Language and power. Power and language. The two are inextricably intertwined.
I'm currently reading In Other Words, a book by one of my favourite contemporary writers, Jhumpa Lahiri. This book shares her experiences of linguistic exile, as she moves from America to Italy in order to immerse herself in the Italian language. The memoir also shares her experiences of exclusion and difference as the daughter of Indian immigrants living in America. Lahiri writers in her simple, elegant style about how it feels to lack confidence in the dominant language (Italian), to be a part of a society that didn't value her mother tongue (Bengali) and to witness her parents treated differently because of cultural assumptions made by Americans who heard their strong Bengalese accents as they spoke (English).
Reading this book is prompting me to think again about the power scales in schools which dip (or dive) in favour of students whose first language is Standard Australian English. Students like my own two children. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are hugely disadvantaged because they don't have the same volume of experience with the dominant language - the language of power - that their non-Aboriginal peers do. Most non-Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander students at our school grow up immersed in Standard Australian English; it is the language of home, of their peers, of their social circles. They arrive to school, at four years old, with years of oral language in the bank; something we educators know is one of the strongest predictors of achievement in reading and writing. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, this is not the case at all. They are HUGELY disadvantaged by this by this discrepancy and I don't think we give due recognition to the fact that most of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders come to school speaking an equally important, yet qualitatively very different dialect of English. I apply this statement to myself also; I am monolingual. I think this very fact renders me far too attached to English. I can't the the linguistic woods for the English trees towering to the sky and this lack of perspective impedes how I respond to students.
So many questions going forward, largely about my own teaching and how I respond with awareness in a spirit of equity. To be continued...