Position Statements

Language, Reading & Culture

The term "multicultural education" expresses the essential mission of the department and the university. Multicultural education is not just "about" certain subjects; it does not merely offer "perspectives" on education: It is an orientation to our purposes in education-and ultimately an orientation to life, one that values diversity of viewpoints and experiences and sees people as valuable contributors to the experience of school and society. Life in universities is a self-consciously multicultural experience, from the varieties of cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds represented in it to the full spectrum of ideas and disciplinary traditions that compose the community of scholars. Our recognition of this central tenet leads us to commit ourselves to the following general principles:

  • Learners bring a variety of linguistic and cognitive strengths from their families and communities into the classroom; these strengths are to be appreciated by educators.
  • Education must expand on the linguistic and cognitive strengths that learners already possess and bring with them to the classroom, rather than ignore or try to replace them with others.
  • Respect and appreciation for cultural and community knowledge means that universities serve the interest of education when they allow for an exchange of views, rather than rely exclusively on a transmission model of instruction.
  • We recognize the existence of a variety of communities-each with its own voice and interests-both within and outside the university; a broad education offers the opportunity to hear and study as many of these voices as possible. Such an education must include those communities which have traditionally been excluded or underrepresented in the university.
  • Recognition of the validity of these general principles must be reflected in our courses, our relations with students, staff and other faculty members and in the community life of the department.

The most basic definition of literacy is the "ability to read and write"; by extension, biliteracy is "the ability to read and write two languages." However, when we consider that literacy is learned and developed by diverse human beings in a variety of complex settings, including home, school, and work; that it can be learned at different ages, and taught in any number of different ways; that it comes in different forms that are used for a variety of purposes; and that these purposes may differ from one cultural group to another, matters become considerably more complex. Furthermore, one must consider that rather than a clear division between literacy and orality, there is a continuous interaction and mutual influence between oral and literate modes in any society. Therefore, literacy and biliteracy must be thought of as intricately related to very dynamic social, cultural and institutional contexts. Hence, becoming literate implies becoming competent in what may be a broad range of practices or uses of literacy, often in two or more languages, that constitute the experience of living in a pluralistic and literate society.

  • A theoretical emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism as the common human experience as represented in the written language forms of the society.
  • The recognition of the socially, culturally and linguistically defined nature of literacy practices, whether these take place in schools or other social contexts.
  • The essential role of the active learner in the development of increasingly complex literacy systems and practices.
  • The multiplicity of goals that are served by different literate systems.Our recognition of these complexities leads us to the following positions:

These positions recognize fully the social and cultural embeddedness of literacy and the complexity of its uses within a dynamic and diverse society.

As a term, Adult Literacy has historically implied the teaching and learning of basic reading and writing skills, directed toward adults who did not gain these competencies through traditional public education programs. This definition was narrow in several ways: it implied a deficit view of Adult Literacy, focused primarily on the introduction of literacy at rudimentary levels, and concerned only reading and writing.

Today, Adult Literacy definitions incorporate reasoning and numeracy along with communications abilities. Modern definitions have also expanded the ways we view both levels and types of literacy within multiple social, cultural, technological and academic contexts.

The study of Adult Literacy incorporates many areas of interest. For example, workplace literacy addresses the education of adults on employment related tasks to upgrade abilities, adapt to different roles, change career paths and boost their esteem. Family literacy and intergenerational literacy programs involve family members in learning together and provide parents with information that will support them in the upbringing of their children. Basic skills literacy addresses the education of adults with less than a high school education. Developmental education programs in colleges and community colleges enable students to develop literacy necessary for educational success in post-secondary education settings.

  • Adult Literacy incorporates a focus on life-long learning.
  • The context of Adult Literacy includes multiple communities and Adult Literacy programs serve diverse populations.
  • Adult Literacy programs encompass many levels of language learning as related to the literacy and biliteracy of linguistically different learners.
  • The changing needs of society and of the nature and complexity of work have focused attention on an expanded notion of literacy and its relationship to technology.
  • Given the broadened views and definitions of Adult Literacy, research is needed to understand how literacy is viewed by many populations and not privilege a single view.

Formal education for American Indians and Alaska Natives is unique in that it has historically been a federal responsibility. Until very recently, that responsibility was carried out through the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities to federal boarding schools, where punitive discipline and eradication of the native language and culture were explicit curricular and pedagogical emphases. The legacy of that experience, as the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force points out, has been hugely disproportionate negative educational outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native students.

This singular sociohistorical experience and its impacts define the field of American Indian/Indigenous education. Nowhere are the issues in Indigenous education more salient than in Arizona, where 19 Indigenous languages are still spoken by members of 21 tribal groups. Issues of cultural and linguistic identity remain strong in these communities, and tribal governments as well as schools are actively involved in developing bilingual/bicultural education programs and policies.

The Department of Language, Reading and Culture has an important role to play in outreach to these communities and schools, and in furthering research, theory and practice within the field of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian education. In recognition of this, the department cosponsors the American Indian Language Development Institute, an internationally recognized teacher preparation program in American Indian linguistics and bilingual/bicultural education. Each year, AILDI brings together Indigenous educators, elders and others interested in Indigenous/multicultural education for four weeks of intensive study. AILDI also has significant outreach efforts to tribes and Indigenous schools and communities throughout the academic year.

Such efforts have given LRC prominence in American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian education and have directly and significantly influenced the recruitment of Indigenous students to LRC graduate programs. These projects and programs have also had important internal impacts within the college and university, resulting in new curriculum offerings in Indigenous language education and in the provision of multicultural learning opportunities not available elsewhere on campus.

  • The department and its faculty have both an opportunity and a responsibility to further outreach to Arizona Indian communities. This includes providing on-campus curricula that meaningfully engage the linguistic, cultural and educational resources within Indigenous communities and offering site-based coursework tailored to the needs and interests of specific Indian schools and communities.
  • As a field of inquiry, American Indian education has a unique and important contribution to make to educational research and theory. In Indian education especially, research is appropriately linked to curricular and pedagogical applications, to outreach and improving the conditions of education for Indigenous students.
  • American Indian education has an essential contribution to make to educational practice in general. Indian education is not peripheral to but is integral to a broad university learning experience. Given the demographics in Arizona schools, LRC and the College of Education should systematically afford this experience to all students.
  • American Indian education is intrinsically interdisciplinary, combining education and its multiple sub-fields: linguistics, anthropology, policy studies, literature and American Indian Studies. This interdisciplinary emphasis should be reflected in teaching, research and service related to American Indian education, and supported through collaborative department/college/university arrangements.