The Need for An Urban LRC
Monolingualism has been called the “illiteracy of the twenty-first century” (Roberts, Leite, & Wade, 2017, p. 116). As a public institution and a Title III and Title V minority-serving institution, Georgia State University serves the interest of the public good and its increasingly diverse communities of students, parents, families, and educators along the entire K-16 educational spectrum. We recognize that many underserved communities have suffered from a pervasive gap of opportunity to advance socially and intellectually (Carter & Welner, 2013). The mission of CULTR is, therefore, to bring attention to the opportunity gaps in language education that impose social and institutional obstacles to students’ future success as global citizens. Throughout its various initiatives that include professional development for language educators, community outreach, research projects, and more, CULTR focuses on issues of access and advocacy. CULTR’s activities, projects, and products help to build communities of practice for language and intercultural training and aim to counteract the dominance of STEM in educational administration and public discourse alike.
Today’s educational institutions and their teachers empower their students to be better prepared for life and work in a globalized society and workplace (Rumbley, Altbach, & Reisberg, 2012; Soria & Troisi, 2014; Yeaton, Garcia, Soria, & Huerta, 2017). It is, therefore, in the best interest of academic and vocational postsecondary institutions alike to provide the tools, skills, and knowledge that enable students to interact in a meaningful intercultural dialogue. However, they need support beyond what their districts can offer, such as the resources an LRC is best equipped to provide.
Empowering Global Citizens
Because most of today’s problems cannot be solved unilaterally and require a global mindset and related functional competencies, today’s graduates require the “knowledge about several dimensions of global and international cultures; appreciation of cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity; understanding of complexities of issues in a global context; and comfort in working with people from other cultures” (Soria & Troisi, 2014, p. 262). The National Education Association (NEA) lists not only international awareness and an appreciation of cultural diversity but also proficiency in world languages as central skills for life in the 21st century. Developing proficiency in another language affords learners an opportunity to (1) gain an insider’s perspective toward target cultures’ traditions, customs, beliefs, and ways of behaving; (2) expand their worldviews; (3) build intercultural sensitivity toward alternate perspectives and cultural differences; and (4) strengthen, as well as expand their identity as a global citizens (Byram, 1997; Noels, Pelletier, Clément, & Vallerand, 2003; Norton, 2006; Risager, 2006, 2015).
Research has demonstrated the impact of language learning on the cognitive development and subsequent academic performance of multilingual students. The proliferation of programs such as Dual Language Immersion (DLI) has been shown to accelerate academic growth and narrow performance gaps on standardized tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (Kieffer & Thompson, 2018). To this end, the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) aims to expose learners at all levels to a “curriculum with richness and depth [and] provide a broad range of communicative experiences and content knowledge” (p. 11) to support the development of communication strategies and “the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they will need as citizens and workers in a rapidly changing and globalized world” (Green & Schoenberg, 2006, p. iii) In sum, fostering global literacy in students in the twenty-first century means preparing them to “recognize global interdependence, be capable of working in various environments, and accept responsibility for world citizenship” (Spaulding, Mauch, & Lin, 2001, p. 190).
Building a Global Workforce
Today’s business leaders demand linguistically and culturally astute employees who possess not only a specialized skill set for the job but also critical thinking skills, a broad and diverse worldview, and working knowledge of a least one language other than English (American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2013, 2016; Joint National Committee for Languages, 2015). This is evident in the growing number of job postings explicitly seeking bilingual candidates (American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017). However, in addition to showing a “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve problems complex problems” (Hart Research Associates, 2013, p. 22), employers also seek intercultural skills and global knowledge amongst their applicants. Thriving K-16 language programs, therefore, have the power to provide graduates with growth opportunities and a mental toolkit not only highly sought-after in today’s job market (Jones, 2013; Rizvi, 2017) but essential to building capacity among underserved communities where access to such opportunities is often not ensured.
A central pillar of CULTR’s mission is to support teachers in culturally responsive instructional practices, in particular through DLI programs. Such pedagogical approaches can help to counteract pervasive power imbalances manifest in social class distinctions, socioeconomic status, and linguistic abilities in both classrooms and the surrounding communities. Addressing inequities in the student-parent-teacher ecosystem can provide students from traditionally marginalized communities with greater cultural and social capital, as well as better access to social mobility and professional growth opportunities.
CULTR understands that achieving these goals requires concerted efforts that incorporate teacher professional development; advocacy for language programs at the school, district, state, and national levels; opening career opportunities for our students, especially those from often-marginalized minority groups and low socioeconomic status; and research to lend both theoretical and empirical support to these initiatives. In this respect, the proposed activities contribute significantly to strengthening, expanding, and improving programs of world language study in the United States by enhancing access to language learning, helping to close the opportunity gap for marginalized communities, and increase the economic impact of multilingual speakers. Therefore, equitable access to quality language education is in the national interest to the United States, not only to remain internationally competitive but also to ensure and maintain a thriving democracy. (All cited references can be found here.)