The Shifting Purpose and Audience of Community-Based Heritage Language Education: Making Space for Mixed Heritage Families
This dissertation explores the construction of the “mixed-heritage” category in Polish community-based heritage language education (HLE) and its effect on school purposes and school operations. As the number of heritage language speakers in the US who identify with multiple ethnicities grows (Parker et al., 2015; Alba et al., 2018), the community-based language programs that serve these students often struggle to redefine who and what should be included in the version of heritage they aim to transmit. At the same time, families whose backgrounds fall outside of monoracial or monocultural norms often struggle to find their place within educational institutions that protect static notions of cultural identity (Francis et al., 2009; Doerr & Lee, 2016). The increased visibility of families with multiple heritage affiliations in HL schools underscores the need for research on how these schools conceptualize this demographic shift, and how they understand their responsibility to this group of students and to their diasporic community more broadly. Complementary to that goal is the need for research on how different groups involved in HLE, namely families representing different heritage backgrounds (i.e. single vs. multiple heritage affiliations) and different immigrant generations understand their place within the HLE system and how their experience is affected by educators’ constructions of essentialized vs “mixed” identities. To date, very few studies have explored the intersection of mixedness and HL development (Pao et al., 1997; Shin, 2010; Tsai et al., 2021) and none have specifically focused on how the notion of mixedness functions with a community-based HLE context. Therefore, this study explores how recent demographic shifts within the Polish-American community have influenced the renegotiation of purpose and audience in Polish HLE, and how stakeholders’ understandings of cultural purity, authenticity, patriotism, and mixedness impacted the experience of families positioned within and outside of normative identity categories. Taking an ethnographic approach, I conducted classroom observations within a focal Polish HL school, completed interviews with school administrators, teachers, and parents, and analyzed policy and promotional documents from three key Polish HLE institutions in order to understand how institutions and stakeholders construct the intended purpose and audience of Polish HLE, and how they respond to demographic changes within the student population. Findings suggest that central Polish HLE institutions and HL school leadership share a protective orientation towards Polish community identity, which seeks to ensure cultural survival through safeguarding against outside influence, erasing internal diversity, and counteracting historically negative portrayals of the community. Within this orientation, families constructed as mixed along ethnic, racial, or religious boundaries are often also positioned as unpatriotic, driven primarily by neoliberal concerns, culturally deprived, and disruptive in their need to have community-based HLE fulfill the primary role in Polish linguistic and cultural transmission. However, an alternative, minority view among educators and parents is one of ensuring cultural survival through recognizing internal diversity and cultivating civic responsibility for the local and transnational HL community. Within this storyline, mixed-heritage students and families are constructed as possessing significant cultural capital, though it is often acknowledged that the school is not yet prepared to meet their instructional needs. Overall, the school showed resistance to demographic change through practices of avoidance and silencing around salient axes of difference. However, it also took curricular action to address growing linguistic diversity by employing new textbooks and new teaching methods. I discuss the implications of these findings for the field of heritage language education and for heritage language programs aiming to create a more inclusive environment for their students. This dissertation presents a step forward towards systematically investigating how discursive mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion impact mixed-heritage families involved in HLE, and I hope it sets the stage for more research on the nuances of the mixed-heritage experience in HLE and on the challenges and opportunities of community identity shift in HL schools.
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The Shifting Purpose and Audience of Community-Based Heritage Language Education: Making Space for Mixed Heritage Families Borowczyk, Malgorzata (Georgetown University, 2021)This dissertation explores the construction of the “mixed-heritage” category in Polish community-based heritage language education (HLE) and its effect on school purposes and school operations. As the number of heritage ...