Journal — Quote #3

Journal Entry: Quote #3

“… historically, immigrant education has been used as a means to promote conformity to ‘mainstream’ society.” (Merriam, p.93)

2008 Figure from Statistics Canada: Study — Canadian Immigrant Labour Market.

Figure from Statistics Canada: Study — Canadian Immigrant Labour Market (2008).

While some look upon education as the exercise of opening one’s mind to new ideas, there are others who criticize programs that merely indoctrinate students to a given set of norms. Whether imparting information, language and cultural mores to immigrant populations, or renovating patterns of thought and behaviour within conquered peoples, powers that be have long used schooling of various methodologies to expand and extend a sort of home court advantage. Indeed, just about any passing of information can be used as a type of indoctrination. Schools enforce learning parameters through grades and awards; sports direct physical and motor skills to be used within set rules, with penalties and fouls for breaking them.

By invoking Carlson’s idea about mainstreaming immigrants through education, Merriam reminds us that some forms of normalizing someone’s knowledge and behaviour can be justified — through an insistence upon behaviour modification as a measure of a prisoner’s ability to fall in line with societal expectations, the justice system aims to bring troubled citizens into a position where they can become productive members of society — but others, such as Canada’s tragic history with residential schools, are an important case of education in the wrong hands being used in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons (CBC).

As a teacher, I must consider each reference, intentional or not, to individual cultures, genders and beliefs. Even acknowledging the stereotypical strengths of student backgrounds, such as grammar study in Asia or oral skills in Latin America, can activate a student’s perception that he or she is being judged negatively based upon a stereotype. As Susan Ambrose writes, “the way we frame the material and the task matters–and it has implications for learning and performance” (176).

Framing must take into account not only the students’ backgrounds, but their purposes for learning. Working on a set of information or skills ought to have a statement of purpose other than the fallback position of ‘you have to, that’s why.’ Whether they come on the say-so of a parent, a teacher, a supervisor or a society, variations upon ‘just because’ are not satisfying; in fact, they are discouraging, even disheartening.

Especially in upper level classes, I emphasize the fact that writing and speaking professionally are areas that native speakers have trouble with. In the past, I have done this to empower my internationally-born students — if someone who was born into an English-speaking family uses Toast Masters for public speaking or college preparatory classes for academic writing, then people for whom this language is secondary or tertiary will almost certainly need similar help. I have relied upon stories of students from southeast Asia whose school systems traditionally focus upon learning by rote, for example, and told anecdotes of Canadians learning English grammar rules from ESL.

For many students, these anecdotes help them envision themselves on an equal footing with native speakers, something that often appears on their list of dreams or goals for English language study. However, I will consider wording to see if it is possible to establish this self-image while avoiding references to specific languages and/or cultural backgrounds.


Ambrose, Susan A. How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.

CBC News. “A history of residential schools in Canada.”  CBC/Radio Canada, 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2014. <>.

Merriam, Sharan B., and Ralph Grover Brockett. The profession and practice of adult education: an introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997. Print.


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