2018 Winner: “Becoming American” One Word at a Time: Refugee English Classrooms and the Language of Personhood.

Project Information
“Becoming American” One Word at a Time: Refugee English Classrooms and the Language of Personhood.
Social Sciences
Community Studies Full-Time Field Study (CMMU 198)
As transnational migrants adapt to life in the USA, language development plays an influential role in the creation of social and economic class. Community priorities -in concert with national discourses of human capital development- shape adult English language classrooms in ways that dramatically affect assimilation and belonging for language learners. This thesis critically examines the English education available at an international refugee resettlement center in Twin Falls, Idaho. Findings and analysis are based on six months of participant-observation field research, and draw from academic scholarship on migration, human capital theory, critical race theory, and classroom pedagogy. Understanding language learning as a site of social production and reproduction allows insight into the assumptions underlying refugee services in Twin Falls. Findings show that classrooms prepare students for low wage manual labor to support the rural community’s workforce, and orient refugees into a moral narrative of meritocracy capitalism, in which personhood and success are imagined in exclusively economic terms, and dynamics of race and privilege are made invisible. These economic logic limits the horizons of language development for refugees, and with it, the power of New Americans to culturally and critically engage in their new homes. To combat these observed processes, I propose the development of self-governed educational spaces for New Americans, in which the English language becomes a tool for building intercultural communities of human solidarity, resistance, and power.
  • Sarah Jane Cameron (Eight)