Brook Report on:Guadalupe Valdés’ Learning and Not Learning English: Latino Students in American Schools

Brook Report on:

Guadalupe Valdés’ Learning and Not Learning English: Latino Students in American Schools

By Eric Odynocki

Anyone who has not been living under a rock for the past few decades would easily recognize that one of the major social issues facing the United States today is that of immigration or rather its illegal counterpart. What many seem to forget, however, is that besides boiling the tumultuous pot of job availability in this country, illegal immigration’s affects seep into more subtle areas of society such as education, concentrating mostly around ESL programs. Like stubborn and unsightly weeds, burning questions never seem to die around these English classes for newly arrived, legal or not, foreign students, such as: what should be taught in these courses? How should they be taught? Who should teach them? And, most importantly in the minds of taxpayers, how should these courses be funded?

While not providing solutions to all the above perplexing problems, Guadalupe Valdés does portray the overall predicament concerning ESL programs with California during the 1990’s as a backdrop for her observations in her book Learning and Not Learning English: Latino Students in American Schools. At first sounding formal and very academic in the first few chapters where she depicts the context of her research, the author’s tone softens to a more story-telling style when she continues to describe the experiences of four Latino students enrolled in ESL programs at various levels. It would appear that this change in writing technique makes the reader suddenly remember that he or she is not just reading information for which to develop personal opinions or approaches toward literacy development for English language learners, but that the lives and eventual fate of younger generations, of real people, are involved, as well. The more novel-style reading does not lead to, however, fanciful or happy-go-lucky endings for the students she discusses, as Valdés pointedly notes in her introduction.

While admitting also in her introduction to subjectivity only because she had gone through the same experiences as her subjects, Valdés presents a sugar-free portrayal of the deplorable situation of many if not all ESL programs in the United States. Thus, I think by reading Learning and Not Learning English the reader will gain a practical knowledge on the topic at hand through a perspective unspoiled by alienating and snobbish scholarly language that might ruin or divert attention from the ultimate consequence of the decisions produced in response to this question. Going to Stony Brook University on Long Island, so close to the infamous Farmingville where the predicament over illegal immigration most particularly fomented and inspired the documentary by the same name, Learning and Not Learning English is certainly relevant to what exists in the schools in our area. Thus, this book might be a reminder to many that we are not immune to one of America’s most difficult issues.