Friday, May 8, 2020

When Schools Stopped Teaching Standard English

Larry Downing/Reuters
Schools in many English-speaking countries have gradually given up teaching Standard English. One could cite various supporting instances. In England during the past decade, schools have stopped insisting that th be sounded the traditional way instead of as either a v sound or an f sound: So my muvver and I fink so are no longer corrected in the speech of British youth. (Linguists call this “th-fronting.”) In Seattle in 2010, a reviewer of The Chicago Manual of Style declared this “basic of linguistics”: “There really isn’t such a thing as poor grammar, just a variety of contexts.” Even spelling is under attack: In the magazine Wired in February 2012, Anne Trubek argued that snobbery is the only reason for traditional spelling rules. She argued that spell-checkers and autocorrect should be discontinued because we are now past the “print era.”
The core idea among many educators is that we shouldn’t stigmatize regional and class speech habits because that’s equivalent to teaching children that their parents are uneducated or socially unacceptable. Given that most children learn language from their parents, linguistic correction would supposedly damage those children’s self-esteem.
This change in approach marks an about-face in education. In essence, it makes the learning of Standard English optional. It dooms many speakers of English to the dialect into which they were born. It also liberates English teachers by letting them skip English-language lessons and focus entirely on literature, which for many is the more enjoyable aspect of the curriculum.
While growing up in a small college town in the Texas Panhandle, I was exposed to both educated speech and the regional dialect. Some of my friends’ parents would say things like It don’t make me no never mind. Although I never adopted that particular locution, I did as a child often say things like Me and Leslie are fixin’ to go to the store.
My father, a university professor with a doctorate in music education, was continually correcting his sons away from such speech. My mother and grandparents did, too. If I’d been born to a different family, I might well have spent my life speaking the West Texas dialect. But then maybe not: The English teachers in Canyon were also constantly correcting their pupils’ grammar and pronunciation in the 1960s and 1970s.
Airplane! - Jive Scene with Translation
But imagine being a public-school teacher today in a more racially and linguistically diverse community. Imagine being one of the few speakers of Standard English in a classroom and telling 90 percent of your students that the way they say something is “wrong.” If you try to soften that judgment with a circumlocution, you’re probably not helping matters: “appropriate to some dialects but not to Standard English, which is what I’m trying to teach you.”
“What is Standard English?” you hear from a pupil.
Read the rest from Bryan A. Garner HERE.

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