"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

TESOL, Immigration Reform, & Literacy Practice

TESOL Welcomes President's Call for Expanding Education, Immigration Reform Date: 13 February 2013 In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama highlighted the vital role that education plays in supporting the U.S. economy. The initiatives outlined in his speech—advancing pre-K education and secondary schools—hold promise, but they will not be fully effective unless they take into account the needs of the fastest growing population of student in U.S. schools: English learners. As President Obama noted, pre-K education has been proven to benefit young learners, and it especially benefits English learners, who are often in need of such services. Expanding the benefit to millions of young learners is overdue. However, the proposed reforms for Pre-K and high school must include resources to support educators and meet the unique needs of English learners. Without expanding the number of trained ESL and bilingual educators and providing training for all educators who work with English learners, these reform efforts will fall short of serving many of the students who could most benefit from them. While most English learners in U.S. schools are born in this country, many of their parents are not, including many who are undocumented. TESOL International Association supports President Obama’s call for comprehensive immigration reform. Many of the reform proposals include learning English among the steps along the path to citizenship for immigrants, and TESOL International Association and its members stand ready to work with the President and Congress to provide these services to those adult English learners who wish to pursue them. The current system for providing English language and civics education, however, is at capacity, with waiting lists in many locations. Immigration reform will likely result in an increased demand for these services. Expanding the current system to meet this demand will be very difficult without additional resources. Immigrant integration is a critical component of comprehensive immigration reform. TESOL International Association therefore strongly urges the President and Congress to include resources for immigration integration, especially English language education, in their proposals. These efforts will help build strong communities that continue the long U.S. tradition of respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.

I found the President's SOTU speech very encouraging, especially on immigration reform!  I predict immigration and citizenship issues will be the TESOL trend for the foreseeable future.  Virginia DOE Office of Adult Education and Literacy published their 5 year strategic plan that specifically addressed English literacy and civics education.  Civics education has 4 components: history, government, citizenship-naturalization, and civic engagement.  The civic engagement component is a broader umbrella that accommodates the kind of critical pedagogy we have approached in ADLT 650.  There is a need for English language learners (ELLs) to use their voice on this issue.  To realize any kind of reform, people need to engage society on this issue.  This is an example of taking literacy into practice, why literacy is action.  This is why I was about to jump out of my seat last Tuesday night!  Anyway, my program just received it's EL/Civics grant, enough to take us through another 6 months.  We operate on the brink, one step at a time.  But, this is what we live for!  This is why, at least in my humble opinion, literacy doesn't belong in the classroom, it belongs out on the streets (Internet, TV, mass media).  If you have  non native speakers/ELLs in any of your programs or work environments, please engage them in conversation on this issue.  Ask for their opinions, what changes they want to see, or how important reform is to them.   I hope it's an important issue for you, too. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post.   Susan Wa


  1. Susan:

    I agree that literacy should be in the streets, but I do feel that there's a place for it in the classroom. I'm seeing the code side of literacy lately, and while the collaborative contextual approach (sorry if I've got that wrong, but you know what I'm saying) needs to be more of a part of teaching literacy, the classroom environment is a place where students can feel like they can make mistakes and teachers can tailor their teaching to the needs of their students.

  2. I picked up on Joyce's point, too, Susan. But I'm guessing you mean the classrooms cant do it all. And given the sad (too mild a word) state of funding--you have a six month funding schedule??--I can see why alternative models are needed. How in the world does one maintain basic commitments to the community this way, much less build infrastucture to meet the growing demands? Steve Reder has studied adult literacy (not language, but I am confident the issues are the same) and found that practice (in or outside of the classroom) is the most important determiner of adult learning--more so that time in class. So, maybe you are on to something...Maybe our classrooms should be sites for organizing cooperatives to help learners help themselves become more engaged in literacy practices in the community?


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.