Diverse by Design: Literacy Education in Multicultural Institutions


Diversity, despite what we say, disturbs us. In the U.S., we debate linguistic rights, the need for an official language, and educational policies for language minority students. On the one hand, we believe in the rights of individuals, including (at least in the academy) the right to one’s own language. On the other hand, we sponsor a single common language, monolingual and standard, for full participation and communication in both the academy and in U.S. society.

In Diverse by...

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Diverse by Design: Literacy Education in Multicultural Institutions

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Diversity, despite what we say, disturbs us. In the U.S., we debate linguistic rights, the need for an official language, and educational policies for language minority students. On the one hand, we believe in the rights of individuals, including (at least in the academy) the right to one’s own language. On the other hand, we sponsor a single common language, monolingual and standard, for full participation and communication in both the academy and in U.S. society.

In Diverse by Design, Christopher Schroeder reports on an institutional case study conducted at an officially designated Hispanic-Serving Institution. He gives particular attention to a cohort of Latino students in a special admissions program, to document their experience of a program designed to help students surmount the “obstacle” that ethnolinguistic diversity is perceived to be.

Ultimately, Schroeder argues for reframing multilingualism and multiculturalism, not as obstacles, but as intellectual resources to exploit. While diversity might disturb us, we can overcome its challenges by a more expansive sense of social identity. In an increasingly globalized society, literacy ideologies are ever more critical to educational equity, and to human lives.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Chris Schroeder is so obviously correct in recognizing that our hearts and our pedagogies are not as one. The case he provides is compelling. We have to move away from the kinds of ethnocentric and fatalistic discourse that continues to dominate our discussions, as Chris has so well explained.

Victor Villanueva

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780874218060
  • Publisher: Utah State University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents


Preface Tim Libretti....................xi
Different Standards: Prologue....................xxv
Different Standards: Part I....................29
1 The Most (Ethnically) Diverse University in the Midwest....................33
Different Standards: Part II....................67
2 Proyecto Pa'Lante Students....................73
Different Standards: Part III....................111
3 One of Their Teachers with Neida Hernandez-Santamaria....................115
4 Marked for Life Sophia López....................142
5 Language, Ethnicity, and Higher Education Angela Vidal-Rodriguez....................163
Different Standards: Part IV....................175
6 Practices, Policies, Philosophies, and Politics....................181
Different Standards: Conclusions....................213
7 An Afterword and a Reminder Victor Villanueva....................220
About the Author....................239
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First Chapter


Literacy Education within Multicultural Institutions


Copyright © 2011 Utah State University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87421-806-0

Chapter One


I admit I was surprised.

At the time, I acknowledged, if not agreed with, the complaints of colleagues who, when they looked from behind podiums, perceived problems. More than eight in ten of us, according to a survey in the Chronicle of Higher Education, believe that high-school graduates are unprepared or only somewhat prepared for college, and four in ten of us believe our first-year students are not well prepared for college writing (Sanoff 2006).

Although this perception is shared by only one in ten of our public high-school counterparts, these concerns seem more than merely professorial perceptions, as recent national reports suggest. After all, fewer than six in ten adults read books not required for school or work, and almost two in ten seventeen-year-olds never or hardly ever read for fun. At the same time, fewer than five in ten high-school seniors write three or more pages in their English classes maybe once or twice a month, and almost four in ten are never or hardly ever given such assignments while nearly all elementary students—those who will soon be in our classrooms—spend three or fewer hours on writing assignments each week, which is just a fraction of the time they spend watching television (National Commission 2003; National Endowment 2004).

These and other conditions lead some, such as the University of Delaware English professor Ben Yagoda (2006), to see, in problems of linguistic usage and style, signs of what he calls "unfortunate cultural trends." In an article for the Chronicle, he identifies, as characterized in the subtitle, the seven deadly sins of student writers: dangling modifiers, omitted or unnecessary commas, improper semicolons, wrong words, and plural pronouns with singular antecedents, as well as problems produced by spell check. These, he suggests, reflect not only a general neglect of grammar in secondary and primary classrooms but also "the shocking shoddiness" of student work, as well as a limited experience with reading good writing, which forces students to rely upon "the archive of conversations that are in their heads" that, he believes, are inadequate (1113).

College students, in other words, are generally unprepared, and specifically in writing. They don't read and write, and these and other conditions, such as their lack of concern and experience, produce writing that more resembles speaking. While I might not have presented the problem in the same "literacy and culture are falling" way, I certainly couldn't contest such accounts—even though I am more convinced by other explanations, such as the argument that the media and schools pose challenges to conventional intellectual traditions, particularly print-based ones (e.g., Aronowitz 2008, 15–50).

If, however, these accounts are accurate, then such explanations have to be all the more accurate, conventional wisdom suggests, for students with fewer educational and economic resources, such as those at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), the ostensibly most (ethnically) diverse university in the Midwest. In fact, new NEIU faculty are warned, in a session at faculty orientation, that NEIU students differ from their college counterparts in more than ethnicity:


At the same time, other differences, we are told, help predict their classroom performances:


For these and other reasons, NEIU students, we are also told, are less likely to return and to graduate than their peers at comparable institutions:


If, according to our colleagues across the country, college students are generally underprepared or unprepared, then surely NEIU students who face greater challenges, my NEIU colleagues and I are told, must be even more so.

Or so I thought.

Diversity, despite what we say, disturbs us. According to Robert Putnam (2007) of Bowling Alone fame, those of us who live in diverse communities participate less in community projects and contribute less to charities, are less confident of local leaders and in local news programs, and have fewer friends and more television time. These conditions, Putnam maintains, are not the result of poor race relations or ethnic hostility as much as a general withdrawal from social life, a distrust of our neighbors no matter their skin color or facial features. After testing every other possible explanation, Putnam concludes that U.S. Americans, in both attitude and behavior, are uncomfortable with diversity.

This condition seems a strange situation for a country so connected, even before its inception, to immigration-after all, human civilization did not originate here. And by all accounts, this condition seems to be increasing and expanding. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of immigrants in U.S. households increased by 16 percent, and these new immigrants are bypassing traditional entry points, such as New York and California, and are selecting locations, such as the upper Midwest, New England, and the Rocky Mountain states, that typically receive little new immigration (Lyman 2006). Perhaps nowhere are these conditions more clear than college classrooms. While the total enrollment in U.S. higher education increased by 1.6 million students (+11.2 percent) between 1991 and 2001, the minority enrollment increased by 1.5 million (+51.7 percent)—those categorized as race/ethnicity unknown doubled during the same period—while the white enrollment decreased by 500,000 (American Council 2005).

This strange situation—a discomfort with diversity and increasingly diverse society and schools—poses potential problems although for some the problem is less this cultural diversity and more mainstream approaches that privilege difference and identity over an inequality that exists as neither racism nor sexism but classism (e.g., Michaels 2006). While others (e.g., Delbanco 2007) criticize such dismissals of race and gender, most likely recognize the reverential role of cultural identity—the holy trinity of ethnicity, class, and gender—that constitutes identity politics in the United States.

Conflicts over identity politics often involve issues of group membership within nation- states, typically involving the relation of the self to other selves, self-identities and group identities, or these in relation to the distribution of social goods (Schmidt 2000). These conflicts often revolve around tensions between ethnic and national identities; in the United States they revolve around the tension between our English-colonial origins and the ethnicities brought to us by citizens immigrating from all countries of the world. In fact, part of the larger culture wars involves the relation between culture and identity across the country, a condition that cannot be separated from social inequality and racialized ethnicity (47–56, 83).

These conflicts over identity politics are particularly pressing for education and language. In part, these conflicts have always been a part of our history, in that the United States, since its declaration of independence from Great Britain, has promoted a belief in a distinct (U.S.) American identity although as early as 1782 Hector St. John Crévecoeur questioned the relation of cultural and national identities in this diverse country. Such tensions repeatedly reappear throughout U.S. history, as seen, for example, in the bilingual education demands of German immigrants in the nineteenth century or the Americanization initiatives within schools in the early twentieth century.

Nonetheless, many believe that a good (U.S.) American speaks English, and public schools should provide instruction in both thinking and patriotism, both of which are necessary for democracies (D. Baron 1990, 154–163). In contrast, ethnolinguistic experiences are much more complicated. Although English is the language of power, the United States is one of the most multilingual countries in the world, and despite the perceived threat of Spanish, German was, at least until 1950, the most dominant non-English language.

Perhaps as a result of these and other conditions, social perceptions are conflicting. For some, the dominance of English is threatened by those who use a language other than English in public places, and for others the status of English reflects unequal competition among ethnolinguistic groups within a multilingual country. Both support their positions with data: the use of English is highly correlated with income, wealth, and occupational standing, and yet a second language is not correlated with low income as long as English fluency exists (Schmidt 2000, 83-95). In the United States, these conflicts often surface as debates over the designation of an official language, linguistic civil and political rights, and educational policies for language minority students, all of which can be found throughout the professional and personal lives of those concerned with education and literacy. On the one hand, we believe in the rights of individuals to their own languages. On the other, we sponsor a single common language—monolingual and standard—for participation and communication.

When I started at NEIU, I expected differences even before attending orientation: NEIU regularly announces that it is the most diverse university in the Midwest. Soon, I suspected that these ethnolinguistically diverse students could help me continue the work I had started that, though useful, seemed somewhat limited (e.g., Bauer 2003; Lucas 2001). For instance, the collection of essays I proposed to and coedited with Helen Fox and Patricia Bizzell (2002) had been reprinted twice and was cited as an example of the "most progressive" composition theories even as it was criticized, and fairly I should add for, in failing to address syntactic and grammatical differences, not being progressive enough (Canagarajah 2006b, 595).

This work was also limited, I thought, by its speculative theorizing, so I hoped to test these theories by juxtaposing central arguments and assumptions—literacy as negotiation (Schroeder 2001) and discursive differences as intellectual resources (Schroeder, Fox, and Sizzell 2002)—with empirical evidence. What better place, I thought, than this university where more than fifty languages are used? Here, students and faculty often negotiate among distinctly different discourses. If, I speculated, I could find instances of alternative forms of intellectual work in such obvious situations, perhaps I could proceed to less-obvious ones, which might then form the basis for a more large-scale investigation.

To conduct this study, I turned to students who had been admitted to NEIU through the Proyecto Pa'Lante (PP) program, a special admissions program for Latino students who otherwise didn't qualify for general admission. Such a decision seemed obvious. As an official Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), NEIU admitted more Latinos (38.4 percent) between fall 2003 and fall 2006 than African Americans (11.1 percent), Asian Americans (13.4 percent), and even Caucasians (32.8 percent). At the same time, the metro Chicago area, where almost two in ten are Hispanic, is home to the second largest populations of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in the country (Guzmán 2001; U.S. Census 2006). In addition, Chicagoland Latinos, and Chicago neighborhoods, have been the focus of much recent research (e.g., Cintron 1997; De Genova and Ramos-Zayas 2003; Del Valle 2002; Farr 2005a, 2005b; Guerra 1998).

All I needed was a place to start, which I found while reading the call from the National Commission on Writing (2003) for a writing revolution. In its report, the Commission relied extensively data from the National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federally mandated national assessment—otherwise known as the Nation's Report Card-that compiles data from students at various grade levels across the country. Once I discovered that these data could establish a baseline, I culled questions about reading and writing both inside and outside schools, as well as expectations for and attitudes about literacy, from the 2002 NAEP survey of 18,500 seniors in 700 high schools across the country to survey these PP students who, as high-school seniors in 2003, had been admitted in fall 2004 (n=124). At that time, I expected, after establishing a baseline, to analyze performances—written and spoken—for evidence of linguistic contact and cultural negotiation, and I thought their special admission status might actually enhance these efforts.

Along the way, I would need to find more multilinguals for assistance and to confront questions of awareness and intention, but I was comfortably confident about this project and my prediction, which although perhaps naive seemed relatively straightforward: people who use more than one language, and thus have more than one way to express experiences and examine environments, have more resources than those who have only one language at their disposal—a creative multilingualism, if you will (e.g., Kachru 1987). From here, I could reframe this multilingualism and multiculturalism, often seen as educational obstacles to overcome, as intellectual resources to exploit, which could then be situated within larger debates over educational equity that is the goal of multicultural education (e.g., Banks and Banks 1995).

Given the circumstances, the differences in languages in their homes and the education of their parents were not unexpected:


At home, more than eight in ten of the PP students used languages other than English half the time or more as contrasted with only slightly more than six in ten of their national Hispanic peers and between one and two in ten of their national peers. Also, the proportion of those who identified as Mexican or Puerto Rican, given the demographics of the metro Chicago area, was predictable:


Almost seven in ten identified as Mexican, and between one and two in ten identified as Puerto Rican in contrast to their national Hispanic peers, of whom six in ten identify as Mexican while one in ten as Puerto Rican.

As suggested by these results, the fall 2004 PP students were more likely to use a language other than English at home and to self-identify as Mexican or Puerto Rican than even their national Hispanic peers. At the same time, these students were more likely to come from homes where their parents had less education than their national peers:


Between six and seven in ten of their parents had finished high school in contrast to more than seven in ten of their national Hispanic peers and almost nine in ten of their national peers. At the same time, only one in ten or less of their parents had graduated from college in contrast to two in ten of their national Hispanic peers and between three and four in ten of their national peers.

Given these conditions, perhaps the presence of literacy materials might not be surprising. In general, these PP students encountered less print at home than their peers although in terms of electronic texts these differences largely disappeared:


While slightly more than five in ten had more than twenty-five books and received magazines regularly, between seven and eight of their national peers have similar exposure to books and magazines in their homes. Although fewer students came from homes that received magazines, even fewer of these PP students—not quite four in ten—had newspapers in their homes as opposed to between five and six in ten of their national peers. However, like their national peers, almost nine in ten of these PP students had access to computers in their homes.

In general terms, these PP students had parents with less education and homes with less print although they had similar access to computers. Aside from these differences, the fall 2004 PP students reported similar experiences in other areas:


Nearly six in ten of these PP students, like their national peers, watched at least two or more hours of television or movies on school days, and, also like their peers, more than nine in ten of these students had parents who imposed limited or no rules about the amount of television they could watch. However, these PP students were more likely to have parents who monitored their viewing habits:


Between six and seven in ten of these PP students reported that their parents at least sometimes knew how much television they watched on school days as opposed to between one and two in ten of their national peers.

In much the same way, these PP students reported similar expectations for and different awarenesses of homework:


Nearly eight in ten of these PP students, like their national peers, reported that their parents had at least expectations, if not strict rules, for finishing homework, yet between six and seven in ten of these students reported that their parents at least sometimes knew whether they finished their homework each day as opposed to fewer than five in ten of their national peers.

At the same time, these PP students had similar or better experiences with reading and writing both in school and for themselves:


Almost six in ten of these PP students reported reading more than ten pages for school as opposed to slightly more than four in ten of their national peers, and while similar numbers—around four in ten of these students and their national peers—reported reading for themselves once or more a week, more of these PP students talked about their school and reading with their family and friends than their national peers:


Slightly more than seven in ten of these PP students talked to their families about their studies once a week or more in contrast to slightly more than six in ten of their national peers, and between five and six in ten of them talked to family and friends about something they read at least once a week as opposed to between three and four in ten of their peers.


Excerpted from DIVERSE BY DESIGN by CHRISTOPHER SCHROEDER Copyright © 2011 by Utah State University Press . Excerpted by permission of UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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