History of Bilingual Education in DCPS + Omeka.net

For this project, I would like to create a digital collection of DCPS policy and curriculum documents relating to immigration, immigrant-origin students, and the language of instruction in the twentieth century. If I undertake this project, I would plan to digitize relevant documents from the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives using Omeka.net. I am interested in finding documents that pertain to language rights, bilingual education, and Americanization programs in DCPS. I went to the Charles Sumner Archives and have identified documents and leads that I think I should be able to digitize and upload. According to the archive’s policies, researchers can request approval to digitize and distribute items from the archives.

I am interested, in part, because I am curious about how schools across the country responded to students whose primary language was not English. I want to learn about how (and hopefully, eventually, why) these responses have changed over time. I have read about the experiences of Latinx people in schools in the Southwest where they were often encouraged — or forced — to speak English. My father, who is Mexican American, did not really learn Spanish while his older siblings did. It was definitely not encouraged at his schools.

I’m interested in how power and language are framed in US history and across localities.  Part of what interests me about this, too, is how popular bilingual education is now, especially in Washington, D.C. Earlier, it seems, when the population was different, it was viewed as a problem because of the deficit framing of students in marginalized groups. I am curious to learn more about how bilingual education policies have changed and for whose benefit.

Moving forward, I hope to better understand how these policies and practices shape education of immigrant-origin students today to help determine what culturally sustaining pedagogies  might look like.

Based on the searches I have conducted, there does not seem to be much work done on history of bilingual education and immigrant-origin youth in D.C. Public Schools. There is an interesting organization called Story of Our Schools that works with DCPS students to research their own schools and create exhibits about them.  There’s also a great project (that I need to explore more) called Mapping Segregation that includes a section on DCPS. The archivist I spoke with at the Sumner Archives mentioned that she wasn’t aware of any work previously done about the history of bilingual education in DCPS. I would hope that this resource would be useful for historians of education, education researchers, teachers, and members of the community. For outreach, I would try to share this with my in-person and digital teacher networks. I wonder if the Charles Sumner Schools Museum and Archives might also share the project once I have made some progress. I could reach out to specific educators I know who teach about immigration and DC. One measure of evaluation would be the number of visitors to the website. I could follow up with educators I know to see if they use this in their courses. I would hope that this spurs new research on language of instruction in schools in DC!

2 Replies to “History of Bilingual Education in DCPS + Omeka.net”

  1. I LOVE your idea! Having gone to a Spanish Immersion School and my dad teaching me German since I was a baby, I’m really interested in bilingual education and committed to bilingual resources. (Especially in museums! The Monterrey Bay Aquarium has done a lot of work to serve the populations who walk into their doors.)
    How far back would your research go? Would you be able to look at the impact of U.S. immigration law on Asian-American populations in the 19th and 20th centuries? How does that compare to Latinx experiences? What other populations might you highlight? My home state of Minnesota has a large Somali population and the majority of these kids speak Arabic at home, and has certainly had an impact on the classroom.

  2. Thanks for the feedback and questions, Ani! Really awesome that you attended Spanish Immersion School and your dad has taught you German. I really hope to send my daughter to Spanish Immersion school. Also, I LOVE the Monterey Bay Aquarium (I went to UCSC just up the road).

    I was thinking of the 20th century, but I definitely do want to look at Asian American populations so I am definitely open to shifting the timeline back. The questions you are asking are ones I’m interested in – I hope you don’t mind if I add some of them to my work. Interesting to hear about your experience in Minnesota.

    Thanks again!

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