Don’t Mind the Gap Transcript

Thanks to Dr. Lina Hou for paying for this transcript and giving it to us!

Megan Figueroa:   Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries Podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.

Carrie Gillon:    I’m Carrie Gillon.

Megan Figueroa:   And I’m Megan Figueroa. And we have an exciting episode, today.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    It’s really good.

Megan Figueroa:   I know, I teased about it on Twitter, and [crosstalk] –

Carrie Gillon:    [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   – I’m so glad that it’s finally coming out. It’s, I think it’s really good and it’s really relevant.

Carrie Gillon:    It’s really relevant.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    It’s always relevant, but probably even more so right now.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, yes.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Megan Figueroa:   Exactly. Before we get into the interview [laughs], there’s so much shit happening in the world –

Carrie Gillon:    It is true.

Megan Figueroa:   Um –

Carrie Gillon:    There’s too much going on, really.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, and, um, maybe it feels like some of these things aren’t as important, but I like to think that the little space we’ve carved for ourself is making a difference, somehow. So, it is important that we talk about these things. I was thinking [laughs] about, um, you know, since the United States is on fire, right now, um –

Carrie Gillon:    [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   – and it’s Supreme Court season, um – I don’t know who it was that said it, but someone – I think it was a New York Times article – described Sonia Sotomayor’s, um, dissent against the, uh, Muslim ban was “lashing out”?

Carrie Gillon:    Yep, I think it was the New York Times. They’ve been bad about this kind stuff, recently.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah. And the problem with saying “lashing out,” this would be problematic if it were just a woman, like, straight, like, a white woman, right? Because it’s tone policing. But for it to be a Latina woman, there’s the added element of the stereotype that Latinas are emotional or fiery.

Carrie Gillon:    Yep.

Megan Figueroa:   Right? So, um, yeah, of course, a lot of times, um, people say that women are hysterical or emotional anyway, um, but there’s this, like, added layer of Latinas somehow being even more, um, fiery and ill-tempered or something like that. So, the, the choice of words was not great [laughs] –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, I mean, I, I think they also said “passionate,” which is also bad –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    – but somehow not as bad as “lashing out.”

Megan Figueroa:   Right. Uh, it somehow – well, it’s pejorative, right, I mean?

Carrie Gillon:    “Lashing out” is pejorative, and “passionate” can be, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    Like, you can be passionate about something in a way that is positive –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    – or you can be passionate about something in a way that’s, like, “Oh, calm down.” Which is I think how that came across, and for good reason.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    But “lashing out” really makes it obvious that it’s pejorative. [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, and I feel like, even with “passionate,” there is this double standard where, if we would’ve called Justice Kennedy passionate, somehow maybe more people would have cared and it would’ve been, like, “Well, if a man can get passionate about it, then this must be really important, or there must be a good reason for it.”

Carrie Gillon:    Right, it’s like when Boehner would cry –

Megan Figueroa:   Oh –

Carrie Gillon:    – and that was, like, seen as a good thing.

Megan Figueroa:   Yes.

Carrie Gillon:    But if a woman had cried under the same circumstances, that would’ve been –

Megan Figueroa:   Yes.

Carrie Gillon:    – horrifying.

Megan Figueroa:   Yes, exactly.

Carrie Gillon:    No, I totally agree, I think “passionate” is bad, uh, bad enough, but in contrast [laughs], “lashing out” is just way worse.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah. I mean, there’s no good reason to describe it that way, especially since the, the part, um, that they were pointing to was her reading the president’s, uh, own words back at him, I believe, so it wasn’t even her own words.

Carrie Gillon:    And, you know, you should be allowed to lash out at words that are, have, are so full of animus.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, and so, like, fuckin’ racist [laughs] and Islamophobic.

Carrie Gillon:    Yep.

Megan Figueroa:   So, yeah, maybe we should be able to “lash out,” quote-unquote.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, there’s been a lot of tone policing, recently, a lot of calls for civility –

Megan Figueroa:   Yes.

Carrie Gillon:    – in the face of horrific violence and, um, trauma. [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    Uh, just yesterday, um, there – well, uh, yesterday from when we’re recording, so a few days ago for people listening, but – a newspaper office in Maryland was just shot up, and one of the survivors said “fuck” on TV about it, basically, “Fuck your, you know, thoughts and prayers. I want more.” Um, and [laughs] Marco Rubio, among others, were, like, “Oh, why is it okay to say ‘fuck’ on TV, now?” Like, like that’s the issue.

Megan Figueroa:   Oh, I didn’t – I knew that he tweeted that, like, he was so upset that the word “fuck” was being used, and I had no idea it was about that, specifically.

Carrie Gillon:    Yep.

Megan Figueroa:   Wow.

Carrie Gillon:    Yep.

Megan Figueroa:   Oh, my god. Yeah, yeah, as if that’s, that’s the real tragedy, here.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah. I mean, this has always been a problem in probably many societies since [laughs] time immemorial, but right now, it just feels like – maybe it’s because everything’s on fire. Like, everything is a dumpster fire, everything is the worst, and so, uh, if you don’t wanna deal with that, if you wanna pretend it’s not the case, the only thing that you can do is tone police.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, it’s true. And tone policing is, ultimately, gaslighting.

Carrie Gillon:    It’s like saying, “What you’re feeling is not real,” or it’s not real enough. [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Exactly, exactly. And when it comes from people in positions of power –

Carrie Gillon:    And it always does, right? I can’t imagine –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    – that you can really pull this shit if you’re not in some kind of power position.

Megan Figueroa:   Right. I mean, there are the trolls on the Internet, but usually they’re – men. Or white.

Carrie Gillon:    Right, and they might have less power than, say, you and, you or me –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    – but there are still people that have less power than us that they’re –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    – wielding their power over –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    – anyway. [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    [Sighs] Anyway, today’s been a – I mean, this week has been rough.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, and I, I say to it, uh, fuck civility. [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, me, too. I’ve never been one of those, like, “Civility’s the most important thing.”

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    I’ve, I’ve been more of a eh, time and place, but recently it’s, like, well, now, there’s no time and place for civility. Like, uh, this is an emergency.

Megan Figueroa:   Or the, the time and place is to be uncivil. [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, yeah, I guess that’s better, that’s a better way of putting it.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, civility’s not gonna get us anywhere.

Megan Figueroa:  Yeah, it’s the whole thing where, um, differing opinions can be respected, as long as you’re not trying to, like, undermine someone’s existence. And that’s just happening all over the place, right now.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, we’re not fighting over, like – like, someone said, said on Twitter, basically, you know, we can fight over, like, levels of taxation, like –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    – those are things that we can fight over and, and still respect each other about. But we can’t fight over – yeah, like, women’s right to exist, or people, people of color’s, uh, right to exist, or – like, fill-in-the-blank [laughs] right to exist. We can’t fight over that, like, this is – anyway. [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah. Oh, well, sorry, all of our listeners that are in America, right now, the US – [Laughter]

Carrie Gillon:    Or anywhere, really. Because unfortunately, whatever happens here is going to trickle out to other countries, in some way or other. I mean, look at the, all the trade wars.

Megan Figueroa:   I know, I know, Canada’s, what putting a lot of tariffs on US goods and such and blah and –

Carrie Gillon:    Right. And that’s gonna directly affect Canadians, because many of our products come from the United States, and so –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    – the prices are gonna go up [sighs] –

Megan Figueroa:   Is this, is this the new, uh, trickle-down economics? [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, kind of. [Laughs] Trickle-out anyway.

Megan Figueroa:   Yep. [Laughter] Well, anyway, um, the world is terrible, but we have an excellent guest and an excellent episode for you, um, doing the interview. I left feeling great after, so.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, that was a really good episode, I mean, really good interview, for sure, for sure.

Megan Figueroa:   Oh, and one thing, before we get into it: Patreon. We released our June bonus Patreon episode that’s usually just for our Patreon five-dollar-a-month, um, subscribers, so that you all could see what it’s like. Um, so go check that out, and hopefully you’ll be, like, “This is the shit that I need to get into.” [Laughter]

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, hopefully you’re, like, “Oh, yes, I enjoy just listening to them ramble on about random topics.” [Laughter]

Megan Figueroa:   Exactly. Exactly. [Laughter]

Carrie Gillon:    Although, I think it was a good one, because it was really fun.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah. Yeah, so –

Carrie Gillon:    So, yeah, if you wanna join us, uh, you can. The address is

Megan Figueroa:   Yes.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, so, uh, yeah, and then, I hope you enjoy this episode.

[Music playing]

Megan Figueroa:   All right, so, today, we are lucky to be joined by Dr. Nelson Flores. Um, he is an associate professor – yay, just got tenure – in educational linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education. Uh, Dr. Flores has a Ph.D. in urban education, from the CUNY graduate school at the City University of New York. His research involves the study of the historical and contemporary instantiations of raciolinguistic ideologies, where language and race are co-constructed in ways that marginalize racialized communities. Nelson, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Thanks for having me.

Megan Figueroa:   So, um, I mean, I’ve wanted to have you on, um, anyway, but it just so happens that you, uh, you are involved in a little bit of a controversy on Twitter. There’s a thing happening, right now, with the so-called 30 million word gap. I thought that it would be great to talk to you about it. So, tell us, what, what is the 30 million word gap?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      So, the 30 million word gap is an idea that emerged from a study that was published in 1995, that, essentially, makes the argument that low-income children hear 30 million fewer words than middle-class or upper-class children, within the first few years of life. The argument being that that so-called word gap is what is the primary culprit for their academic, um, challenges that they confront in school.

Megan Figueroa:   Right. It was born out of this, the Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children, right, by Hart and Risley?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Correct.

Megan Figueroa:   So, I had to read that book, and I was looking over it, when I was about to talk to you, and I just had to – I mean, this kinda gives you a feel, everyone. So, here’s, here’s one sentence that I, uh, highlighted [laughs]: “Quality interactions seem to come so naturally to the parents in well-functioning families, as to suggest that a certain amount of quality interaction may be essential to basic language competence.” So, it’s filled with these things, and I don’t know, I mean, for you, Nelson, I, I’m imagining, too, there’s, like, a visceral reaction to, to hearing something like that [crosstalk]?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Yes, yes –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – there is. I mean, let’s even begin by unpacking what the term “quality” even means.

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um, it’s a very arbitrary term that is concerning – that researchers are using in some type of kind of way that seems like it’s objective. Quality is in the eye of the beholder, right? What’s quality to one person may not be quality to the other. And what Hart and Risley and many people who propose the word gap do is that, they take practices that have typically been associated with middle-class, upper-middle-class affluent white populations, and, surprise, surprise, they decide that those are quality. Um, which, of course, is not an objective statement, um, and, one could argue, is actually a racist statement, to claim that a particular cultural background is higher-quality than the other.

And to be clear, I’m not suggesting that white middle-class and upper-class people don’t have a rich cultural practices that they engage in. The issue is that all communities have rich cultural and linguistic practices that they engage in, and that’s something that the word gap discourse completely ignores. It completely ignores decades of anthropological research that documents the rich cultural and linguistic practices of all communities, and supposes that the practices of one is somehow objectively more quality than others.

Megan Figueroa:   How, then, does this get reinforced? Because I know it’s in the mainstream consciousness right now, and we’ll talk about that in a second, but how has it been reinforced for so many years? For decades.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Well, because it is part of a much longer history where the language practices of racialized communities, of low-income communities, have always been framed through a deficit lens. Now, if we even go back to the early years of European colonialism, we can see raciolinguistic ideologies being used to dehumanize indigenous communities. Where people would describe the language practices of indigenous peoples as, um, almost animalistic, as a form of dehumanization. Now, nowadays, people wouldn’t say things like, “People are speaking like animals,” or at least most people wouldn’t say that. Um, but the underlying logic of there’s something somehow deficient about the language practices of racialized communities has remained consistent since the early days of European colonialism. And so, it’s not surprising that the 30 million word gap is so seductive, because it reinforces all of these ideologies that people have been socialized into accepting, for multiple generations.

Megan Figueroa:   Right. And you give an example of this in one of your, um, blog posts, um, or at least an analogy as to, to the war on poverty, um, or the war on drugs, that these are kind of the things that we grew up with believing, that are built on a foundation of racism. Um, but that are trying to be solving some bigger problem, but really, we’re not addressing the true problem.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, and, I mean, and you can trace these discourses, they’re consistent throughout history, of putting the onus on racialized communities to undo their own oppression by modifying their behaviors, rather than undoing the structures that actually are the primary challenges that they confront.

Megan Figueroa:   Why, why is it in the con – so, it’s this new article that was published, I believe April 2018 article? – very recently – by Sperry et al. And, so, they are refuting Hart and Risley’s claim, and people aren’t happy. So, they refute it by saying that there’s incredible variation in the vocabulary environments in different socioeconomic status homes. What Hart and Risley failed to do was to look at sort of a larger picture of the vocabulary that children are getting, is that right?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right. So, they, essentially, made the claim that they, uh, replicated the Hart and Risley study, and found that the differences were really just as big within the social class as between them. Uh, because we have to remember, the Hart and Risley sample was a fairly small sample, right? They, they –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – based their arguments on a sample of six, um –

Megan Figueroa:   Families, six families, right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – six families, that were called, I think, “welfare families,” in the actual book, and have made these broad claims based on six families. Um –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – which is questionable in and of itself, right?

Carrie Gillon:    [Laughs] Yeah, that’s, that’s – I can’t even believe they got away with that, but.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um, and, uh –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:     And again, I think it’s because it’s something that people already believe, so people say, “Oh, yeah, of course it’s true, because it must be true, because we’ve been taught that it’s true.” Um, and so, what this new study did was do something similar, and find that there actually weren’t these hugs differences across social class groups. And immediately, um, there were critiques about the methodology. And I think some of the critiques about the methodology are fair, because no methodology is perfect, right?

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      We always are making decisions about the research we do, and there’s always issues with the decisions that we make. But what I found interesting was the fact that people who were critiquing this new study for its methodological – for its supposed methodological flaws, um, were uncritically citing the Hart and Risley study, which has been critiqued over and over again. So it feels a big disingenuous to –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – point to the methodological faults of the new study – which some of them, again, may be fair – without acknowledging that the study that they’re citing as the foundation of their work also has extremely questionable methods that they use. And are making conclusions that really aren’t necessarily reflected even in the data that they have.

Carrie Gillon:    Right.

Megan Figueroa:   One of the big things that Spiri et al points out, and you’ve talked about, um, is that you’re ignoring a lot of the cultural interactions that happen that you can’t just look at by asking the, the parents or the immediate caretakers, “What words does your child know?”

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right. Right, like, language is not just a series of decontextualized vocabulary words. And more isn’t always necessarily better.

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      There are lots of social practices that we engage in, where being concise and using fewer words is actually seen as better than using more words, right?

Megan Figueroa:   Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      So, even the idea that more is inherently better isn’t –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – universal and isn’t necessarily true. But of course, we actually use language to engage in social practices with other people. So we’re not just listing vocabulary words [laughs] when we’re talking to other people. We’re engaging in dynamics that we’ve been socialized into, that we’ve gradually become familiar with as we become more socialized into those practices. Um, and so, to decontextualize language in that way, I think, really shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the function of language is, which is to communicate, which is to engage in practice. It’s not to memorize vocabulary lists.

Now, schools may like people to memorize vocabulary lists, um, but that’s a different argument, right? If, if what you’re saying is that these are the types of decontextualized language practices that they’re expected to be successful with in school, then that’s a different conversation. Because then I would argue, well, why are we using these decontextualized language practices in school, when we know that in the real-world that’s not how people actually use language. Maybe the problem isn’t that these particular students haven’t mastered a particular list of decontextualized vocabulary words. But rather, the fact that schools have decontextualized language from the practices in which they’re engaged in. Um, and I think that may be part of, um – that would be a more interesting conversation, for me, than to look at these decontextualized vocabulary words.

Carrie Gillon:    Right. I have a question about the original studies. So – or, actually, both, both studies together. They do have different methodology, even though one is sort of based on the other. Can you explain what the differences are? Because I think that’s really what people were fighting about, right?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      So, I think that the, the biggest concern that people have raised about the newer study was that it doesn’t include, um, a class of professionals. Um, so it includes, like, lower-class and middle-class, but doesn’t include the professional-class that was in the original Hart and Risley study. And so, in that sense, it’s not an actual complete replication, um, although, I don’t think –

Carrie Gillon:    That’s true.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – that necessarily discounts the findings, though, that, when we’re looking across social classes, there aren’t these stark differences that the original study had indicated. Um –

Carrie Gillon:    Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And so, I don’t think that we can determine, one way or the other, whether there are these huge differences. We have one study that suggests that there are, we have another study that suggests that there aren’t. My issue is that I don’t even think that that’s the right question to be asking. Um, the, I don’t think the right question is to ask, “How many words are children being – hearing at, at home?” Um, because as I, um, was just saying, that’s not actually what language is, right? Language isn’t –

Carrie Gillon:    Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – the number of words we hear, it’s the practice that we’re – practices that we’re being socialized into. And in order to understand those practices, we really need more rigorous ethnographic work, right? Like, it’s not something –

Megan Figueroa:   Yes.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – that can be done just by counting words. We actually need to observe and document the practices where those words are imbedded in. And anthropology has shown us, for decades, that regardless of how many words people may or may not be hearing, um, that they’re being socialized into complex practices.

Carrie Gillon:    Yes, I think that was actually what I was trying to get at is this, because I think one of the differences is, um, the, the first study was all about child-directed speech only, if I’m remembering correctly, and the second study includes all speech spoken around children.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right.

Megan Figueroa:   Yes.

Carrie Gillon:    And that’s important.

Megan Figueroa:   It is, and I’m thinking, ’cause, like, reading Hart and Risley, it doesn’t even – the, the way that they talk about what language, like, what language is, it doesn’t even look like what my childhood was like. And I’m, like, if you’re just focusing on parents, you’re not looking at the fact that my tio came over, like, two days a week, and that I would spend so much time with, at my grandma’s house, and I always had cousins running around. What about all those interactions that are happening? And that’s what you’re saying, we can’t not look at context and how, um, how language works in those contexts.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right. And I think something else that is methodologically questionable in Hart and Risley – and again, this isn’t a critique, per se, but more just, like, a challenge of methodology – is that when you bring a recorder in to homes, that can impact the dynamics, too.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, where, like, if you’re, uh, one that they’re calling a welfare family –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – and you have people in your home recording, that might have different connotations to you, um, than if you’re a professional who maybe wants to show off to the researcher.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right?

Megan Figueroa:   Exactly.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And so, [laughs] we don’t know –

Megan Figueroa:   Good point.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – exactly how to kind of make sense of that, but I do think it’s a methodological issue that really needs to be considered.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, for – you could have people who actually look like the people that you’re studying being the recorders, at least that might help a little, right? I still think about how, like, we always dodged, like, we always hid when someone knocked on the door. [Laughs]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, exactly.

Carrie Gillon:    I’m, like, I don’t even think they’re gonna, like, let anyone into our house to do that. [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, uh, even, even coming from a middle-class family, I can’t imagine participating in that as a child. It would’ve terrified me. [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, oh, yeah, yeah, me as a child, too, thinking about, like, how we – our individual characteristics of children, I would’ve been, like, “No, stranger, I’m not gonna talk,” like, I’ll – I probably would talk less, so.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, right, but I could imagine a professional parent knowing what the right thing to do is –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – um, and knowing that the recorder is on, doing the things that they know are the right things to do, ’cause maybe they read it somewhere, right?

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And maybe that’s not always what they do, maybe they actually aren’t talking to their kids all the time, um –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – maybe sometimes the kids are watching TV. Um –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Megan Figueroa:   [Laughs]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – but they know when –

Megan Figueroa:   Yes.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – the recorder is on, that they shouldn’t be watching TV, right?

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    Exactly.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, and not, they’ll not use as many directives. That seems so – I hated that, when I was reading it, the whole directives thing just felt – I don’t know, I couldn’t really, like, point out how or why it offended me so much. Maybe ’cause my parents used a lot of directives? [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Can you explain directives?

Megan Figueroa:   Oh, yeah. So, like, saying, uh, a directive would be, like, “Clean your room,” instead of saying, “Well, um, it looks like your room’s a little messy. What do you think you should do about that?” Like, that’s what they want [laughs] people to say.

Carrie Gillon:    They want people to be more passive-aggressive?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Yes, they think that that’s quality.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, basically, yeah. [Laughter] Right. And I’m, like – [Laughter]

Carrie Gillon:    No, as a Canadian, I’m just gonna say, no. [Laughter] Less is better on that front. [Laughter]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      But, of course, that, that reminds me of the work of Lisa Delpit, right, who, um, kind of looked at the cultural differences in parental communication, and found, in her work with African American parents, that they were more directive, um, than in white middle-class families. And then, what happens when those children get to school is that, the teachers who have been socialized – because most of the teachers are white women, by demographics – they’ve been socialized into this more passive way of making requests, where they’ll say, “Don’t you think you should be doing this?” The child, the child may not actually understand that that actually was a directive, right? Because it was a directive [crosstalk] –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – the teacher was making a request, and the child didn’t necessarily understand it was a request, and maybe actually thought that they had a choice when you said, “Don’t you think you should – ”

Which gets, again, to the importance of understanding cultural difference, and not assuming that one is more quality than the other. I mean, Lisa Delpit makes it very clear, in her work, that it’s not that black parents care less about their children. They love their children, they are – they have a particular history, um, where maybe there are needs to be more directive. Because if not, um, their child isn’t gonna be socialized to deal with an antiblack world, um [laughs] –

Megan Figueroa:   Exactly.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – that expects people to – uh, uh, expects black people, in particular, to adhere to directives, right?

Carrie Gillon:    Exactly.

Megan Figueroa:   I mean, I guess that’s what it, it really was when I was reading and kept hearing about directives and them basically shitting on directives, I’m, like, “Oh, it just, it feels dripped – uh, like racism is dripping off of this.” And, uh, they may have not – again, I think, uh, Carrie said it, once about sexism, called, called it “benevolent sexism” –

Carrie Gillon:    I, I did not make up that term. [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Well, I know, I know, she, uh, that’s where I – the first time I heard it was you saying it on something. But is this, like, benevolent classism and racism, you think?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      I mean –

Carrie Gillon:    I don’t know – I don’t know if it’s benevolent.

Dr. Nelson Flores:     I don’t know, I mean, I actually am one who’s not particular interested in what one’s intentions are. Um, and so, it’s, like, I’m sure they had good intentions, I mean, I don’t think people do research with – or, or at least social science research, without wanting to make a difference and help. But it doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things [laughs] –

Megan Figueroa:   You’re right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – if you can, you’re still producing, um, racism. And, and I think that, um, like, even terms like “covert racism,” oftentimes, I find problematic, because who are they covert to? Um, like, oftentimes, the victim of it –

Carrie Gillon:    Other white people. [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – is, is quite conscious of it and it’s not covert.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:     Um, it’s only covert to the one who isn’t aware that they’re being racist, right? Um, and so, and so, I think that for me it’s, like, less important what their intentions are, and more about, I think that the framework that they’re using is fundamentally flaws, and has led to interventions that are quite damaging. Um, and I know that that sounds maybe extreme, in some ways, but I do think that interventions that are coming from a racist deficit perspective are damaging to children.

Megan Figueroa:   Right, so let’s talk about impact, ’cause, uh, one of the impacts – this is a big impact – at University of Chicago, there is a 30 million word center for early learning and public health. And they get tons of money – tons of money.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      [Crosstalk]

Megan Figueroa:   You go to their website [laughs] and there’s a donate button, but you know they’re getting government money and grants and stuff.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Mm-hmm.

Megan Figueroa:   Um, uh, and it’s, I mean, I don’t mean to shit on [laughs] the director, um – anyone who goes to the website and looks at the videos, it’s – it feels gross. You see, like, white people telling black parents, like, what to do with their children, and it feels terrible. That’s a huge thing that’s getting tons of money, because of the 30 million word – the so-called 30 million word gap from Hart and Risley. Like, that’s an, that’s a direct impact of that study.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, right.

Megan Figueroa:   It’s named after it. [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    And what, uh, what’s happening to these kids, like, what are they provided with in these, in this program?

Megan Figueroa:   “Intervention,” quote-unquote, intervention, based on, “Let’s, uh, let’s not have the directives. Let’s, let’s, um, open it up so there’s more questions, so children can answer back,” like, this kind of thing.

Carrie Gillon:    I see, yeah.

Megan Figueroa:   So, they are trying to change the way that children interact – or, sorry – that, uh, caregivers interact with their children, and that’s just inherently icky, to me.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right. Well, I think that all of the money going into it might give you some indication for why people were so defensive about –

Megan Figueroa:   Right, yep.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – a response that called it into question, because there is a lot of money that’s going into it. I mean, remedial compensatory education, which has been funded by government and nongovernment officials since at least the ’60s, um, that are designed to fix the so-called cultural and linguistic deficits of racialized communities, have always been, um, a very lucrative industry. Um, there’s always been tons of money going into it. I mean, I don’t even know how much money – probably billions of dollars, at this point, honestly. And I always wonder, like, what would the world look like if we actually, like, invested that money in revitalizing communities, and, like –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – ending poverty, and, like, ensuring that children had access to quality healthcare.

Megan Figueroa:   Or even just textbooks.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Megan Figueroa:   Like, like, simple educational, uh, funding.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, right. Um, I think our society finds fixing racialized communities as a seductive narrative.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, definitely.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, I agree.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Because it really leaves the rest of the society off the hook, right? So, we don’t have to reflect on the root causes of racial inequalities, because we can just say, “Oh, it’s their fault, because they’re not using – they’re not asking their children questions.” I don’t know how anyone who, who has any experience working in neighborhoods, um, that have experienced multiple generations of racialized poverty, um, could possibly think that changing the way that you ask questions to your child, or increasing the number of words [laughter] that you give them, is really going to be what’s the make-it or break-it for –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – whether that child is gonna thrive or not, right?

Carrie Gillon:    Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      It’s, like, these are children who sometimes struggle with homelessness, right, these are children who have food insecurity. In Philadelphia, led poisoning has been a huge issue, and that’s – I know it’s in other places, as well, like Flint, right?

Carrie Gillon:    Right.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      All of these structural issues –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – that are much more salient in the lives of these childrens and these, and these family, right? Um, but in education circles, we tend to think that none of that has anything to do with, like, what we should be talking about, right? We should just be talking about fixing the kids. Um, and I think that’s, that, one, it’s misguided, because of all of these other challenges that I, I think are much more salient. But, two, it then socializes teachers to come from the perspective that the kids are broken and need to be fixed, right? And that is not a productive perspective to begin with, especially when we look at the demographics of teachers versus students, when there’s already this divide between them, right, the last thing that we wanna do is increase that by teach, telling teachers that their job is to be like these people in that website that you were talking about, um, these benevolent white people who are trying to fix racialized communities.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, that’s not a productive stance, it’s never worked in the past, um, and it’s not going to work now.

Megan Figueroa:   It’s, uh, it is a seductive line of thinking, for a lot of people, because it’s kids. So, like, a lot of people are, like, “This is seductive because, oh, if I support it, I can – I’m helping the children.” You motherfuckers [laughs], help, help kids in other ways. Sorry, we do have an explicit rating.

Carrie Gillon:    This also reminds me of work on, um, Inuit children in, in Quebec. So, uh, when they go to school, like, obviously, the schools are mostly – or at least at, back when this research was done – mostly white people. And so, they grow up in, in the Inuit communities where they – there’s not a lot of child-directed speech. Um, and so, well, and then, they get into the classroom, and suddenly this adult is talking to them, and they’re not used to it, and they don’t know how to respond at all. Yeah, so, the, the different communities do different things, and we never – we just assume [laughs] white is the norm, white North American is the norm, and everyone should behave like us, and – it’s really fucked up.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right. Well, and the thing is is that, if Hart and Risley said that, and the people who support –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – the 30 million word gap said that, at least I would respect that they were coming from a position of authenticity, right?

Carrie Gillon:    It’s true.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um, but the fact –

Carrie Gillon:    It’s true.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – that they tried to frame it as objective, I think, is what makes it even more insidious, right? It’s, like, no, there’s no objective basis for determining that being nondirective is more quality, right? That, that, that’s not an objective statement. That’s coming from a particular ideological position. So, if you can own that position, if you can say, “Yes, I think that all racialized community should behave just like white people,” I would disagree with you, but at least I would say, “Well, you’re being honest with what your perspective is, and you’re not hiding it behind –

Megan Figueroa:   Yes, yes.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – “this veil of objectivity.”

Carrie Gillon:    It would be more honest – I just translated it for people.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      It’s a, it’s a, it’s a more quality interpretation than theirs.

Carrie Gillon:    [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   But you’re right, I, I have the exact same objection: just say what you’re actually saying. People, people like to be really sneaky. They, I mean, they might even know they’re being sneaky – I have a feeling that they don’t, because they really believe in their own objectivity. But it, it, none of us are objective.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    None of us. How can you be?

Megan Figueroa:   Right. Yeah, I – when people say that, that science is, um, objective, I’m, like, “Whose science? What science are you talking about?” [Laughs] It’s just not, you know, like, we – we’re all humans coming to it with our biases. Um, and then I go right into saying that, me as a psycholinguist, um, just completely psycholinguistic perspective of working in infant labs and looking at child language, this just doesn’t make sense anyway. Like, even if we’re not looking at culture and looking at the bigger picture – which I always think we should look at culture and the people – even if we’re just looking at how, um, infants learn language, it just doesn’t make sense to tell parents, “Don’t use directives,” [laughs] like, you know, it doesn’t make sense.

Carrie Gillon:    No. And as, again, as a white middle-class person, my children – I’m sorry – my parents used directive speech with me, for sure. I just don’t even understand this argument. It’s a thing that exists. [Laughter]

Megan Figueroa:   And, and Nelson, right, that’s, like, the, the big thing with them is directives versus asking questions, right, [crosstalk]?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      That’s one of the big things, yeah, no, that is one of the big things.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      I mean, I think what they did is that they, um, kind of imagined this idealized kind of white middle-class family, and imagined what that family must be like. Um, which was probably their family [laughs], um –

Megan Figueroa:   Right, yeah, exactly.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And they kind of came up with these arbitrary characteristics, um, that they decided were quality. Um, and I think that that is something that isn’t just Hart and Risley, though. I think that in a lot of, um, kind of linguistic analysis, especially, like, in second language acquisition, um, there are kind of these discussions of complex language, or richer language, um, that isn’t, oftentimes, theorized. Well like, well, complex from whose perspective, right? Um, richer from whose perspective? Like, these aren’t objective designations.

They may seem so, because we’ve naturalized and normalized all of these dominant ideologies about what language is or should be. Um, but we can’t describe language outside of an ideological perspective on what language is, right? And I always try, in my work, to be very explicit in terms of how I’m thinking about language. And in particular, how I’m thinking about language and race, and how they co-construct with one another. And so, my ideological position I try to put on the table and say, “This is my perspective. This is where I’m coming from. This is kind of my stance.”

Um, and oftentimes, then, get accused of being ideological, right? [Laughter] Um –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, that’s the trap that white people set for you. [Laughter]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Well, um, yeah, you said, I mean [laughter] – I mean, I oftentimes refuse to fall into the trap, because my response is to point out the ideological assumptions and what they’re doing.

Megan Figueroa:   Good.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And saying, “I own mine, you own yours, and then we can agree to disagree. But until you own yours, you’re not allowed to call me ideological.” [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Yes.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, yes. Um, so thinking, uh – here’s a transition for ya [laughs] – um, I don’t want it to all be negative. What is a good framework to think about this. You’ve mentioned – again, we’ll post to these two blog posts that are specifically that you have about this issue, that are great – um, language socialization framework. Is that what you’re still working with, right now, or where you think we should be working from? And tell us what it is.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, I mean, I think language socialization – which emerged I think probably, like, in the ’70s, right? – um, and kind of anthropology, and I think, in particular, anthropology of education has had the most interest in it, for obvious reasons – is just looking at, from an ethnographic perspective, the ways that people come to know, um, language, right? And the ways that they come to know particular ways of using language. Um, and so, from, uh, linguistic, and certainly a linguistic anthropological perspective, um, we’re all socialized into the practices of our home, right? Um, and these are all practices that are complex, these are all practices that are nuanced, um, these are all practices that provide a foundation for us to engage in the world.

And I think what language socialization research helps us, then, to think about is, if we’re starting from the perspective that all children are socialized into complex language practices, and there, there isn’t an inherent hierarchy in terms of the complexity, um, then how do we incorporate the language practices of all children into the classroom? How do we stop framing certain language practices as deficient and in need of remediation? Um, and I think that that’s a more productive beginning of a conversation, and I think there are lots of different ways you can answer that, right?

Megan Figueroa:   Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And I think that teachers, as professionals, have to decide and figure out how that, that’s going to look for them in their particular classrooms, because all classrooms are different, all communities –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – are different, so it’s gonna look different in different contexts. But it’s a much more productive point of entry into the conversation. And so, like, work that I’ve done with teachers in Philadelphia, which fit the community here, was thinking about the ways that an elementary school, bilingual classrooms, we could strategically use, um, translingual texts. So, texts that are primarily written in English, but have some Spanish in them –

Megan Figueroa:   Mm-hmm?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – as a point of entry for helping students engage, first, in close readings of the text – which is a Common Core-aligned literacy strategy –

Carrie Gillon:    [Laughs]

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – um, but, two – and that’s important for teachers to be able to justify, right?

Carrie Gillon:    Yes, absolutely.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And, two, as a point of entry for helping students realize that they, as bilingual authors, actually can strategically choose to bring both languages together, for particular effects and with particular purposes, right? So, rather than saying, “Oh, that kind of other language that you use at home is not relevant, here,” it’s saying, “Well, actually, it can be relevant.” If you’re writing a story, for example, about something that you did with your grandmother speaks Spanish, you, as the author, can decide to use Spanish as dialogue in that text, right? So you’re, you can bring some of those home language practices into your writing, and that you should do that. And I think –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – it’s a very different stance to the home language practices of students, um, than to say, “Oh, they hear 30 million words less, so let’s fix them.”

Carrie Gillon:    Right.

Megan Figueroa:   And how empowering is it to hear or see Spanish in the classroom, for these kids, you know? It’s so big, it’s so important, and I think – I think that’s lost on some people, um, because we’re all – I – they – some people may say we’re all talking about representation, right now, and how it’s important, but it really is. And representing that, that home language in, in the classroom is really important.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right. And I think it’s not only representing the home language, but also representing the fact that these are bilingual children growing up in a bilingual –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – community, which –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – means that they are bilingual authors, right?

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And bilingual authors have more tools, perhaps –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – than monolingual authors. Or perhaps not, because monolingual authors maybe have different dialects, right? But, but that we all, as authors, um, should be strategically deploying all of our communicative repertoires, um, in order to create our voice as authors. Um, which is very different than saying, “Make everyone talk like a white person,” right? Um –

Megan Figueroa:   Right.

Carrie Gillon:    [Laughs] Yeah.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Uh, and I think it’s, it’s, it’s, okay, let’s socialize students into new ways of using language, which is part of the function of school, right?

Carrie Gillon:    [Crosstalk]

Megan Figueroa:   Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      We all learned, I mean, we all did doctorates, right, so we were all socialized into new ways of –

Carrie Gillon:    Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – using language and new ways of thinking, as doctoral students, right, that’s just part of what we’re doing all the time in our daily lives. And –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – we’re always gonna be being socialized into new ways of using language. So, I certainly don’t wanna be misunderstood as saying we shouldn’t socialize students into new language practices, because sometimes people accuse me of saying we should just let them do whatever they want and not teach them anything. And I think that that’s silly, um, I don’t know who would ever argue that.

Megan Figueroa:   Mm-hmm. [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    You know what that reminds me of is the prescriptive versus descriptive debate. If you, if you’re a, if you’re a descriptivist, you’re accused of saying, “Oh, anything goes,” and that’s not exactly what we’re saying.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, right, which is, of course, not the point.

Carrie Gillon:    No.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      It’s, it’s looking at how people actually use language, right? [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Mm-hmm, exactly.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um, but, but, so, yeah, so schools certainly have a, an important function of socializing students into new language practices that are associated with tasks that are associated with tasks that are associated with school. Um –

Megan Figueroa:   Mm-hmm?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – I think one of the things that could be improved, in school, is that maybe some of those tasks could be less kind of decontextualized vocabulary lists, and more kind of actual authentic interactions. I think that’s one of the things that schools could do better, certainly. Um, but certainly, schools should be socializing students to new language practices; the question is how they should be doing that, right? And, and from my perspective, the way they should be doing that is building on the knowledge that the children already have. Now, anyone who’s taken an education course, ever, knows that the first basic thing that you learn in pedagogy 101 is, if you want students to learn new content, you have to connect it to their prior knowledge, right? That’s the first thing you learn.

Megan Figueroa:   Yes.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      So, why do we think language is any different? Um, if you want students to learn new language practices, you have to connect it to language practices they’re already familiar with, right? And once you do that, they’re much more able to then retain it, remember it, feel like it’s part of who they are, and not feel like it’s this thing that’s completely removed from who they are as people and who they understand themselves to be.

Megan Figueroa:   That’s a really good point. [Laughs] You’re gonna make me cry, I’m, like, “Why didn’t I have that when I grew up?” [Laughter]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Well, I know, and why we still don’t have it? Well, we still don’t have it because –

Megan Figueroa:   I know –

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – social science researchers are still talking about a word gap. So, part of the problem is –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah –

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – researchers. [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, no, absolutely. That, that, so that was, was, that was one of the questions that kept coming up in my mind was – okay, you’re absolutely right, I mean, obviously, it’s obvious, to me, that this is what we need to do. But how do we get from here, where we are now, to where we should be, given this juggernaut of the social sciences, uh, um, research, the education research that’s, which sometimes aligns with that.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Mm-hmm?

Carrie Gillon:   The fact that the education system is this huge bureaucracy of, you know, like –

Megan Figueroa:    Yeah, policymakers.

Carrie Gillon:   – [sighs] like, the policymakers, the politicians involved – how [laughs], how do we, how do we make even a small change?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Right, right.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, what can our listeners do? What can we do? [Laughter] Right.

Carrie Gillon:   [Crosstalk] what can any of us do or [crosstalk] –

Megan Figueroa:    Yeah –

Carrie Gillon:   – if, if a policymaker is listening [laughs], what could they do?

Megan Figueroa:    Yeah, yes, uh, we have so many politicians that listen to this show [laughter] [crosstalk].

Carrie Gillon:   I said “if.” [Laughter]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      They should, they definitely should.

Megan Figueroa:   I know. [Laughs]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      But, um, so, I mean, I think when I wanna give copout answer – which I’ll give first, and then I’ll give, like, the better answer – um –

Megan Figueroa:   Okay.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – is, uh, what I do think that what you’re alluding to is true, that we need a fundamental transformation of the institutions that children are in, right? Um, and I think that that change isn’t going to happen overnight, and that change happens over generations. And some of that has happened, right? Like, looking, as someone who has studied the history of bilingual education, in, in the United States, um, the fact that there are some children, in Philadelphia and in other cities, who are able to be in classrooms where Spanish is not only acknowledged but used as part of instruction. And that allows new immigrant children to come in and seamlessly become incorporated into the classroom, that was a fundamental transformation of that institution, that happened over generations, right?

So when people say, “Oh, we can never dismantle structural racism,” I say, “Yeah, people have, [laughs] like, things are not the exact same as they were before,” and that change has become because of political struggle, right? So I think that’s kind of the bigger answer is that we have to keep engaging in political struggle, knowing that many of the changes that we’re advocating for may not benefit us or our children, but maybe will benefit our grandchildren or our great-grandchildren. Or our descendants, if we’re not having children. [Laughter] [Crosstalk] you know what I mean.

Megan Figueroa:   Right, right, yes.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, yeah.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um, so, so, like, now, what teachers can do on their kind of day-to-day – because I do think that teaching still matters, within that kind of whole argument I just made – um, is really thinking about how they can strategically build on the home language practices of children. And you don’t have to know those languages, in order to be able to do that, right? Um, one thing that is very easy for an elementary school teacher to take a few minutes to do is to acknowledge that there are children in the class who speak languages other than English. And to ask them how to say a few words in that language, right? Um, you don’t have to know the language, but you’re acknowledging that there are children in your class who do know those languages, right?

Um, that translingual unit plan, uh, that I mentioned is another example, um, like, really thinking about how to create units that acknowledge and build on the rich linguistic knowledge that all children come in with. And really thinking about how you build on that background knowledge. And I think that really requires, um, kind of a space for teacher inquiry, to really kind of reflect on their practices, and to think about those practices. And that happens in some schools, certainly, um, so I think that that’s what could happen at the teacher level. Um, and at the policy level, um, I think in terms of bilingual education, for example, um, something that there is, oftentimes, a dearth of is Spanish – or any other language – I mean, Spanish is a challenge, so you can imagine it’s even harder for other languages – just an infrastructure for supporting the development of those languages, right?

Um, and that can include, um, unit exemplars, I mean, and it can include standards. Like, I know that the way that standards are implemented are sometimes problematic, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with giving teachers some standards in terms of what students are expected to do at their grade level, right? Like, that’s a good thing to give teachers. Um, but teachers who are instructing in languages other than English, oftentimes, don’t have even that to start with. And so, they’re kind of building things from scratch and constantly reinventing the wheel. Um, and so I think that is something that could happen from a policy perspective. Now, in terms of language variation in English, we’ve tried that from a policy perspective, before, and it was a – it was kind of this big political [laughs], uh, turmoil and outcome.

Carrie Gillon:    Yes.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um –

Dr. Nelson Flores:      But I think that something like that, that wouldn’t hopefully lead to this political turmoil, would also be important. Like, how do, how do we – well, I mean, one, how do we work with teachers to acknowledge and value language variation in English, and in languages other than English, for bilingual programs. Um, but then how do we institutionalize that at the policy level? Like, how do we provide, um – perhaps in our standards, we could build a standard that is about recognizing language variation. Um, which would then mean that teachers have to focus on language variation as part of what they’re doing with their children, because it’s part of the benchmarks that the students are expected to make.

Um, so I think those, those tweaks can help us in the present, while we keep a long-term vision of, “Well, that’s not enough,” right? And we, and we want a lot more than that, but we’re gonna keep pushing for that for the future. And part of, I think, the role of, um, academics and scholars and researchers, in doing that, is to call ourselves our for our bullshit, right? And to say –

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – we actually have contributed to these problems, even as we’ve always tried to position ourselves as the ones with the solutions, right? And so, like, what I do in my academic work is a lot of that, right, where it’s, like, wait a minute, like, we complain that teachers are using deficit frameworks. So why don’t we look at the deficit frameworks that are being used to inform our research? Um, because they’re not any better, and oftentimes, they’re even worse because we’re pretending that they’re objective.

Megan Figueroa:   Right, yeah, yeah.

Carrie Gillon:    Wow, that was an amazing answer – thank you so much.

Megan Figueroa:   Yes, thank you so much.

Carrie Gillon:    Because I, I, I struggle with these kind of big-picture problems in, in my head, like, you know, I’m really concerned with Indigenous languages. And there’s, you know, huge structural reasons why these languages are struggling. Um, but I don’t also wanna ever give out the idea that, “Oh, well, therefore, we should give up,” or there’s no point trying. No, we should try, so, [laughs] thank you for that answer.

Megan Figueroa:   Yes. Yeah, no, I, I mean, after, like, the first half of talking about, like, “What the fuck is wrong? And what’s happening? Why is this all, like, on fire?” it’s really nice to, to be grounded, again, in the fact that we can do some things. And I think that we have really great listeners who actually do wanna do things, or who have learned a lot, um, about their own internalized, um, biases. And I think that this is gonna be a really, really, um, helpful and educational episode for them, so I really appreciate you coming on. I know that if you’re at least on Twitter, you’ve seen one article going around about this.

So, you know, like, people have heard about this right now, and so it’s fantastic to have you on. I think that was a really great takeaway. Do you have any other things that you want to hype up or [laughs], or, or say, before we let you go?

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um, I guess, so, something that I have just, um – well, it’s, it’s in press, so it’s gonna be published soon – that I think kind of relates to what I was just saying, actually, is really thinking about, um, the theory of change that we have in critical applied linguistics, right. And so, oftentimes, in our work with teachers, we tend to frame the issue as, “We need to raise the consciousness of teachers,” and we kind of frame it as an individual thing.

Megan Figueroa:   Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um, but the issue that we look at in this article – and I say “we” ’cause two of my doctoral students wrote it with me – are the ways that broader sociopolitical processes impact what is possible in the classroom, and what we, we call what institutional listening subject positions teachers aren’t able to have it. Um, so, the school that we look at is a bilingual school, so we look at the ways that bilingualism is completely normalized in the school. But we think of that not solely as great teachers – and they are great teachers, but because of the history of political struggle that has allowed for these spaces to emerge. And so, it’s a combination of teachers who are onboard, and the possibility of this space emerging, through political struggle. But we also look at issues of policing, and also think about that as not purely just about, “Oh, let’s tell the teachers not to police.” Because oftentimes the teachers are policing because they know that, if a child who’s a child a color from a low-income community uses particular linguistic tokens outside of the classroom, people are going to raciolinguistically police them, right, and say, “You can’t say that.”

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      “I can say that, as a white person,” someone might say [laughs], “but you can’t.” Um –

Megan Figueroa:   Right, right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And so, it’s not enough to say, “Oh, we should just tell the teachers to value the students’ language practices,” when oftentimes the teachers do want to, but they struggle with this institutional listening subject position where they see themselves as listening on behalf of others, right? So, “Okay, well –

Carrie Gillon:    Right.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – “we, we’re okay with them saying ‘yeah,’ but maybe someone outside of here is going to judge them for saying ‘yeah.'” Even though –

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah – [Laughs]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      – at the University of Pennsylvania – we actually started documenting this, as we wrote the article – we say “yeah” all the time, at the University of Pennsylvania, right?

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      And if anyone were to correct us, they would come off as completely inappropriate and pompous.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Um, so, like, it’s, like, which spaces are these linguistic tokens policed, and what histories are being cited in those spaces? And how it’s really not just about individual teachers; it’s really this broader sociohistorical process that has allowed for this emergence of policing to begin with. And so, it connects to the point I was making, before, where we conclude, there, that any efforts at raising the consciousness of teachers has to also be situated within broader political struggles, that then can allow teachers to inhabit new listening subject positions, right? Um, and people, when they say it’s impossible, I say it happened before, right?

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      We have normalized bilingualism in some public schools in the United States, because people have pushed for the possibility of new listening subject positions in these institutions. So we have to keep thinking about what do we want teachers to be able to do, and how can we transform the institutions to allow them to be able to do that.

Megan Figueroa:   And, see, that was an issue that, you know, I wasn’t really thinking about, but when you mentioned it, it’s, like, “Of course.” Um, which reminds me that there’s always learning to be done, um, even if you’ve studied this all your life, right, there’s still learning to be done.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Yeah, absolutely.

Megan Figueroa:   And, uh, and, and here’s my PSA, for listeners, is to follow Nelson on Twitter, [laughs] which we will link to him, but, so that we can hear more about that study, and I’m sure you’ll talk about it, and all those studies that, um, come out of your, come out of your work. Yeah, is that what I meant, studies that come out of your work? [Laughs]

Carrie Gillon:    Yes.

Megan Figueroa:   Anyway, yes, um, all your work that comes out, that we can follow, um, because I learn a lot from you, so. So, thank you so much.

Carrie Gillon:    Yeah, thank you.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Thank you.

Megan Figueroa:   Yeah, don’t be assholes, guys.

Carrie Gillon:    Don’t be an asshole. [Laughter]

Megan Figueroa:   Uh, I mean, uh, uh, Nelson, we always leave our listeners with that. That’s, that’s the big message, I mean, overall, right? Like, everything we talked about over the last almost hour is: don’t be an asshole. [Laughs]

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Yeah, I agree.

Megan Figueroa:   Well, thank you so much, um, uh, Dr. Nelson Flores, and it was great talking to you.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Thank you. Great talking to you, too.

Carrie Gillon:    [Crosstalk] bye.

Megan Figueroa:   Bye.

Dr. Nelson Flores:      Bye.

[Music playing]

Carrie Gillon:    The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumbler, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, at Vocal Fries Pod. You can e-mail us at

[End of Audio]

Vocal-Fries_WordGap     Page 35 of 35

Megan Figueroa, Carrie Gillon, Dr. Nelson Flores       Page 35 of 35

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