Becoming American: Adult Refugees at the Intersection of Language Learning and Civic Education
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As the number of refugees being resettled in the United States continues to climb, researchers and policy makers alike have called for additional exploration of the ways in which communities of resettlement and refugees can work together to facilitate the integration process. A significant milestone in this process is the achievement of citizenship in that it can represent a sense of legal and social belonging. Because of the power behind this potentially transformative process, this dissertation sought to understand the ways in which a classroom of adult refugee students preparing for the citizenship exam were socialized into understandings of “good” citizenship, as well as exploring the mediating role of English in this process. Data were collected one to three times a week over a ten month period in a civics-based English as a Second Language classroom. Field notes, transcriptions of classroom discourse and interviews, as well as classroom materials went through several rounds of descriptive and pattern coding in order to uncover the major thematic categories present in the data set. This helped to highlight the ways in which “good” citizenship was conceptualized and presented in the civics-based ESL class while also bringing to light the ways in which civic curricular content was privileged over linguistic content. From there, I drew on my theoretical framework of critical theory and language socialization to analyze the ways in which students were socialized and apprenticed by the instructors of the class. Findings show that the understanding of “good” citizenship presented through the classroom materials and classroom discourse mirrors an institutional understanding of “good” citizenship in that it is monolithic and constrained. Despite the diverse background of the United States as a country made up of significant numbers of immigrants, both historically and currently, there are few references to culturally or linguistically diverse citizens and no discussion of the impact immigrant groups have had on the United States. Instead, models of “good” citizenship are predominantly Caucasian, male native-born citizens. This could make it difficult for the students of the civics-based ESL class to envision themselves as “good” American citizens. Additionally, although proficiency in English was clearly framed as a requirement of “good” citizenship and component of the classroom instruction, teachers did not devote equal amounts of time and resources to both linguistic and civic content in the classroom context. The privileging of civic content is problematic as proficiency in English is evaluated as a part of the naturalization interview. If this class claims to prepare students for the naturalization process, then it should address each component of the interview process equally. The practical implications of this study are considered on both a macro and micro level. Possible policy implications are brought to light in an attempt to speak back to recent changes to the naturalization process. Although changes were made to that naturalization interview in an attempt to foster a more authentic and deeper level of content comprehension, the structure and content of the naturalization interview still supports a surface-level memorization of facts and information as sufficient for passing the interview. Furthermore, the linguistic component of the interview should be clarified and standardized. Specific recommendations for adult educational programs are provided in an attempt to highlight areas in which instructional practice can be further developed. Although many agencies are faced with limited resources and rely on volunteers to help with staffing needs, it is still possible to offer high quality programming that is appropriately tailored to the target population. As education is both a foundational component of integration and a stepping stone to achieving other means of integration, it is critical that the quality of education offered is continually pushed for improvement.