The SCALLAHS Project: Immigrant Youth, Civic Action, Language, Literacy, and Argumentation

The research project I intend to be engaged in over the next two years involves the study of adolescent immigrant and “English Language Learner” students and how their civic participation influences their academic language learning, and vice versa. I want to know how immigrant youth involved in critical civic and political action find new meanings, purposes, and contexts for acquiring, using, and appropriating academic English, for example in the course of reading real-world texts that bear on the conditions of their communities and families, or in composing argument texts with real-world audiences where they have a chance to educate, inform, persuade, and mobilize others. Underlying this is my sense that students in our schools need a counter-narrative to learning for individual success or “getting a job,” but are hungry for spaces for their emerging political consciousness, hungry for meaningful social action, hungry for a community of purpose to surround them. In that context, learning to read texts and compose speech and complex, sophisticated communication rises in importance, but for other reasons than the standard, neoliberal ideology-driven ones often promulgated in schools.

SCALLAHS stands for Student Civic Action, Language, Literacy, and Argumentation in Hayward Schools. The idea is to make the classroom–and by extension, the schools–a place for interacting with the community on issues of concern within the community, learning to read the world and write the world, learning and communicating with local leaders and constituents in the course of becoming politically active, and engaging in literate activity that’s also empowering and makes a difference. I hope to enroll a few teachers to pilot with me, initiating a unit (or units) in their classes with English Language Learners. I hope to show that projects with these priorities can lead to the gains that test-focused educators are looking for, but more importantly, that students come to develop in their academic achievement in a way not subtractive to their cultural and community commitments, but in ways that are additive and agentive: they gain access to codes, to cultures of power, that they can use in the course of affirming their own voices and the concerns and causes of their own families and communities, ones often marginalized in schools and in the public space. It’s intended to be a social justice pedagogy, building on the work of teachers, activists, and researchers who have initiated youth action research as critical pedagogy, but with special consciousness of the linguistic and discursive aspects of such engagements.

More details on this project to come.

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