“You Can’t Vote, Right?”: When Language Proficiency is a Proxy for Citizenship in a Civics Classroom


  • Dafney Blanca Dabach University of Washington


civics education, immigration, citizenship, linguistic profiling, English language learners, social studies, U.S. secondary school contexts


This article raises questions at the intersection of immigration, citizenship, and formal civics education. Drawing from positioning theory and critical discourse analysis, this article contrasts episodes in two twelfth-grade classrooms taught by the same teacher. In the general education government class, the teacher registered students to vote, while in her English learner (EL) government class she positioned youth as non-citizens. Students’ language status appeared to serve as a proxy for citizenship status. This article serves as an existence proof that teachers may conflate students’ language status with their citizenship status. Additionally, the article highlights the need for understanding more about how teachers navigate citizenship status when there are real or imagined discontinuities between teachers’ citizenship rightsand students’. The episodes also raise questions about the implications of teaching in settings where youth may potentially have a variety of citizenship statuses (including official citizenship by birth or naturalization, temporary or permanent “legal” resident status, or undocumented status). Ultimately this work contributes to conceptualizing what a more inclusive and equitable civics education would look like for all students, regardless of citizenship status.


Author Biography

Dafney Blanca Dabach, University of Washington

Assistant Professor, College of Education