Monthly Archives: February 2018

Good article in HuffPo about U.S. economic inequality.

Despite all the hand-wringing about economic insecurity among white voters during the last election, white families in the U.S. are doing pretty well for themselves. In 2014, the median income for white households was $71,300 compared to $43,300 for black households. Among households headed by someone with a college degree, the median income for whites was $106,600, much higher than the $82,300 median income for blacks.

An even starker measure of inequality than income, and a more enduring one, is wealth. Think about the difference this way: Income is what you get weekly or monthly, and wealth is what you would have if your income stopped. Even average white families have a huge wealth advantage, but they don’t realize it. Census data reveals that the median assets of white families amounted $132,483 in 2013, compared to just $9,211 for black families. Yet white Americans, and especially higher-income whites, vastly overestimate the progress toward economic equality between blacks and whites, according to a 2017 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

…Even the language of the “wealth gap” in the well-meaning Center for American Progress report misses the role that white families play in perpetuating these inequalities. The report describes blacks as “struggl[ing] to keep pace with their white counterparts,” which makes the wealth gap sound like a failure on the part of black families to “keep pace.” The truth is that white families took advantage ― and continue to take advantage ― of racist housing policies and pass the resulting equity on to their (presumably white) children.

…Consider the issue of school segregation, a classic case of white families ― especially white mothers ― hoarding resources for their children at the expense of their non-white peers. Reporter Nikole Hannah Jones has documented white parents’ efforts to fight the desegregation of public schools, a fight that recalls the black-and-white photographs of the 1960s and the busing riots of the 1970s, but that persists today, even in self-proclaimed liberal communities.

The problem of wide gaps in school funding is directly linked to housing segregation, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We could fund all schools equally so that all children had the same quality education. Instead, we have built ― and white families continue to insist upon ― a system in which being able to afford a more expensive house means you can send your child to a better school. That’s a form of hoarding of opportunity for the children in one community at the expense of all the children.

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Deux Jours, Une Nuit (2014): a Marxist Perspective


Copyright 2017 by S. J. Munson


Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night, 2014) is a Belgian film directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and starring Marion Cottilard. It is an encouraging story of a female factory worker who finds both courage and identity in the face of the betrayal of her coworkers and the intimidation of her employers. The film also depicts the conflict between capitalism and humanity and exposes a very old strategy of exploitation, both of which themes lend themselves easily to a Marxist interpretation.

In order to approach this film from a Marxist perspective, we must first define what we mean by Marxism. In its original form, as developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Marxism is a system of thought that views socioeconomic history through the lens of class conflict. In the capitalist stage of economic development, the class struggle is between the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, and the proletariat, who, having no means of production themselves, must sell their labor for wages. The concentration of the means of production in the hands of a few allows the capitalist class to exploit labor as a commodity (“The exploitation of the many by the few,” [Marx and Engels, Manifesto, ch. 1]). The laborer, who is treated as merely a means of increasing capital, rather than as a being with physical, social, and spiritual needs, therefore becomes alienated not only from her own work, but also from her own humanity (Marx, “Working Day,” 388). The first stage in revolution, or radical socioeconomic change, is the development of a class-consciousness on the part of the proletariat that will cause it to work in its own best interest.

The film’s setting is symbolic: located outside of Liège, Belgium, along the Meuse River, it is a region significant as the first site of European industrialization in the early nineteenth century, and since the 1960s, known for its high unemployment and labor unrest (Baum, 104). Thus from the outset, the directors, well known for decades of filmmaking addressing the lives of the working poor in French-speaking Wallonia, seem to want to connect this intimate story with the wider history of capitalism and issues of labor injustice (Baum, 103).

Sandra Bya, the film’s protagonist, a young woman married with two children, works for a small company that manufactures solar cells. At the beginning of the film, she is just returning to work after a leave of absence due to depression and a suicide attempt. It is hinted that her nervous strain may be the result of work-related stress and of the family’s ongoing financial difficulties. Thus, from the start, as a protagonist, she could be said to represent self-alienation resulting from capitalist exploitation. According to Marx, capitalism not only robs human labor of its “moral and physical conditions of development;” it may also be responsible for the worker’s early death. The capitalist sees excess population as a labor surplus (cheap labor), rather than as “generations of human beings stunted, short-lived, quickly replacing each other” (Marx, “Working Day,” 390).

“These laborers,” write Marx and Engels in their Manifesto, “who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market” ( ch.1). In the film, due to increased global production, and thus competition, the factory must cut costs. To save money, the owner M. Dupont plans to eliminate one position, Sandra’s. Her prolonged absence has demonstrated that they can do better financially without her and with only a slight increase in overtime for the others. However, to silence any potential objections by other employees, he decides to piece out the blame for her redundancy by allowing them to choose: Sandra may keep her job if they are all willing to forgo their annual 1,000 euro bonus. By this Mephistophelian strategy Dupont hopes to stifle any opposition and to set the workers against each other, all under the guise of a “democratic” vote. He counts on the success of this scheme, since he knows that his workers, many of whom are immigrants, live on the threshold of poverty and must work two or more jobs to support their families. As Marx and Engels state, “This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves” (Manifesto, ch. 1). If capitalism has one fear, it is the solidarity of its workforce. Thus Dupont seeks to divide in order to dominate. Any possible division or competition among his workers is exploited to prevent them from finding a common cause, and thus organizing resistance.

Sandra cannot afford to lose this employment. Her family has already lived in subsidized low-income housing, and she does not want to return there. As stated in the Communist Manifesto, “No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the manufacturer so far at an end that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.” (ch.1). Thus, Sandra’s dilemma is a product of a bourgeois system of oppression, both inside and outside the workplace.

The dehumanization of laborers and their alienation, first from their work, then from one another, are important themes in the film. It is not surprising, for example, that the first vote is taken in Sandra’s absence. This way, her coworkers need not look into her eyes. In fact, every-thing has been arranged by the employer in the most aseptic manner to avoid contamination with human emotion. “It’s as if I don’t exist!” she complains. She does exist, however, and she arrives at the factory just in time to give a human face to the dilemma. The rest of the film follows Sandra as she visits the homes of her fellow employees, trying to sway their vote by proving to them that she does indeed have a face. She has an uphill battle since many of her coworkers refuse even to see her, while their spouses try to shame her for trying to take food out of their children’s mouths.

Although Sandra eventually loses her job (the final vote is an 8-to-8 tie), M. Dupont, impressed at how passionately she has campaigned to keep it, offers her another position, that of her coworker Alphonse, a poor Congolese immigrant who voted for her, but whose contract is about to expire. Through her ordeal, however, she has come to know her fellow employees and their families personally. Thus, for Sandra, Alphonse is no longer just a “contract,” as he is to Dupont; he has a face, a wife, and children, and as an immigrant, an economic plight even more dire than her own. From a Marxist viewpoint, Dupont is simply trying to force Sandra to accept that competition among employees is an economic reality, a “natural force” rather than a choice (Manifesto, ch. 1). Turning down the offer, she leaves the factory, now unemployed but with a new sense of self-worth and empowerment. Thus the film’s ending represents a kind of personal triumph of humanity over greed, of solidarity over anonymity, and of humanization over dehumanization. She has rediscovered her humanity and has a new, though developing class-consciousness.

According to classic Marxism, true art should reflect reality honestly, as well as be a means of raising class-consciousness, of transforming the audience and motivating them to action (Shaw). As a film Deux jours, une nuit approaches this goal. Unfortunately, as true as her con-version seems, Sandra is only one person. This focus on individual transformation rather than that of society as a whole continues to be a tendency of Western, and therefore capitalist, cinema. By contrast, many Marxist films of the early Soviet era shunned individualism and star-centered narratives in favor of a more collective approach: society is changed or transformed not by individuals, but by the collective action of anonymous people working in solidarity. One might cite as an example Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928), which uses no professional actors and depicts the Revolution as being accomplished by crowds of people.

Seen through a Marxist lens, Deux jours, une nuit gives a human face to the ongoing class struggle between labor and capital. As a proletarian exploited for her labor and alienated both from herself and her coworkers, Sandra is a mere commodity to her employer and therefore expendable. Yet faced with the loss of an income her family desperately needs, as well as the in-human and manipulative methods used by her employer to force her out, the normally passive protagonist grows angry and decides to fight back. Her efforts to get to know her coworkers, and to get to be known by them, put her on a sometimes frustrating but ultimately rewarding journey of developing solidarity and class-consciousness.


Works Cited

Baum, Christopher. “A Working-class Tale of Embodiment and Belonging: Two Days, One Night.” New Labor Forum, September 2015, pp. 102-04, Accessed 9 March 2017.

Deux Jours, Une Nuit. Directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, performances by Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione, Cinéart, 2014.

Marx, Karl. “The Working Day (1867).” Critical Theory, edited by Robert Dale Parker, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 388-94.

——, and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Marx/Engels Selected Works. Translated by Samuel Moore, vol. 1, Progress Publishers, 1969, archive/ marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/. Accessed 9 March 2017.

Shaw, Dan. “Sergei Eisenstein.” Senses of Cinema, vol. 30, 2004, great-directors/eisenstein/. Accessed 9 March 2017.

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Le plaisir et la douleur : antithèse et métaphore dans le Sonnet No VIII de Louise Labé

labécopyright 2016 by S. J. Munson


Dans son Sonnet No VIII, Louise Labé, poétesse lyonnaise du seizième siècle, emploie des figures de style pour décrire la nature ineffable (et quelquefois indicible) de l’amour et de la sexualité humaine. D’après François Rigolot, ce poème bien connu, dit le « sonnet des antithèses », suive la formule du poète romain Catulle (odi et amo, Carmen 85) redynamisée par Pétrarque et ses disciples, « [et] reproduit en vif les <alternances du cœur> que la traité Du Sublime (du Pseudo-Longin) décrivait justement à propos de Sappho ».[1] Comme dans les sonnets du Pétrarque, les antithèses de Labé servent à souligner que l’amour est un paradoxe qui provoque également la jouissance et la souffrance intenses. L’amour signifie la joie, un délice vertigineux, mais aimer est aussi se brûler, s’exposer au pire danger, et même mourir un peu. Dans cette rédaction, nous analyserons la manière dont la poétesse utilise l’antithèse et la métaphore en particulier pour se fait le champion de la libre expression de la sexualité féminine.

Dans le premier quatrain Labé empile ses antithèses de manière hyperbolique. « Je vis, je meurs, » elle se plaint ; « je me brule et me noye ».

J’ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure :

La vie m’est et trop molle et trop dure.

J’ay grans ennuis entremeslez de joye :[2]

Le contraste entre vivre/mourir ; se brûler/se noyer (v.1), chaut estreme/froidure (v.2), molle/dure (v.3), ennuis/joye (v.4) donnent l’impression que l’amante est bouleversée par la passion; elle ressent une hyperstimulation sensorielle et elle a perdu ses repères. Le langage semble tellement exagéré qu’il est possible que la poétesse se moque un peu de sa propre susceptibilité. Mais elle ne se blâme pas ; c’est le pouvoir d’Amour, comme elle le dit dans son Sonnet No XXIV :

Ne reprenez, Dames, si j’ay aymé :

Si j’ay senti mile torches ardentes,

Mile travaus, mile douleurs mordentes :

Si en pleurant, j’ay mon tems consumé,

Mais estimez qu’Amour, à point nommé,

Pourra, s’il veut, plus vous rendre amoureuses.[3]

Dans ces deux sonnets, comme dans la tradition de la poésie antique, elle personnifie  l’amour comme dieu païen qui s’attaque à l’improviste aux êtres humains. Dans les deux cas, elle est sous l’emprise d’un pouvoir espiègle et impitoyable.

Dans le deuxième quatrain de No VIII, l’amante (est-elle la poétesse elle-même ? Nous ne savons pas) continue sa plainte en juxtaposant les verbes. Elle dit:

Tout à un coup je ris et je larmoye,

Et en plaisir, maint grief tourment j’endure :

Mon bien s’en va, et à jamais il dure :

Tout en un coup je seiche et je verdoye.

Elle rit et pleure (larmoye), endurant le plaisir et la souffrance en même temps. Elle a le sentiment que son bien-être (mon bien), son existence même, est menacée pendant cette expérience ardente. Elle craint que cela ne finisse jamais, bien qu’elle ne veuille pas que les sensations se terminent. Le contraste molle/dure du troisième vers résonne dans vers 7, où le pronom masculin (à jamais il dure) est ambiguë (elle veut et ne veut pas que l’amant continue).

Dans ce contexte il est évident que ces antithèses et les jeux de mots fonctionnent à deux niveaux : le romantique et le sexuel. Même des lecteurs modernes peuvent être étonnés par le caractère sexuellement explicite de sa poésie et la manière libérée dont elle représente le point de vue féminin de la sexualité. Contrairement aux femmes célestes ou idéalisées des poètes italiens ou courtois, pour lesquels l’adultère « platonique » est « la seule forme d’amour authentique »,[4] pour Labé la femme a toujours les deux pieds sur terre; elle est créature complètement terrestre, en chair et en os.

Quoique ce soit moins développé que dans des autres poèmes (p. ex., Sonnet No IV, Élégie No I), Labé utilise la métaphore de la guerre pas simplement pour juxtaposer paradoxalement la guerre et l’amour, mais pour montrer que l’amour est une sorte de guerre, une agression sensorielle, un assaut contre le corps et ses passions. Dans la deuxième strophe la poétesse répète la construction tout à un coup/tout en un coup, et l’emphase n’est pas seulement sur la soudaineté ou la simultanéité de l’action, mais aussi sur l’action elle-même: par un seul coup, elle est prise entre le plaisir et la douleur.

Cependant la femme ne reste pas passive dans cette guerre. Par des jeux de mots elle laisse entendre qu’elle est parfaitement capable de lancer sa propre attaque, au moins de légitime défense. Il y a peut-être un jeu de mots au cinquième vers. L’éditeur de l’édition de Rouen (1556), estimant beaucoup l’humour, l’emphase en rendant larmoye comme l’armoye[5] (MF, armoyer, « combattre, faire guerre »).[6] En plus, au huitième vers (les deux vers sont liés par la rime) le mot verdoyer peut avoir le sens en moyen français de « combattre par escarmouche », ou au sens figuré plus ancien, de lancer « une attaque verbale » (cf. AF, verdoier, « défier, provoquer »).[7] Bien sûr, l’idée que l’amour est une escarmouche et les indices que l’amante est agressive verbalement ou même physiquement, un partenaire plus que disposée dans le jeu sexuel, font mentir la conception traditionnelle médiévale de la femme comme réceptrice passive des avances masculines. Ces sous-entendus semblent d’autant plus coquins du fait qu’ils sont cachés sous le couvert d’un langage qui se plaint de la victimisation par l’amour.

Dans le sestet la poétesse emploie plus d’antithèses pour indiquer l’ambivalence continuelle de l’amante :

Ainsi Amour inconstamment me meine :

Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur,

Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.

Puis quand je croy ma joye estre certeine,

Et estre au haut de mon desiré heur,

Il me remet en mon premier malheur.

Elle se plaint qu’Amour, ici identifié (et personnifié) pour la première fois comme source de son instabilité, la mène « inconstamment », un jeu de mot qui se réfère à la variabilité de ses humeurs, ainsi qu’à la performance sexuelle de l’amant. Au niveau du cœur, elle n’est pas maître de ses émotions, mais comme une barque dans un tempête, elle est battue par les flots. Elle « pense » [remarquez les antithèses] que cette « douleur » va continuer, mais soudain, « sans y penser », elle se trouve « hors de peine ». Au niveau physique, au moment où elle croit être au sommet de son extase (heur), elle est déçue (malheur). Au dernier vers le pronom masculin est encore ambiguë : ce n’est pas seulement Amour qui la laisse insatisfaite ; c’est aussi l’homme qui, dans son égoïsme, arrête trop tôt. L’image ici n’est pas subtile ; les connotations sexuelles sont conçues pour choquer, ou tout au moins pour défier les conceptions littéraires traditionnelles de la sexualité féminine. Comme le dit Dudley Wilson :

Elle évoque une sensualité mutuelle basée sur un contact de quatre lèvres…[L]’haleine qui sort de ses lèvres n’a rien de spirituel…à la manière envisagée par Castiglione—un pur rendez-vous entre deux âmes. Au contraire elle est poussée par un instinct qui a certainement ses racines dans la partie reproductive du corps, et elle finit par perdre pied dans des extrêmes de bonheur terrestre, de ravissement sexuel. [8]

Il faut souligner que ce langage sexuel qui imprègne le poème entier est un concetto (métaphore filée) de l’amour à toutes ses étapes : de l’euphorie de l’attirance première, au chagrin de la perte d’un amant. C’est à dire que la poétesse décrit la nature fuyante de la passion et la douleur de l’amour en utilisant le langage de l’extase sexuelle au point de vue féminin.

On ne peut s’empêcher de croire que Labé, la rebelle, savourait l’idée de choquer son public. Comme elle écrit dans l’épître dédicatoire de ses Œuvres :

Estant le tems venu…que les severes loix des hommes n’empeschent plus les femmes de s’appliquer aus sciences et disciplines : il me semble que celles qui ont la commodité, doivent employer cette honneste liberté que notre sexe ha autre fois tant desiree…et montrer aus hommes le tort qu’ils nous faisoient en nous privant du bien et de l’honneur qui nous en pouvoit venir…[9]

Ici elle demande la liberté intellectuelle des femmes et lance un appel pour plus de femmes de lettres, mais dans sa poésie elle est plus explicite : en particulier sur la capacité féminine de ressentir le plaisir sexuel : « Baise m’encor, rebaise moy et baise » demande-elle à son amante dans le sonnet No XVIII.[10] « De ce point de vue », Wilson l’explique, « Louise se montre beaucoup plus fière, en envisageant le rôle de la femme d’une façon qui pourrait nous paraître plus moderne, même plus raisonnable. »[11]

Cependant, dans la poésie de cette « nouvelle Sappho »,[12] on a toujours l’impression que, malgré son esprit et son égalité, la femme est toujours par nature plus sensible et donc plus vulnérable dans le jeu et plus souvent brisée dans le sillage de l’amour. Dans un autre sonnet (No XIX), elle développe d’avantage ce thème :

Et lui getay en vain toutes mes flesches

Et l’arc après : mais lui le ramassant

Et les turant me fit cent et cent bresches.[13]

Ici la femme, en tentant de flirter avec une connaissance, est plutôt tombée éperdument amoureuse. En lançant ses flèches enflammées, c’est elle qui est brûlée.

Dans son huitième sonnet Louise Labé utilise les antithèses et les métaphores pour repousser les limites de la langue (et de la pudeur de son époque) en exigeant une place à la table pour l’expérience, la perspective, et l’expression de la sexualité féminine. Ses jeux de mots créent un thème féministe sous-jacent qui dépeint l’amante comme une vraie femme de chair et de sang. Comme poétesse, elle laisse le soin à ses contemporains masculins de décrire l’amour spirituel et de créer les images idéalisées des femmes célestes. Dans sa poésie la femme est toujours enracinée dans la terre, pleine de l’énergie sexuelle, et quoique elle soit peut-être par nature plus vulnérable aux flèches de Cupidon, elle reste un partenaire sexuelle plus que disposée.



[1] Françoit Rigolot, Louise Labé Lyonnaise, ou la Renaissance au feminin (Paris: Champion, 1997), p. 64.

[2] Enzo Guidici, ed., Louise Labé : Œuvres Complètes (Genève: Librairie Droz, 1981), p. 148.

[3] Œuvres, p. 164.

[4] Karine Berriot, Louise Labé: La Belle Rebelle et le François nouveau (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1985), p 68.

[5] Œuvres, p.148 n.

[6] « Armoyer », Dictionnaire du Moyen Français, armoyer1, retrieved 3/9/15.

[7] « Verdoyer », Dictionnaire du Moyen Français, verdoyer2, retrieved 3/9/15

[8] Dudley Wilson, «La poésie amoreuse de Louise Labé et la tradition poétique de son temps», Louise Labé, les voix de lyrisme, 1990, p.28.

[9] Œuvres, p. 17.

[10] Œuvres, p.158.

[11] Wilson, p.18.

[12] Bruno Roger-Vasselin, « Louise Labé et l’écriture au féminin », L’information littéraire, 2004/4 (Vol. 56).–16400.htm, retrieved 8-9-15.

[13] Œuvres, p 159.

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Two-Way Bilingual Instruction: Benefits and Challenges for Students and Teachers

bilingualedcopyright 2015 by S. J. Munson


In her article “Bilingual Education for Global Citizenship” (2015), Sharon Carstens contends that

In an increasingly interconnected world, the monolingual American norm is no longer an acceptable option for American students. Whether viewed from the necessity for intercultural communication in our progressively multicultural societies, from the commitment to fostering critical understanding of cultural differences, or from the standpoint of future employment opportunities, the significant advantages imparted through bilingual and bicultural education should be available to all students.[1]

The model of bilingual education that the author refers to, however, may not be one that many of us are familiar with. When the words bilingual education are mentioned, perhaps most think of the “transitional” bilingual programs in their local school system, in which native languages are employed to instruct new English language speakers in order to facilitate their integration into the main English curriculum. Certainly, this kind of model serves a purpose. There is no doubt that language minority students face daunting challenges, and anything that will improve educational outcomes may be seen as worthwhile. However, as Carstens points out, the ultimate goal of transitional bilingual programs is not, in fact, bilingualism, but rather monolingualism. As an anthropologist concerned with issues of social justice and equity, she believes that we “cannot neglect the crucial importance of challenging an educational system for majority students that remains Eurocentric in focus and fails to impart [to all students] understanding of and appreciation for diverse culture perspectives.”[2]

These issues have long been debated. Twenty and even thirty years ago, a multiculural pedagogy was designed to promote awareness of diversity, what eventually began to be referred to jokingly as the “holidays and heroes” approach. This kind of curriculum came under fire almost from the beginning, and to such an extent that multicultural education moved away from merely validating ethnic diversity and practices, toward a focus on programs to improve outcomes for minority students.[3] This is essentially where we are today. Undeniably, this kind of focus is important; however, there still remains the question of how to instill respect and understanding of diverse cultures to majority students in this country. Carstens believes that one model of bilingual and bicultural education has been shown to achieve this.

For the past ten years, a growing trend has been dual language programs in K-8 public and private schools. For purposes of clarity, let us refer to these programs as two-way bilingual instruction or two-way immersion programs. Many of these dual-language or bilingual programs are based on the language immersion model developed in Canada,[4] where the second language (French) is used to teach regular course content to English speakers for all or part of the day. The difference is that the Canadian model was used for English speakers only (one-way immersion). In two-way bilingual instruction both minority and majority language students receive instruction in both languages. For example, curriculum may be divided evenly between the two languages, with students receiving Math and Social Studies in one language and Science and Language Arts in the other, sometimes on a rotating basis. The problem with most traditional bilingual programs is that minority language students are often isolated for all or part of the day, receiving no or limited interaction with their English-speaking peers. In the two-way system both groups benefit from mutual interaction in both languages.

We must recall, too, that the Canadian system was born out of frustration with the status quo of cultural division between native Québécois and English speakers, all against the backdrop of the so-called Quiet Revolution, a cultural uprising of the country’s native French speakers. It was, however, a small group of rather forward-thinking English-speaking parents, who, deploring the linguistic and cultural bifurcation of their community, set out to create a more “ harmonious and integrated society” by finding a way to make their children fluent in French. Contemporary research had shown that bilingual Canadians tended to have a more positive view of the other ethnic group.[5] Crawford (2004) argues, however, that such tolerance may often be limited to the language itself, rather than the actual people group, if significant interaction is lacking (as in the case of one-way immersion).[6]

What are the reasons for which majority or minority parents or care-givers might choose a two-way dual language school ? The motivations are diverse. Some parents of a particular ethnicity or some bicultural families might select such a program as a means of educating their children in and preserving a specific cultural heritage. Others believe that bilingualism will give their children an economic advantage in a rapidly globalizing and competitive world; still others that childhood is the optimal time to learn a new language, as much research bears out.[7] Others may believe, quite rightly, that learning various content areas in the target language is a more effective way of learning the language than simply memorizing rules and passing tests.

Studies conducted by the National Literacy Panel over a twenty-year period (1985-2006) established the benefits of teaching minority-language children to read first in their home languages. These meta-analyses firmly concluded that primary language instruction promotes achievement in English. Interestingly, however, it was noted at the time that in some of the programs studied, children also were benefitting from learning to read in both languages simultaneously, although at different times of the day. As Goldenberg and Cohen (2010) write :

This suggests that instead of students’ having to learn to read in the home language first, and only then learning to read in the second language (the typical bilingual education model), they can learn to read in both simultaneously. [8]

Linguistically speaking, those who tout a dual-language approach argue that “ teaching language through content gives students the context for meaningful language use,”[9] which has long been considered as essential for successful second language acquisition. Moreover, there are more conclusive studies that demonstrate the potential short and long-term benefits of two-way dual language programs.

In a ground-breaking though still controversial 18-year study published in 2004, Collier and Thomas of George Mason University analyzed more than 6 million student records nationwide. Their conclusion was that “full-immersion bilingual programs in which native and nonnative students are given instruction in both languages [two-way bilingual instruction] are the most effective.” Their largest school district research site included bilingual programs in the Houston Independent School District. There they found that native-Spanish speakers remained either at or above grade level in both Spanish and English in the first through fifth grades. Interestingly, as Carstens notes, the study also found that “dual language schooling can help transform the experience of teachers, administrators and parents into an inclusive and supportive school community for all.”[10] As Collier and Thomas explain,

In addition to enhanced second language acquisition, two-way bilingual classes resolve some of the persistent sociocultural concerns that have resulted from segregated transitional bilingual classes. Often, negative perceptions have developed with classmates assuming that those students assigned to the transitional bilingual classes were those with “problems,” resulting in social distance or descrimination… Two-way bilingual classes taught by sensitive teachers can lead to a context where students from each language group learn to respect their fellow students as valued partners in the learning process with much knowledge to teach each other. [11]

According to the researchers, the astounding results of this study were a “wake-up call” to the entire field of bilingual education.[12] Goldenberg and Coleman, among others, however, tend to be more cautious in their enthusiasm for the study’s conclusions regarding academic achievement, since the study’s authors seem to have made no accommodation for selection bias.[13] Instead, for them, more conclusive are the data in the area of fostering cross-cultural appreciation and sensitivity.[14] Scanlan (2009), however, contends that the model does indeed promote “important social justice goals: bilingualism, cross-cultural appreciation, and academic success for Latino students who are typically underserved in schools.” He credits two-way bilingual instruction with creating

more unified communities in public schools among parents and caregivers, since speakers of both majority and minority languages are grouped together in an effort to develop literacy skills in both languages and consequently foster cross-cultural relationships in both cultures.[15]

In a series of key studies, Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, too, has observed patterns of achievement similar to the Collier-Thomas study.[16] She also found that dual language programs are particularly strong in promoting among minority parents a positive attitude toward the school and a sense of belonging, since in these schools English-speaking parents tend not to dominate and both languages are treated with equal respect.[17] In addition, she states that data

suggests that ethnic minority children in a high-quality educational program that incorporates the language and culture of both groups and fosters academic achievement could also enhance the perceived scholastic competence and global self-worth of those students. [18]

In addition, other studies have shown a higher motivation and passion toward the pursuit of higher education among high school students who previously attended two-way programs (Cobb, 2006).[19]

Such models of bilingual education are not without their challenges, however. For example, finding content resources and materials in a target language that are appropriate for non-native speakers can be difficult.[20] Also finding instructors with expertise in teaching content in one or both languages is also challenging. To teach a language is one thing; to be able to teach content in that language requires additional skills and experience. Bilingual education in general also connects to hot-button issues such as immigration and multiculturalism.[21] Based on this political blow-back, California, Massachusetts and Arizona, in particular, have already banned bilingual programs in favor of an English-only approach. Lastly, some non-cognate languages, such as Chinese, require much more effort (up to five times) to learn than other cognate languages, such as Spanish. Immersion programs must therefore make careful decisions as they choose what types of content will be offered in the second language. The danger is that students who experience difficulties learning content in a second language not only may fall behind, but as a result may also grow frustrated with the second language itself.[22]

Although the research in the field of dual-language instruction is still incomplete, it seems clear that two-way bilingual instruction may show much promise, in promoting bilingualism and biliteracy, short and long-term academic success, and attitudes of respect and understanding among minority and majority students. All of these goals could be said to be the direct result of a structure that provides meaningful interaction among the two language groups. We must be cautious, however, in assuming that just because a program is labeled dual-language, it will meet all these goals. Much depends on how the school is organized and administered and on the training and experience of teachers and staff. Support from the surrounding community is also key.

With the ever expanding immigrant and indigenous minority populations in our nation’s school systems, two-way bilingual education is possible in a variety of languages.[23] For those who can see immigration and diversity as a vast cultural and linguistic resource and opportunity, rather than a threat, it has tremendous potential not only to provide an enriching educational experience, but also to help ease some of the problems and tensions between immigrant families and English-speaking communities.



[1] Sharon Carstens, “Bilingual Education for Global Citizenship: Creating an Integrated Language/Culture Curriculum for Mandarin/English Students,” Human Organization, (Spring, 2015), retrieved 12 September 2015.

[2] Carstens.

[3] Carstens.

[4] Carstens.

[5] James Crawford, Educating English Learners: Language Diversity in the Classroom, 5th ed., (Los Angeles: Bilingual Education Services, 2004), 214-215.

[6] Crawford.

[7] Carstens.

[8] Claude Goldenberg and Rhoda Coleman, Promoting Academic Achievement among English Learners, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010), 26-27.

[9] Crawford, 214.

[10] Carstens.

[11] Virginia P. Collier and Wayne P. Thomas, “The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for All,” NABE Journal of Research and Practice, (Winter, 2004), 2.

[12] Collier & Thomas, 1.

[13] Crawford, 300.

[14] Goldman and Coleman, 30.

[15] Martin Scanlan and Deborah Palmer, “Race, Power and (In)equity within Two-Way Immersion Settings,” Urban Review, (December, 2009), retrieved 18 October 2015.

[16] Brian Cobb, Diego Vega, and Cindy Kronauge, “Effects of an Elementary Dual Language Immersion School Prorgam on Junior High Achievement,” Middle Grades Research Journal, (Spring, 2006), 36.

[17] Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, “Review of Research and Best Practices on Effective Features of Dual Language Programs,” Draft (March, 2005), 40.

[18] Quoted in Crawford, 304.

[19] Cobb,

[20] Carstens,

[21] Christine Armario, “U.S. Bilingual Education Challenge: Students Learning English as Second Language at Risk,” Huffington Post, April 14, 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2015.

[22] Carstens.

[23] Crawford, 307.

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America’s Original Sin

Great article by Maj. Danny Sjursen, former history prof. at West Point. It deals with slavery and the “devil’s bargain” made by wealthy Virginia landowners in the 17th century. In order to keep their unequal share of wealth and quench growing class unrest, they ‘racialized’ class in America. And we’ve been stuck with this ever since.

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