The interviewee: Andrés Fernando Valencia M.holds an MA in Language and Literacies Education from the University of Toronto. As an English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher educator, he is interested in the intersections among multiliteracies pedagogy, culture, and ethnic-racial categories. His work advocates for decolonizing education.He is a senior lecturer in the Foreign Languages Program at the Escuela de Ciencias del Lenguaje, Universidad del Valle (Cali, Colombia). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The interviewer: Yecid Ortega is a PhD candidate at OISE, University of Toronto in the Language and Literacies & Comparative, International, and Development Education programs. He is a member of CIES and collaborator in the Language Issues SIG. He is a 2018 Canada SSHRC award winner who focuses on critical ethnographic approaches to understanding the macro and micro processes that have affected (English) language education in international contexts. His main research interests are in the fields of peace education, social justice and linguistic anthropology. Email: email@example.com
“I had the pleasure of knowing a colleague who has worked with me in different projects and networks. I believe it is important to highlight the work of emerging scholars, especially from the Global South. Here is my conversation with Andrés, a lecturer at one of the most prestigious public universities in Cali (Colombia in South America). I hope you enjoy this inspiring dialogue.” -Yecid
Yecid Ortega (YO): What does CIES LASIG need to know about Colombia? How about its current language policy situation?
Andrés Valencia (AV):CIES LASIG should see/approach Colombia acknowledging its diversity: There are 102 Indigenous groups; 10% of the Colombian population is from African origin; 0.01% of Colombians are Gypsy Romany; there are 62 Amerindian Languages, 2 creoles, and the Colombian Spanish has about 11 dialects. We have all the thermal floors; there are five differentiated geophysical regions; we have two oceans; and the Andes splits into three in our country.
With this knowledge in mind, the idea of Colombia should be approached as polyphonic, polyvalent, layered, and as fragmented.
Now then, our richness in peoples, cultures, languages, and geography contrasts with the language policy issued from the central government. Even though the Political Constitution of 1991 Colombia acknowledges the Amerindian language(s) or Creole spoken in each territory as thelanguage of official language of that people, even making it the medium of instruction in education (does not apply to higher, technical or vocational education), the language policy is over focused on English.
English now is mandatory in public schools, disregarding whether each institution complies with the basic conditions for its implementation such as having an English teacher (36 schools out of 149 in the Department of Valle do not have an English teacher, a licenciado(a)in Foreign or Modern languages); their curriculum (not including the one from the Ministry of Education); the minimal acoustical conditions in the classrooms; or even having a basic sound system (like a radio or tape recorder). Indeed, EFL teachers at school levels are differentially positioned as implementers (Johnson, 2013), which makes the labor harder.
In addition, the high school exit exam (Saber 11, which is China’s Gaokao and the US’s SAT equivalent) for English only assesses reading and some lexico-grammatical features (not the four skills according to the Ministry’s curricula), and teachers and schools are measured based on this exam’s results. How do you think EFL teachers teach English? They teach to the test, there’s no point teaching “communicatively” if your school’s funding depends on it.
Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Add the student, the teacher, and the cultural and socioeconomic context variables, then you can explain the low proficiency levels in the country.
YO: How did you get interested in languages?
AV:I don’t have a straight answer for this. It didn’t happen as a revelation or something like that. I’d say several factors contributed to this: First, I did elementary school at a bilingual school in Cali (Colombia). Since Kindergarten, I was exposed to English. As an adolescent, Rock music (bands like Queen, Korn, Limp Biskit, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the Rolling Stones) through MTV, and the beginning of Internet built my social identity.
Second, I played baseball since I was nine until I was 17 years old. I had the opportunity to travel with the Colombian National team all over the Caribbean and the USA. When you’re a child and then a teen, the US appears like a mirage, specially if you come from working class backgrounds as I did. So, this was very present in my mind, I wanted to livelike them.
Finally, I always wanted to be a teacher. I self-identify as a teacher. Thus, foreign languages were a good fit when I had to make the decision of what career to pursue.
YO: Why becoming a language expert?
AV:I don’t like the word “expert,” and I don’t mean it as an scholar’s clichéd, false modesty-likestatement. Now then, I do would like to develop expertisein some topics and research methods.
One day a colleague of mine (who died yesterday [Aug 3, 2018], very young, at the age of 40) asked me whether I knew which variety of English I spoke and, therefore, taught to my students. You know, a very sociolinguistic question. I replied: “I learned English as a foreign language. Then, I lived in North Carolina for about two years, and then a year and a half in Toronto. Then, I must speak some kind of [Colombia-]American Southern-Torontonian English,” if that exists.
Now, addressing your question from a different angle, I’d say that developing expertise in languageS and, in teaching them, is a matter of understanding that “everything is language.” I don’t mean it in a prescriptive sense. I mean language is the medium/context and object that organizes our realities. You cannot do away with language, but find differentlanguageS to configure/open/challenge/restrict/subvert realities.
YO: What are your research interests and why?
AV:In this moment, I’m interested in decolonizing theory as well as critical and multiliteracies pedagogy. Particularly, how these conceptual/methodological frameworks enable me to study the intersections among language learning, literacies pedagogy and ethnic-racial categories in the formation process of pre-service student teachers.
The interest in decolonizing theory and feminist theory I owe to to Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández. In 2015, I made part of his assistants’ team for the X. Then, in 2017 I took his course Pedagogies of Solidarity. In both cases a new world opened in front of me, a world whose languages spoke to me at different levels: as a Mestizo of minority background (Gypsy Romany), as Latin American/Abya Yalan living in Canada/Turtle Island, as heterosexual but performing a different, non-chauvinist masculinity… I’m thankful to Rubén for being not only a role model (as scholar and person) but also for showing me a path, which I undertook as my professional identity.
Critical pedagogy, I owe it toAntoinette Gagné. She has those “keen eyes”to approach from multiple dimensions language, culture, literacy, and politics in general and the education of teachers in particular. I learned from her that questioning attitude that you need to understand other human beings and the contexts they live in.
Lastly, my interest in multiliteracies pedagogy comes from Rob Simon. In his course–“New Literacies: Making Multiple Meanings”–I developed new understandings about literacy pedagogy and particularly about what could be considered the academic text. These new understandings are the foundation for the critical attitude towards the formation of pre-service student teachers I’m advocating nowadays.
YO: What is your research/ teaching context?
AV:Both are constructed by the same conditions/conditioners: English as a foreign language; a teacher’s education program in a public university; middle-, low-, working-class as well as a visible “minority” Indigenous (Nasa, Misak, Pastos) and Black students; a decade of top-down curricular reform; new standards to teach EFL; two decades of neoliberal, right-wing governments; and blatant political corruption.
YO: What are your current research projects?
AV:I’m working on three projects: 1) Murals; 2) Gender (SMU); and 3) Indigenous and Black students’ narratives.
- Murals are about challenging the argumentative essay and the [generic] academic text as the “high water-mark of all human achievement” (Robinson, 2007). So, in one course (a Written Typologies in English VI, Fall 2016) we decided to synthesize what we learned in the course in a mural (Figures 1 and 2).
Fig 1. First mural: Reading the World
Fig 2 First Mural: Reading the World (finished)
For further information about this mural, watch this video clip (in Spanish): https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B_1Imjqo5z64UG9rYThVbDNtMEk
Then, in Fall 2017, along with a colleague, we developed a peace education project. The students from both courses decided to paint a mural to represent their conceptualization of peace. For them/us, peace begins with dialogue. So, this mural (Figures 3 to 5) represents dialogue at multiple levels: Intergenerational, interracial, interspecies, interepistemological, between culture and nature.
Figure 3 Second Mural: Dialogue as Peace
Figure 4 Second Mural: Dialogue as Peace
Figure 5 Second Mural: Dialogue as Peace
2) Soy Mujer Univalluna(SMU) is a project where we explored the different ways in which women (students, faculty, employees, and workers) are materially and symbolically produced in our campus. This is an ongoing project, so far, we have analyzed how women are represented symbolically in the University’s murals (refer to this Slide presentation: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1mFY2mM2M8LeLpfMUayHyB2TaoU6emZUE). We developed a project in the course (English IV, a pre-intermediate, general English course), where students engaged in and challenged such representations (please, refer to this video clip, these websites [1, 2] and Figure 6).
Figure 6. Students Message Challenging Gender Identities
Last term (Winter 2018), we interview about 200 women (among students, professors, secretaries, librarians, etc.) asking them what it means to be a woman that belongs to the Universidad del Valle. The next stages include (i) analyzing statistical data (number of tenure female vs. male faculty; salaries; amount and type of research; among other descriptive statistics) that provides us a different approximation to the production of women; and, (ii) analysis of social media investigating a practice called “buitreo” (“vulturing”) in which the dignitiy of a woman is destroyed in the cyberspace.
3) Indigenous and Black Students’ Narratives: In the last project, I’m collecting the live stories in forms or narratives (both spoken and written) and other artifacts, such as weavings (tejidos) of the Indigenous and Black students who have entered the Foreign Languages Program under the ‘exception’ condition. At Universidad del Valle, these populations dropout rate is the highest (60% for both groups), and this program in particular posits the highest challenge for them, because in order to graduate, they have to become multilingual, not only in English and French, but also in Spanish; and multiliterate in the three languages mentioned.
So, I’m learning from them so as to develop a curriculum that really helps them.
YO: What are some of the challenges and opportunities that you have experienced in your career as a language teacher educator?
AV:In terms of challenges, I would say experience. I have taught in most levels of education, since kindergarten until undergraduate. When, I began teaching in the Foreign Languages program, I was only 24 years old. At the moment I faced a lot resistance from tenured-track teachers as well as from students, who expected to have a ‘seasoned’ lecturer.
The other big challenge has been to teach “different” students: Indigenous, Black, but also Gay, Lesbian, and transgender. I had a transgender student and I feel I failed him. I didn’t have/still don’t have what is needed to humanely help them.
Now then, in terms of opportunities, working at Universidad del Valle has enabled me to travel all over the Department of Valle sharing what I know with and learning from EFL teachers from public schools. I’ve learned first hand not only the curricular, pedagogical or didactic needs of the teachers; I witnessed the contexts of violence (of all sorts) the students are immersed. Now I see the world differently, away from the Ivory Tower of the academy.
YO: I understand people from Cali (Colombia) are very famous for dancing salsa music. How good are you at dancing salsa?
AV:I know the basic steps and like two twists. I’m neither bad nor good, but I can only dance once or twice with the same partner, otherwise, they get bored at the same three steps and twists. Monothematic, I’d say. So, I’m not good (laughs).
YO: What are the language issues that research should be focusing in the near future in LATAM and the rest of the world?
AV:In Latin America, particularly due to the re-emergence of Right, conservative governments (and the leftist who violate human rights and oppress as well their people), education in general and language learning in particular have to organize so as to create not only spaces for resisting/challenging polarizing, binarist, neoliberal, neocolonial discourses, practices, sociocultural and political maneuvers but as media to create new forms to relate to each other, with different/alterity, with the environment and animals; that is, education should foster a new ethos, and language learning is key to mobilize “differential consciousness” (Sandoval, 2000).
YO: En tu práctica como formador de licenciados, ¿de qué manera la enseñanza del inglés ha impactado los procesos de formación de la identidad personal/social de los estudiantes/futuros docentes?
AV:Desde mi experiencia, pues de ninguna manera puedo generalizar, he observado varios procesos. Por un lado, en la población de estudiantes que se podría identificar como mainstream, es decir, los blanco-mestizos–y lo digo separado con guión porque esta es una categoría no sólo étnico-racial sino cultural y política, ver Urrea-Giraldo (forthcoming)–categorías como la clase social, el género o la raza no son tan determinantes o pasan a segundo plano en relación a procesos de consumo y apropiación cultural (Willis, 2003; Willis et al., 1990).
En este sentido, elementos como la música, la ropa, las redes sociales y los lugares de socialización son los que moldean las identidades de los estudiantes. Para ellos el inglés, como lengua y cultura (marcadamente estadounidense), es parte de ese mundo simbólico, social y virtual que navegan a diario. A diferencia de generaciones anteriores, ellos asumen lugares de enunciación donde el inglés es parte de constitutiva de sus realidades; sus formas de comunicación se mezcla con el español en formas creativas y multimodales. En otras palabras, poseer competencia comunicativa en inglés es parte de su identidad, no es la identidad social que asumen como parte de su oficio.
De otro lado, la población de estudiantes indígenas–en especial aquellos que vienen del campo o de resguardos en medio de la cordillera o la selva y, que además hablan español como segunda o tercera lengua o que lo han aprendido, a su vez, de personas que lo hablan como segunda lengua–el inglés es un componente más del choque cultural que padecen cuando llegan a la ciudad y a la universidad.
Para estas poblaciones en el programa de lenguas extranjeras, el inglés funciona como otro elemento de diferenciación que los posiciona en desventaja frente a la población blanco-mestiza e incluso la negra. Los estudiantes indígenas se esfuerzan por aprender español, inglés y francés. Pero los referentes culturales y lingüísticos que utilizamos para enseñar estas lenguas parten de discursos académicos y de realidades urbanas, culturales y simbólicas sin relación alguna con ellos. Lo peor es que muchos estudiantes asumen esto como un déficit personal y se culpan por su fracaso, cuando en realidad este es un problema estructural de la sociedad colombiana. Mi posición es que somos nosotros, los formadores de licenciados, quienes somos insensibles, ciegos y sordos frente a sus necesidades, lo que nos hace instrumentos de reproducción del status quo.
Finalmente, la población estudiantil negra se encuentra en una situación entre las dos anteriores, pues al ser de origen urbano, al hablar el español como lengua materna, si comparten la mayoría de referentes culturales que movilizan las universidades públicas. Para esta población el inglés también se vuelve parte de su cultura y de su identidad personal, en especial a través de música como el Hip-Hop y el Rap. El problema es que a través del inglés se sigue construyendo y diseminando la identidad estereotipada del negro como fuera del contrato social, habitando ghettos urbanos, con formas no legítimas de representar el conocimiento (la danza, el graffitti, su oralidad), siempre marcados por situaciones de violencia, material y simbólica.
En ese sentido, para responder tu pregunta, el inglés ha asumido ese elemento diferenciador que en otros momentos tuvo el color de piel y la clase social.
YO: Anything that you want to say to the CIES LASIG community?
AV:Muchas gracias. I appreciate and value the opportunity open here by the CIES LASIG.
Robinson, K. (2007, January 06). Do Schools Kill Creativity? TED Talk. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY
Sandoval, C. (2000). Methodology of the Oppressed (Vol. 18). University of Minnesota Press.
Urrea-Giraldo, F. (forthcoming). The Demographic Transition in the Nasa-Indigenous and Black Populations of Northern Cauca (Colombia). Springler.
Willis, P. (2003). Foot Soldiers of Modernity: The Dialectics of Cultural Consumption and the 21st-Century School. Harvard Educational Review,73(3), 390-415.
Willis, P., Jones, S., Canaan, J., & Hurd, G. (1993). Common Culture: Symbolic Work at Play in the Everyday Cultures of the Young. Open University Press.