Reconciling Multilingualisms: Teacher Identity and Language Diversity in Moroccan Public Schools
Gareth Smail

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

Honoring linguistic diversity in education has become an increasingly globalized norm. Both academic scholarship and multilateral institutions such as the U.N. have come to promote educational approaches that build on students’ linguistic backgrounds as an effective and empowering alternative to schooling in a single language. In Morocco, new policies to embrace linguistic diversity in education have reversed the country’s post-independence emphasis on Standard Arabic. This has entailed officializing Morocco’s long-marginalized Tamazight language, as well as incorporating more avenues for so-called international languages like French and English. Nonetheless, Morocco’s new multilingualism has largely retained an emphasis on standardized varieties of these languages that are significantly different from the vernacular Arabic and Tamazight that schoolchildren speak at home.Through a linguistic ethnography conducted in Morocco’s Middle Atlas region, this dissertation explores the dilemmas Moroccan teachers face as they enact this new state multilingualism. It focuses on a group of teachers tasked with introducing a new ‘creative’ language arts program in a community with its own longstanding vernacular bilingualism. It analyzes how the teachers—as simultaneously community members, agents of the state, and aspirants to a global class of professional educators—document and describe their own multilingual pedagogical practices as they attempt to establish legitimacy for their novel project. In doing so, it contributes to ongoing conceptualizations of language diversity in education as inextricable from the politics of identity.
About Gareth Smail
Gareth Smail is a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. His research brings together linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and education to explore the intersection of discourse, identity, and language learning. Empirically, his research examines the social practices around language learning as a window into the changing nature of class and identity politics in the Middle East and North Africa. His current project, which focuses on the various ways in which multilingualism has been defined, valued, and pursued in Morocco, has been funded by the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship and the American Institute for Maghrib Studies Academic-Year Fellowship.Prior to his doctoral studies, Gareth worked for six years in the international development sector. As a Peace Corp Volunteer in Morocco, he served for two years as an educator in the village of Moulay Bouazza in the Middle Atlas region. He then worked as a project manager and consultant on various international development projects funded by USAID and the World Bank. Gareth also spent a year in Algeria researching language education with the Centre d’études maghrébines en Algérie. He holds an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University and B.A. in International Studies from American University.

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