audience.
Part of my reframing and counter narrative is to really think about how we can talk about their language practices differently in the hopes that then, we can develop resources, that take this new framing as its starting point, in ways that benefit these communities. And so, in my work with bilingual teachers in the school district of Philadelphia, when I presented the reframe, the teachers were like, "That's great, but like how do I do this?" And I was like, "Well, that's a fair question. Like I can give you a theoretical kind of reframe, but if I don't give you practical resources for how this might look, then I'm not really doing for you what I need to do for you."
So I took the challenge to heart, and actually Elaine and I. Where's Elaine, she was here. Oh, she just stepped out, well. Tell her she got a call out when she comes back. Developed in partnership with another doctoral student from University of Pennsylvania. We developed a translingual unit plan that was structured around a text, "Abuela" that's written primarily in English, but the author uses Spanish primarily for Abuela's dialogue. So Abuela would speak in Spanish, though the rest of the text was in English.
We used this as a starting point for thinking about, this is a book that's written in a way that's going to be familiar to many of the students in the classrooms that we were working in. Most, if not all of the students in the classrooms that I was working with at the time knew people in their lives who preferred to speak in Spanish. So you would think, if they were writing stories about those people, they as authors could decide if they wanted to, to write their dialect in Spanish if they wanted to authentically represent how they speak.
This particular author was what he decided to do. So we created a PA core, which is the standards that Pennsylvania has aligned unit plan around this picture book, which is really structured around doing read-alouds with the students that focus on the strategies that were used by the author to use both languages. Then a shared writing where the teacher modeled for the students, how they could construct their own translingual text in this way in the independent writing where the students engaged in language architecture in developing their own translingual stories.
This was my attempt at developing a concrete resource that teachers could use as an exemplar in thinking about what this reframe of students from racialized backgrounds might look like in the classroom. I didn't intend this to be the only way that this could happen in a classroom, but I did intend this to be one way that we could think about this. I wanted to kind of go into a classroom where we piloted this unit plan for a few minutes just to kind of give you a sense of how it was, how it looked.
So, Ms. Lopez, which is a pseudonym was doing a closed reading of the text with the students, so those of yo who are unfamiliar with the common core standard, closed reading is a common core literacy practice that teachers are expected to engage in with students. I just want to kind of let you hear how Ms. Lopez engaged in this closed reading with the students to kind of give you a sense of how she was approaching the text with the students.
Ms. Lopez: Today we're going to the park. [Spanish 00:36:55] says Abuela. I know what she means. I think the park is beautiful too.
So, I'm going to think about that for a second.
In Spanish, Abeula said, [Spanish 00:37:10] But then Arthur Dorros, the author, he puts in here, I think the park is beautiful too. So that's a clue for me. If I don't know what [Spanish 00:37:25] means, okay, well I still understand what Abuela's saying, because he wrote, "I think the park is beautiful too." So Arthus Dorros is kind of translating here for us. See how he did that?
Nelson Flores: And so she does this several times with the story, and every time I do this pip, I was, "Oh, that's such a good think aloud." But then, I look back at the unit plan, and she was actually using the model from the unit plan to do the think aloud. She was also a wonderful teacher. But part of why she is engaging in this think aloud in this way is because we developed the resource to help her to think about how she could approach this particular text with the students.
Then we can see her in the shared writing, when she's preparing the students for, how you can incorporate Spanish into a text that's written primarily in English. You can see her doing that with the students here. You'll hear the students reading along as she's writing, which is a common practice when they're doing a shared writing together.
Ms. Lopez: I'm just going to write here that we're making and apple cake because maybe people don't know that's an apple cake, so I'm just going to label it.
Apple Cake. But you know what? Actually I don't mean to call it apple cake. We call it [Spanish 00:38:48] I think I'll write that.
Nelson Flores: So this is actually the first day of the shared writing where they were just supposed to draw a picture of a special person in their life who knew Spanish and then label it. So on the first day of the unit, I was helping her, we were doing the unit together, to think about how she could put in the children's mind that they were going to do Spanish words in the text that was written primarily in English. So she thought example of apple cake, which she writing about baking an apple cake with the tia, her aunt, and thinking about how she would never actually call it an apple cake with the tia, because her tia doesn't know English.
She would call it a [Spanish 00:39:26] So even in the first day of the unit, she was already getting them to think about this. I'm going to skip over the second one for time. This was the one I thought was the first example. But here, the second day of the unit, they're actually doing the shared writing, and she actually put [Spanish 00:39:41] in the story as a second level scaffolding for the students.
Just to kind of give you a sense of the types of products that students produce, here's one student, student in his [Spanish 00:39:55] who will read his story to us. This was a second grade class, by the way.
Second Grader: When I go to my tia's house, she tells me [Spanish 00:40:08] And I tell her, "Yes tia." And my tia says, [Spanish 00:40:15]
Nelson Flores: And so, he was able to take a lot of the strategies that were scaffolded for him in the read aloud in the shared writing and incorporate them into his own writing. And what he's doing, although he doesn't necessarily conscious realizing he's doing it, he's also affirming his bilingual practices. The school, and the teacher are validating those bilingual practices in ways that they hadn't been necessarily before in this particular classroom.
This is just one resource that we created in conversations with the communities that we work with in order to try to enact this reframed strength perspective on the students that we work with in our classrooms.
The fourth one is public scholarship in the 21st Century engages with social media. And I know social media can be very scary to people. More people like me who are a little older maybe. I thought young people kind of are always on social media and I'm afraid of it. But people my age certainly are like, "Oh, you shouldn't be on social media because you're going to get fired for doing things that are bad. And I get that. I think they're legitimate and concerns in engaging is social media that we can think about together as a community.
But at the same time, social media has been an integral tool in activism. So this is a picture of Alicia Garza who was one of the founders of the #blacklivesmatter. Right? This is from her Facebook post where she first used the term, Black Lives Matter, which then first became connected to a broader movement in the United States where after the Zimmerman acquittal, and she says, "I continue to be surprised at how little black lives matter. And I will continue that. Stop giving up on black lives, black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter."
Of course when she wrote that post, she really couldn't have anticipated how viral Black Lives Matter would have become and how it would really lead to a whole social movement that brings attention to things that hadn't been brought attention to before. Hadn't been brought enough attention to before. So social media can be a tool for really mobilizing communities around important issues.
However, it also can be used as a tool of oppression. So here we have Donald Trump, Tweeting, "Happy New Year to all including to my many enemies and those have fought me and lost so badly, they just don't know what to do. Love." And so, I think on one level, I think we should laugh at Donald Trump. But on another level, I don't think we give him enough credit for really knowing how to mobilize social media in ways that mobilizes a lot of ugly forces in U.S. society. If we're not engaging against that on social media, then we're giving a free platform for people to continue to perpetuate these ideas.
But I think that one of the so called alt-right, the white supremacist, white nationalists have done quite effectively is use social media as a way of mobilizing their forces in opposition to forces to Black Lives Matter. So I think as people who want to be public scholars, we have to think about how we want to engage in social media in ways that shapes that discourse. In ways that promote social justice.
So one way, the result to do that was through blogging, and I have a blog, "The Educational Linguist" you can look it up if you're interested. I launched it in 2013. I've done 38 posts, which isn't that many, and so that's why I said, you can have a blog post, but you do things like monthly or bi-monthly, which is kind of how I do it. I think sometimes people feel pressure to like, "You have to do it every day." I said, "You don't have to do it every day." But in those 38 posts, I have had 94,000 views to the site. I would find it highly unlikely that any of the journal articles that I write are going to get 94,000 views (laughing) over the course of their existence. And again, that's not to diminish them, but that shows that's a different audience. I have 600 people who regularly follow the blog. So when I write a new one, they automatically get an email that updates them to it. And they will be sharing it with their colleagues.
Many of the followers who reach out to me are classroom teachers who read the blog, teacher educators who talked about using blog post as a point of entry for engaging in conversations with pre-service teachers or inservice teachers, because they're short, I try to do them less than 1,000 words. They're very concrete, I try to avoid academic jargon, and so people find them as useful resource in trying to engage people who aren't ameshed in the practice right now, and don't necessarily have time or desire to read 30 page articles that kind of look at the nuances of these issues.
So I'm going to give you a few examples of some of the blogs that I wrote and some of the response that I got.
The first one that really went viral, was "What if we talked about modeling white children the way we talk about low income children of color". And this one kind of got misunderstood and people thought that I was saying we should be describing modeling the white children this way. And I was like, "No, no, no, no. It was satire to try to show you how to absurd it is that we talk about any child this way." But just to kind of give you a glimpse of some of what I wrote and then a response from a student.
I said, "It is well documented fact that by the age of five, modeling of white children will have heard 30 million fewer words in languages other than English than bilingual children of color. In addition, they will have had a complete lack of exposure to the richness of non-standardized varieties of English that characterize the homes of many children of color. This language gap increases the longer these children are in school. The question is, what causes this language gap, and what should we do to address it?" And it goes on from there. I actually am kind of proud of that one. (laughter)
But that one got a lot of traction. And a lot of people came across it and I got an email, I got a lot of troll behavior emails too, but I don't like to focus on those. A pre-service teacher who, by the way she's talking about it, I think is new to thinking about issues of race and racism. But I'll just let you see what she said.
She said, "I find it quite unique that you decided to point out how different stories can affect the student's education performance. I too agree with your statement how when dealing with bilingualism, you have to realize that no matter what, the race card will come into effect. Race is an important characteristic of every human and it should not be ignored." So I think she was a sophomore in college and based on the way she's talking about it, as I said, it seems like she's new to thinking about these issues. She hadn't really thought about the importance of race and racism before.
But this blog post got her to really think about these things differently and as a pre-service teacher, I think she should be thinking about these things differently. So I'm glad that she was able to read that post. I believe she read that in class because her professor brought it in as a way of kind of thinking about these things.
Another one that went viral was, "Tim Kaine speaks Spanish. Does he want a cookie?" (Laughter) Again, this one got misunderstood, where people thought that I was suggesting that Tim Kaine should not use Spanish, which was not the point that I was trying to make. The point I was trying to make was why his Spanish was celebrated in the ways that the Spanish of Latino politicians often times wasn't. That was the point that I was trying to make. So, in that one I had a brief excerpt from it. "I said this is a textbook example of a racial linguistic ideology. For a white politician, it is an asset to have any Spanish speaking abilities. So our Latin ex-politician it is a liability not to have perfect Spanish speaking abilities."
This stance is particularly ironic for a society that has at many points actually worked to undermine the bilingualism of the Latin ex-community, so that one also kind of got a lot of traction. I was invited to a podcast of Slate, which was interesting and I have a clip from it, you'll see. The reporter wanted me to frame my answers in a certain way, and I was trying to resist his framing, which is also something that we need to think about in terms of public scholarships. It's like two minutes. It was longer than that. He has an interesting personality.
Podcast Host: (podcast recording) [inaudible 00:48:51] Might be more to white voters who would like to think of themselves as voting for the kind of guy or party that's attempting an outreach to Latino voters?
Nelson Flores: (podcast recording) I suppose that that's a possibility. Certainly in the conversations I've been having about it the group that seemed to be most enthusiastic about his use of Spanish has been white liberals. Many of them who also speak Spanish themselves. Among the Latino community and these people I've spoken to, it's more of a kind of, "Okay, but what are your policy positions. What are you going to do that is actually going to help our community."
I think you're far more interested in kind of this policy [00:49:30] than what she stands for.
Podcast Host: Yes. But is he found lacking on that score, because it's true that every political campaign will engage in window dressing, but you know who else will engage in window dressing, a store that actually is selling those very goods. Sometimes window dressing is indicative of the [crosstalk 00:49:49]
Nelson Flores: I didn't understand his question either. (laughter)
Seems to have a strong stance in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Of course one of the downsides is that you've also been openly supportive of free trade agreements in Latin America that have actually increased the number of migrants coming from Latin America coming in to the U.S. but has led to this need for comprehensive immigration reform. And so I think taking a closer look at his stances on Latin America thinking about how the free trade agreements have impacted Latin America, thinking specifically about Honduras where he did his volunteer work thinking about Hillary Clinton and her roles, possible roles in the coup that occurred in Honduras. And kind of thinking about all of those things I think are important for us to consider as well.
Podcast Host: Yeah, I was I wouldn't say surprised he isn't number of thing going for him, but Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State where there was a coup and her explanations for why it was never called a military coup, maybe bears some more scrutiny. Let's put it that way.
Nelson Flores: Yes. It would be interesting to see what contains those things about what happened in Honduras as well.
So I don't think he was anticipating my answer to his question (laughter) where what I was trying to do was refrain the conversation toward what his policy positions are. In someways, it feels quaint at this point because we have a Trump administration sort of being gaged in that debate still. But the time everyone was just like, "Oh my god, it's so great he speaks Spanish." And I was like,"Who cares that he speaks Spanish? What are his policy positions?" And I think really deeply about how his policy positions are going to impact the communities.
So, I think part of what we have to do as scholars who are engaging in debate that can easily be taken up into partisan politics, is to really kind of maintain our position and continue to say, "No, the issues here are the policies. We want more conversation about the policies, not kind of this window dressing." Which he seems to think was something worth talking about.
Then the final one that I want to look at was a blog post that I wrote more recently, "Do Black Lives Matter in Bilingual Education?" What I was really trying to reflect on, the discourses of anti-black [inaudible 00:52:02] that often time shape the ways that we talk about bilingual education. One of the points that I was trying to make in that particular piece was, when we talk needing an English speaker, in bilingual education research, often times, they're talked about as coming from the dominant culture. And I said, "Well that's not necessarily the case." If they're a black student, they're not coming from the dominant culture just because they happen to be native English speakers. So we really need to think about how race impacts how it is we talk about these issues.
The point that I making for that here, was, the uncritical equating of native English speakers with the dominant culture, erases the anti-blackness experience by black native English speakers both inside and outside of school. An easy way to prevent this erasure is to be precise in our descriptions. This means to explicitly name the racial backgrounds of native English speakers and to fully distinguish those who are coming from positions of privilege, white native English speakers from those who are coming from positions of repression, black native English speakers.
After this blog post, I received and email from the director of bilingual multilingual education in a school district in Illinois. And he was talking to me about the struggles that they were having at trying to combat anti-blackness as they expanded their dual language programs. And he was interested in sharing their experiences, which of course I was all for. He literally this week, finally got to me his response where he was talking about [inaudible 00:53:28] on their work. And in response to this particular point, he wrote, "While explicit conversations related to whom the native English speaker should be, does not necessarily take place in public. The implicit message being sent related to why we would even consider putting a dual language program at this school were present." It was primarily a black school. "From online anonymous comments in the local newspaper to behind the scenes comments, people across the community question whether or not this would be a wise decision. Due to the assumption that this program would be better for white students who 'Spoke English well' rather than black students who 'Didn't speak English well'".
So when we first connected about this, he felt like someone was finally talking about in the public way, the types of issues that he was also battling with as a director of bilingual multilingual education and he felt that it provided him a vocabulary for thinking about these things and also for affirmation that someone who is considered an expert in these issues is raising these issues and pointing to these issues.
Thinking about the impact of social media, I have been able to connect with educators, with policy people, with teacher educators, in ways that I probably wouldn't have been able to if I hadn't done a blog. Or if I hadn't Tweeted. I'm not getting into the Tweets because of time, but I have been known to be a pretty, I don't know what you would call it. I just put things out there on Twitter. It often times gets response from people who are like, "Yes this is something we've been thinking about and you're helping us think about these things differently."
It also gets trolls. I encourage you to ignore them and really focus on the people who really want to engage with you and are really saying that you're helping them think about things in different ways. Or you're affirming the prospectus that they already had, which is also important to do. So that people don't feel isolated, so they feel that people do share their perspectives.
Then finally kind of just to end the presentation. Many of the benefits of public scholarship cannot be quantified. This is something that I think we're really going to reflect on and grapple with together. So I just want to briefly talk about some of what I see as the unquantifiable benefits of my public scholarship.
One, is that student's bilingualism are being valued in classrooms. I don't know if we could put a number on that. I don't know if we would want to put a number on that, but that's something that I am proud to say, is part of what has happened in some of the classrooms that I work with, because of my engagement with the teachers, and the students, and the community. Learning from and with community members is another unquantifiable benefit.
Thinking about how I've been pushed to really think about the practical implications of the work that I engage with because I'm engaging with practitioners who have to figure out what they're doing in their classrooms every day. And can help me think about what's doable, what's not doable, what's realistic, what's unrealistic. The teachers that I work with help to keep me grounded and I think I help them to keep reaching for the stars.
I think both of those need to happen. We need to have a balance between what can happen tomorrow and how we can think about these thing differently. That's why we develop praxis and that's kind of an unquantifiable benefit.
Finally, impacting discourse in ways that challenge oppression. Again, perhaps we could possibly think of a way we would want to quantify that. I don't know if we would want to, because then it's just going to become a new form of oppression. Right? I'm thinking of one of my anxieties about thinking about counting these things for tenure and promotion. I'm in a school that they care about, the number of journal articles that I publish. And that's pretty much it. I mean, I shouldn't say this on camera, but they wouldn't lie. That's pretty much it.
My worry is, so okay if we start counting public scholarship, are we then going to have to be like, "Oh, you had 1,000 ReTweets last week, so that goes on your CV." So I don't think we want to do that, I don't think we want to do that but at the same time, we do have to think about how it is we value that type of work, but how do we value work that's not necessarily easily quantifiable. I think it's one of those existential kind of dilemma's that we have to think about as we think about thinking about the role of public scholarship and tenure and promotion.
So as I said the final question that I want to leave us with, is kind of an existential question that I don't have an answer to, but I think that we could maybe come to conversations about together, is how do we value public scholarship in ways that doesn't simply make it something else one needs to add to a CV for tenure and promotion, because if it becomes that, then I think it really loses what its original objective was, which is to really improve the lives of the communities that we work with. If it becomes another hoop that we have to jump through, then it becomes a distraction from the work that we should be doing in the communities that we want to serve. Right?
So, like I said, I don't have the answer to that question, but I think it is one that we want to think about as we engage in the important work of thinking about how we incorporate public scholarship and engaged scholarship into tenure and promotion, which I think is absolutely something that we should be doing and thinking about.
Gracias. Thank you.