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Language, Nation, and Identity in the Classroom

Legacies of Modernity and Colonialism in Schooling


David Hemphill and Erin Blakely

Language, Nation, and Identity in the Classroom critiques the normalizing aspects of schooling and the taken-for-granted assumptions in education about culture, identity, language, and learning. The text applies theories of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and other critical cultural theories from disciplines often overlooked in the field of education. The authors illustrate the potential of these theories for educators, offering a nuanced critical analysis of the role schools play in nationalistic enterprises and colonial projects. The book fills the current gap between simplified, ahistorical applications of multiculturalism and critical theory texts with only narrow applicability in the field. This clearly written alternative offers both an entry point to rigorous primary theoretical sources and broad applications of the scholarship to everyday practice in a range of PreK–12 classrooms and adult education settings globally. The text is designed for educators and advanced undergraduate or graduate students in the growing number of courses that address issues of cultural diversity, equity in education, multiculturalism, social and cultural foundations of education, literary studies, and educational policy.
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6 Commodification of Language and Literacy


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6Commodification of Language and Literacy

In schools, language skills and literacy are commodities, objects with a presumed market value that teachers aim to transfer to students. The main task assigned teachers is to provide students with the objective, measurable skills they need to speak, read, and write. Through testing and tracking of individual student progress, teachers quantify language development and literacy. This quantification leads to the taken-for-granted notion that some people “possess” more or less language or literacy than others.

The commodification of language and literacy in schools includes both the quantification of student skills and the reification of language and literacy as objective processes. Language is typically defined in education as a neutral, rule-governed system of symbols that transmits meaning from one person to another. In this modernist framework, language is imagined as being composed of separable components:

• phonology—the way speech-sounds are produced and perceived;

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