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The three articles deal with Somali Diaspora, and they focus mainly on how these Somalis get along with education in other countries. Somali is known throughout the world as one of the most unstable countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that the educational system in Somali suffers a sharp decline. In this respect, Somalis who migrate to other countries for refuge from the turmoil in their country often find themselves in difficult situations as far as education is concerned. However, this paper will focus on the representation of the difficulties of Somali immigrants into the US by the authors of the articles. Special emphasis will be laid on the difficulties of Somali students in ESL classes.
When Somalis migrate to English speaking countries, they need to communicate with the natives of the country. Therefore, it goes without saying that Somali immigrants into English-speaking countries such as the US need to learn the language. The authors of these three articles have focused on the experiences of Somalis as they try to acquire a new language.
The authors have depicted the process of learning the English language by Somali immigrants as an overtly difficult endeavor filled with many traumatic and humiliating experiences. They have laid more emphasis on the negative aspects of ESL learning while giving far less attention to the bright side of learning in ESL classrooms. As a result, the authors have depicted a somewhat negative image of ESL, leaving a lot to be desired.
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For example, Johnson and Heacock (2007) illustrate a situation where one elementary school teacher teaching ESL expressed her frustrations at the Somali learners, saying that many Somali children who attended her class had grown up in refugee camps, meaning that they were not familiar with the norms that guided student behavior at school. The teacher said that the Somali students did not know how to sit up in class, pay attention or how to act in school. The author then makes a remark that such teachers should be made familiar with expected student behavior.
While what the authors say is true, there is a certain generalization that their remark bears. It presumes that all Somali immigrants are barely educated, primitive and unfamiliar with the “western” ways and culture. This may not be entirely true, because of two reasons. First, it is common knowledge that the system in Somali is one that borders anarchy, and there are, therefore, very few routes out of the country. This implies that Somalis who migrate to western countries such as the US transit through other countries such as Kenya. Kenya is a fairly civilized country. Chances are that the Somali immigrants while on transit in Kenya pick up a few traits that may aid their interaction with US citizens, when they eventually land in the US.
Secondly, there are Somali immigrants who migrate to the US well versed with basic education, having acquired the education either in their mother country through the help of NGO’s, or in other countries. Therefore, the generalization of the author unnecessarily paints a negative image of Somali immigrants.
This is not to say that the authors have misrepresented the situation on the ground. However, they have not documented enough positive experiences that Somalis undergo in the course of ESL. For instance, even among the Somali population, there are children who are unimaginably bright and fast learners. We would expect that such students receive accolades from their teachers, but the authors have not spoken of any such instance. Consequently, the authors have represented an imbalanced view of the ESL depicting the exercise mostly as a humiliating and traumatizing experience for Somali immigrants and giving very little, if any, insights into the positive experiences of these Somali immigrants into the US.
Secondly, the authors have stated that the wide cultural divide between the residents of the US and the Somali immigrants is mostly responsible for the difficulties that Somali immigrants experience during their ESL education. To some extent, this statement is true. However, it does not take care of other factors that may bring about difficulty in studying English as the second language. For example, studying a second language is not always easy, even for American students studying French for the first time. This is demonstrable even in Hispanic students trying to learn English for the first time. They find it difficult to fit into the lifestyle of the US. This has not been taken into consideration in the work of these authors. A case in point is when Mohomed et al. state that the deep cultural divide, between the Somalis’ traditional cultural life and US society, results in humiliation as they face life in the US. This is true, but it paints a wrong picture. The truth is that life in the US is starkly different from life in most parts of the world. Several traditional cultures exist, and when a person moves to the US, they acquire the new culture pretty fast. Therefore, it is not entirely true that the problems that Somali students taking ESL face are a product of the deep cultural divide between the Somalis and US residents.
In the same breath, there are aspects of Somali culture that, instead of making life difficult for the immigrants, should actually make life much easier. Interestingly, these have not been adequately addressed in any of the papers. For instance, Mohomed et al. (2006) say that Somali men earn their prestige and respect, and age is important because the Somalis believe that the older people are, the more wisdom they have. As such, children from the Somali culture have no problems respecting older people. In the school set up, this would come in handy as teachers are usually adults while the students are children. Therefore, we would logically expect Somali children to be more behaved, obedient and respectful to their ESL teachers than their counterparts from other countries that do not share the same tenets. Nowhere in the three articles has even one such example been mentioned. Rather, the articles are riddled with instances where the teachers have questioned whether the Somali culture can get any worse. A case in point, in Mohomed et al. (2006), is when one researcher was asked by a teacher whether back in Somali children are allowed to behave “like this”(misbehave). While it is true, the information is presented in a skewed way. In other words, the authors have not given corresponding wealth of information as far as the positive aspects of Somali culture are involved. Therefore, the resultant picture that they have painted is that Somali culture can only present difficulties when it is mixed with a foreign culture.
Johnson and Heacock (2007), while trying to demystify the important elements of education in both the Somali and US systems, admit that one of the two educational systems is superior to the other, but they do not go further to elaborate which one the better of the two is. Furthermore, they fail to state just how they reach this conclusion. Indeed, the interviews in their work depict a scenario where Somali parents have more faith in the education “back home” than the US educational system. They base their arguments on the relative seriousness with which both the learners and their parents take education in both countries. They also base their arguments on the early curriculum and how early the children start school in both countries.
The authors of this article leave the conclusion on which the educational system is better to the imagination of the reader. However, they greatly tilt the argument in favor of American schools in two ways. First of all, they say that the interviewees who were questioned were actually Somali parents. The authors go ahead to give an example of a parent who was interviewed on the same issues and claimed not to know what her child was studying. In effect, this serves to tell the reader that although the views of Somali parents reflected their belief that the Somali system was better than the US system, this belief is based on misinformation and heresy, and not knowledge and understanding.
Another way in which the authors of this article create a bias towards the superiority of the American system is by making college education the subject of the interview of American parents. While the Somali parents were simply asked about what they thought about education in Somali as compared to education in the US, American parents were asked what they thought the importance of education was, plus whether or not college education was crucial for life. This simply shows that the authors would wish the reader to believe that, in the US, the education system is based on concrete facts and professionalism while the Somali educational system is not grounded on equally solid and issue-based grounds.
Indeed, the authors of the three articles have tried a great deal to depict the situation pretty much as it is on the ground. However, there is no denying that the information depicted in the three articles is greatly skewed, and indeed, it could represent biased views. The authors have not presented the information in a completely unbiased way to assail the qualms of the reader. Moreover, they have actually made a statement to the effect that the Somali culture is mostly responsible for the difficulties that Somali students face while trying to acquire education in the United States.
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