Plurilingual STEAM and School Lunches for Learning?: Beyond Folklorization in Language Education

Plurilingual STEAM and School Lunches for Learning?: Beyond Folklorization in Language Education

Daniel Roy Pearce, Mayo Oyama, Danièle Moore, Yuki Kitano, Emiko Fujita
DOI: 10.4018/IJBIDE.2021070103
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In Japan, where there is a bias toward English-only in foreign language education, there are also grassroots efforts to introduce greater plurality in the classroom. However, introducing diverse languages and cultures into the classroom can lead to folklorization, the delivering of essentialized information in pre-packaged formats, which can potentially delegitimize other languages and cultures. This contribution examines a collaborative integrative plurilingual STEAM practice at an elementary school in Western Japan. In the ‘school lunches project,' the children experience various international cuisine, leading up to which they would engage with related languages and cultures through collaboratively produced plurilingual videos and museum-like exhibits of cultural artifacts. The interdisciplinary, hands-on, experiential learning within this project helped the children to develop an investigative stance toward linguistic and cultural artifacts, nurture a deeper awareness of languages and openness to diversity, foster reflexivity, and encourage interdisciplinary engagement.
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In 2020, foreign languages were introduced as a compulsory subject in elementary schools in Japan, a context in which English is often viewed as the only useful foreign language for international communication and is given priority at all levels of education (Oyama & Yamamoto, 2020). Cognizant of the fact that the globalized world is not just English, calls have been made to include greater linguistic and cultural diversity into the curriculum.

These calls have not been entirely unheeded. While government policy states that the target language to be taught is “in principle, English,” (MEXT, 2017a, p.164/178), the accompanying commentary to the national curriculum at least pays lip service to languages and cultures beyond the traditional Anglosphere:

Many people in the world speak languages other than English. Therefore, in order to understand the people in the world, it is important to take into account the daily lives of people who use languages other than English. (MEXT, 2017b, p. 134, translation ours)

Nevertheless, little top-down information is provided for teachers as to how other languages or cultures should be incorporated into lessons, and government-prepared teaching materials, as well as much of the literature, remain entirely focused on English.

This English-only bias is perhaps most conspicuous in policy documents surrounding Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and “local human resources with English ability” (MEXT, 2017a, p.162/178), both foreign and Japanese, employed to provide linguistic (primarily English) support, as well as to act as ‘cultural informants.’ Despite the fact that nearly a third of ALTs come from countries outside of the traditional Anglosphere, and most ALTs are at least bilingual (Pearce, 2021), policy documents consistently refer to ALTs as monolingual speakers of English, and there is no official recognition of linguistic or cultural diversity in their population or the local community, nor how this might be incorporated into lessons (Pearce, 2021).

Despite monolingualizing trends in educational policy, there is a growing movement to include greater linguistic and cultural diversity in the foreign language curriculum (e.g., Nishiyama, 2017). Given the diversity of the ALT and volunteer population, there is also a preexisting wealth of cultural information and experience to be capitalized upon. However, when introducing other cultures in the classroom, particularly those that the teachers or students are not familiar with, there is also a danger of essentialization; oversimplifying and stereotyping content, sometimes referred to as ‘folklorization’ (McDowell, 2010; explored further in the next section).

Within this context, we focus on an ongoing grassroots STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) project, centered around plurilingual foreign language classes, and conducted in tandem with nutrition teachers, members of the local community, and language teaching assistants. We will trace the development and implementation of the project which weaves together foreign language, intercultural education, and school lunches while promoting openness and fostering awareness through experiential engagement with a plurality of foreign cultures and languages.

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