The Spanish heritage language learning experience in the rural midwest: voices from a newly diverse small town
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It has been shown repeatedly that Latino students often have a negative educational experience in U.S. schools (i.e. Cummins, 1984; Skutnabb-Kangas & Cummins, 1988; Olsen, 1997; Valenzuela, 1999). This negative schooling experience is often associated with instruction that is not relevant to the students’ lives and even subtracts away their home languages and cultures (Ladson-Billings, 1994; Valenzuela, 1999). Recent steps toward the remediation of this injustice have included the recognition of the inappropriateness of Spanish foreign language classes for those students who come to school with a home background in Spanish and the subsequent establishment of heritage language courses for these Spanish-English bilinguals. The question remains whether the students’ bilingual and bicultural competencies are being fostered as tools of student empowerment in such classes, figuring into the definition of what it means to be ‘educated’ (an empowering, “additive” experience) or, vi in contrast, whether the SHL programs are further hurting the already weak academic status of the U.S. Hispanic students by alienating them from their home language and culture and subtractively assimilating them into the mainstream culture (a disabling, “subtractive” experience). This qualitative, descriptive case study addressed this question via an investigation of a Spanish heritage language program in a newly culturally and linguistically diverse rural Midwestern U.S. town. Evidence of the students’ additive and subtractive schooling experiences (Valenzuela, 1999) is detailed here, with a primary focus on the students’ perspectives and voices, and suggestions are provided for future improvement of this and other heritage language programs. While much has been written by researchers and teachers about the impact of heritage language courses in U.S. locations with traditionally large Spanish-speaking communities, virtually nothing is known about the heritage language learning experiences of bilingual Spanish language learners in other communities. Hearing these students’ voices and understanding their rural Midwestern Spanish heritage language learning experiences will contribute to the overall knowledge base that is being built in the literature on effective Spanish heritage language instruction in the United States.