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08

May

What students need is not models of correctness—-they have their own anyway— but a broader understanding of the intricate connection between one’s language and his cultural experience, combined with insight into political nature and social stratification of American dialects. They need to see how language is not something decreed from on High but an evolutionary dynamic, fluctuating according to the dictates of its users; those users of words, who, to paraphrase LeRoi Jones, have the power to define reality: those dialect pace-setters, who in America happen to be white and middle class. It is axiomatic that if Black English would be the prestige idiom. This is a point which cannot be stressed too often, for frequently we find even Black students themselves whit a negative image of they speech. They too have been brainwashed about the “inherent and Absolute rightness” of white, middle-class dialect and do not realize that language can/has been for Black people in America a tool of oppression. On the other hand, while the Black junior high school students I interview all conceded that their speech was “wrong” according to school standards, none said that they would change their dialect nor that of their parents or their peers. It is obvious, then, that only educational institutions—English Teachers in particular—-and the dominant culture, which unfortunately, schools reflect rather than lead, make Black ghetto students feel that their language and experience are negative and inconsequential.
English Teacher, Why You be Doing the Thangs You Don’t do? (1972) Geneva Smitherman (via howtobeterrell)
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