Friday, December 5, 2008

one pager

I believe in education as a means of empowerment, but I wonder about those who cannot and do not have realistic access to education; how does education preserve or ignore their interests, particularly, what role does Standard English (SE) play? If SE exists and is taught to unite English language users, why do many feel oppressed by it? This question addresses both SE users and non-SE users. The oppression of non-SE users is obvious: SE dilutes their culture by moralizing their language as inferior, it distances them from communicating with others in their culture, and SE acquisition is difficult. The oppression of SE upon SE users is less obvious (possibly because of their fluency with SE): only knowing SE could limit their cultural awareness and their ability to communicate with other language users.
Professor of education, Joel Spring, provides a brief account of the history of English in America, using the term “linguistic genocide” to describe the methods Europeans used to destroy other cultures and assimilate them in the American English culture. English Professor, Gerald Delahunty, continues the history of English, citing Samuel Johnson’s dictionary in 1755 as an attempt to “fix”, or stop the evolution of the English language. Culture is still somewhat preserved in the form of non-standard dialects of English, and the language inevitably continues to evolve.
Why and how did SE emerge? A student of Bob Fecho observes that “white people created SE” not for everyone, but for white people (Fecho 384). Professor Kenneth Lindbloom makes a similar observation, using the beliefs of a 19th century English Professor who concludes that wealthier students have better English than poorer students, blaming the “moralizing” of SE above non-standard forms, citing the terminology of “good” and “bad” English, as well as mentioning a student “ashamed of…her immigrant grandparents” non-standard English (Lindbloom 2). Both Fecho and Lindbloom identify a power dynamic, race and class, that exists between SE and non-standard English.
Evidence of a more inclusive form of English is found among two educators. Professor Deborah Vriend Van Duin manages to encorporate non-standard dialects in her classroom of SE users; the reactions vary. Some of her students are able to “identify grammatical patterns” in the dialects, while a frustrated student translates the non-standard dialects in a more readable SE (Duin 3). ELL paraeducator Trudie McEvoy encorporates her students’ native language, Spanish, into their assimilation of English – a method that contradicts the school’s “English only” ELL policy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

RQ response

Since my topic addresses standard english, the Gee, Delpit, and Fecho articles have all been fairly relevant, as are some of the articles on English journal. I think my main problem lies in how each of these writers seems to settle for compromise in each situation; Fecho appreciates his students' inquiries into language, but standard english is not defeated or even given a shared status with other non-standard forms. This is the bias I'm bringing to the assignment, and this may be why most of the articles I've read frustrate me: the writers begin by critiquing the problem, then seem to shrug during its dissection, as if identifying the problem is most of the victory. I don't expect a complete victory, but I don't accept a complete compromise either.

Friday, October 24, 2008

what is standard english?

One of Fecho's students in his article had a particular insight that challenges standard english. The student acknowledged that standard english has a good purpose, but that it was invented for and by white people without any consideration for other users of the language. Even though learning standard english is a struggle for various people, it is typically easier for whites to acquire it than for blacks because white students use it at home and in schools. Comedian Eddie Izzard paraphrased England's day of imperialism as simply sticking flags in different places and calling all those places England, regardless of the people already living there. In this way, I believe that while a standard has the potential to unite language users, it has the same potential to disconnect them.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

language investigation 3

Writing has been my choice of preoccupation for most my life. The crux
of this preoccupation has been school: school advocates writing, but the
writing must conform to set expectations. Schools do not destroy the styles and voices of students, instead they conform them, which is arguably worse. Most of the formal, academic papers I read, regardless their subject, have the same, sterile voice. Journalist Hunter Thompson gained his reputation much like today's John Stewart has, through subjectivity. Readers and viewers know that both men are reporting through filters of opinion, yet it is their opinions that people appreciate and identify with. Unlike Thompson and Stewart, public education over-emphasizes the conventions of language to the point that it hinders the personality of the writer. Many taboos exist in the academic world of writing, yet many of these same taboos are celebrated in the world of fiction and poetry. For instance, the trope of hyperbole is typically accepted in fiction but not nonfiction, thus limiting the writer's range of expression.
Learning the conventions of writing is important, but I believe that many personal biases have crossed the boundary of conventions and distorted the relationship many people have had or could have had with writing. I was raised on the "5 paragraph essay": my essays were to be 5 paragraphs, and each paragraph was to contain between 5 and 8 sentences, I think even the thesis had its specific placement in the first paragraph. This structure was abandoned in college and the later years of high school, though other biases are still prevalent (like not starting a sentence with "And" or ending a sentence with a preposition). Rules have their place in the discipline, but there should be teachers demonstrating to students that the rules still allow for creativity.
Standardized testing and the preparation for higher education come to mind as the justifications for teaching the importance of structure and conventions. Though I am unable to distinguish between how public education has influenced my present writing, I think that my writing creatively helped preserve my development. I did take creative writing courses in high school and loved creative writing assignments in elementary and middle school. These are important because they allow (to a degree) for a student to develop her/his writing in a more acceptable outlet.
What is the popular saying? - To beat the system you must work within the system - While I don't like the word "beat" here (and maybe I've got the quote wrong)I do not see this as a negative reality. In order to improve students' relationship with writing, it will require teachers to instigate their relationships. To disregard conventions completely will not change things as much as demonstrating how conventions can be used for expressive, confident purposes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

rose ch. 5-6

1. Rose believes he connected most with the veterans, and he began to design their curriculum. For the sake of the students and his confidence regarding his new responsibility, Rose leafed through numerous texts to create his lesson plan. Unlike the criteria by which he measured his former fourth and fifth graders by (grammar, conventions), Rose addressed the critical thinking of the veterans. The writing remained personal and reflective, but the content Rose was interested in was different.
4. Generalization: Most of the students in Rose’s course were “troubled” in some way or another, like Vietnam veterans or the substance abusers, etc. Whatever their “trouble” they have all recognized the necessity of school for their betterment. In this context, the students are not troubled because their personal life has affected their education, but instead that their lack of education has been the cause of trouble with their personal life.
Writerly moves: Rose empathizes with the personal lives of his students and applies it to the course work. For instance, while the topic of Vietnam could be interesting for many students to discuss, he is aware of how difficult it could be, as well.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Several of the investigations involved word-transformations, or, a word that was slightly altered, then that word was slightly altered, and so on until a new word existed and the word from which it originated was no longer in use. This is perhaps a sliver of the history of our current words and their entomologies and how language can change within the course of a small family history. Also, almost everyone had phrases that were unique to their family and foreign to those outside the family. Language can be very private and exclusive (or inclusive) in many instances, without meaning to.

Monday, September 1, 2008

language investigation 1

The two words that first come to mind aren’t unfamiliar, although I never hear anyone else use them: Mama, Papa. This is what I always call my parents, preferring these pronouns to Mom and Dad. Mama and Papa are rhythmic, trochaic, and informal. I also feel that these words have more opportunities for inflection than most parental pronouns, such as Mom and Dad, which are short words. They’re palindromes, but boring palindromes. To me, Mom and Dad sound too generic, words without affection because of their overuse, but I suppose that at one time my preference of Mama and Papa was generic, as well. I didn’t always use these words. I think I got them from foreign languages (which I don’t speak), particularly the Italian film, 8 ½, whose protagonist uses both words: Mama, Papa, pronounced with a kindred affinity, the type found in folktales or in movies set in the past. Mama and Papa seem to be antiquated words, now, and in that process they have also developed connotations with being a vocabulary of children (I can think of many more instances in which children use the words Mama and Papa more than adults).

You have to understand (or some variation of this phrase), followed by either an opinion or observation by my parents. I can’t remember if they’ve always said this or if recently they’ve said it more often. Politically, I identify as a progressive and my parents identify as liberals. For years we’ve spent our meals arguing about politics and the planet, which we apparently enjoy. You have to understand…they’ll introduce one of their ideas, or counter one of mine. I’ve heard this phrase from many people, but from others it lacks sincerity and feels more abrasive. From another mouth, You have to understand has a “talking down” sound to it, yet from my parents it sounds constructive. This is perhaps unfair, I realize, to primarily have a good connotation of a phrase when my family uses it but a suspicious connotation when other use it. Maybe someone else ruined its reputation for me, or maybe it’s because the sentence is in a hostile command form You have to… and I’ve allowed my parents to get away with using it.

My sister and I use quotes and voices and gestures around each other quite a bit, so often that neither of us can remember where our expressions come from. Gross McClose! I’ve yelled hundreds of times, and I’m almost positive my sister and I coined this phrase because I’ve spent years asking people where this is from and nobody is familiar with it. My sister, however, isn’t familiar with it, either. Perhaps I’ll discover the origin of this phrase and be disappointed that it’s part of my immediate vocabulary.