Writing Assignment #4
Language and Identity in Education
In schools across America, students from varying backgrounds subconsciously develop their identities through their interactions with their peers and their teachers. The language they speak, how they speak it, and how others respond or react to their language helps to evolve their developing senses of self. School district policies and teachers can drastically affect how these children see themselves and the world around them. If they’re lucky, they’ll have teachers who have a deep interest in their well-being, who will cherish the student’s different cultural backgrounds while providing them with opportunities for success in their lives after school. On the contrary, they could feel the helplessness that comes with marginalization and be left unable to rise above the oppression. The American Education system needs to improve to better help these nontraditional students succeed while promoting cultural diversity.
When teachers focus solely on teaching Standard English, they ignore the varied backgrounds of their students. While knowing Standard English facilitates what it takes to succeed, nontraditional students may need extra help in understanding and producing it. For instance, children whose first language is Spanish may have trouble pronouncing or spelling words that start with /s-/. They would unintentionally add an /e-/ to the front of the word, as that is how Spanish works (Baugh 1999:23). Furthermore, students’ cultural background could be ignored by how lessons are taught. As an example, Patricia Baquendano-López tells of the difference between a catechism class taught in Standard English and a doctrina class taught in Spanish. While they are basically the same idea, the doctrina class teaches focuses on the vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe and reinforces ideas that help to generate a collective identity for the Mexican students (Baquedano-López 2009:364). On the other hand, in the catechism class learns about the variety of apparitions of the Virgin Mary, instead of just a single instance and one ethnicity (Baquedano-López 2009:374). The two classes provide different meanings to the visions. While it may not necessarily harm the Mexican to learn about the other instances, they may miss out on a big part of their cultural heritage (Baquedano-López 2009:375). Another possibility of focusing too much on Standard English is subtractive bilingualism, which affects more disadvantaged youth than it does other youth. This phenomenon of losing one’s first language impacts a person’s cultural identity by not being able to communicate with relatives who do not speak the child’s other language. It can also have negative influence on a child’s self-esteem. Often these children are stuck between the two languages as they haven’t mastered the academic language yet nor have they continued to develop their family’s language (Lightbown and Spada 2013:32-33). Racism in the classroom presents another roadblock for these children. Many African Americans have reported that their most memorable racist experiences were with teachers and the police. This is especially exacerbating since when parents have had problems gaining and education for themselves their skepticism for their children’s own educational prospects can hinder the relationship between the schools and them. Furthermore, it is difficult for these students to find teachers who are not white (Baugh 1999:21). While linguists and anthropologists have tried to confront linguistic racism, phrases such as “official English” and arguments about the moral panic regarding “Ebonics” permeate textbooks. So even though the experts on language are trying to convince people that all languages and dialects are equal, the education industry hasn’t seemed to completely catch on (Hill 2009:481). When speakers of Black English and speakers of other minority languages have their language seen as...
References: Baugh, John.
1999 Out of the Mouths of Slaves. Texas: U. of Texas Press.
2009 “Creating Social Identities through Doctrina Narratives”. Pp. 364- 377 IN Linguistic Anthropology Second Edition. Alessandro Duranti, ed. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Hill, Jane H.
2009 “Language, Race, and White Public Space”. Pp. 479-492 IN Linguistic Anthropology Second Edition. Alessandro Duranti, ed. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Lightbown, Patsy M. and Nina Spada
2013 How Languages are Learned. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
2009 “The African-American Speech Community: Reality and Sociolinguists”. Pp. 74-92 IN Linguistic Anthropology Second Edition. Alessandro Duranti, ed. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
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