Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Linguistic Awareness: Going beyond "Teaching to the Test"

In the political realm, there's been a tremendous degree of focus on "accountability," particularly in education.  In reading the article by Horner, et.al., I'm struck by certain parallels between the "traditional" approaches to linguistic diversity and today's model of "teaching to the test" which has resulted from "No Child Left Behind."  The challenge for educators, I think, is to prepare students to meet what Michael-Luna and Canagarajah identify as the "high stakes" game of writing in Higher Education" while also convincing non-educators of the value of linguistic diversity, as Tardy advocates.


The problem, however, is that most people who are not familiar with linguistic theory will probably not be receptive to the idea that differences in the perceived "standard" language should be tolerated - especially within the expensive and presently devalued location of the classroom.  Economic desperation has, I think, caused many non-educators to label movements toward academic diversity as a "waste of time," and they don't realize that the implied cultural isolation of monolingualism is itself a form of classist culturalism which then reinforces structural racism from childhood onward.  For example, because children from the inner city are taught to believe that they "can't talk right," they don't believe in themselves enough to consider pursuing additional education - and I would argue that it isn't really until college that students are really placed in classrooms which are equipped to address the issues of code-meshing which Michael-Luna and Canagarajah view as being so important to helping language learners adapt to high-stakes writing.

Unfortunately, ignorance among non-educators (and among many educators outside of linguistics) is hurting our students, both those who already use the dominant codes and those who are not equipped with those codes.  As Horner, et. al, point out, "mastery" leads to a false sense of security (307) among students - instead, students need to see that they are still developing, regardless of where they are linguistically.  To have a student complete ENG 101 and then think "I've learned writing" would seem absurd, but we know that there are students who graduate college or graduate high school thinking that they'd "mastered" language because they always earned A's in their writing courses.

Horner, et. al, recommend that we help students better develop the "repertoire" of linguistic resources available (308), and I feel that this is a good approach.  However, it's problematic for me in that we would need to expect our teachers to also pick up this repertoire before they begin teaching, and I don't know that our universities are currently equipped to do this.  We would need basic textbooks on linguistics prepared for every primary and secondary school teacher, and I don't know that universities would want to add in the courses necessary for this to really take hold.

Horner, et. al., do advocate resisting the standard political ideology - for example, they refer to the "standard English speaker" and "standard written English" as bankrupt concepts, and that we should not accept the sway of standard political ideology (305) - but we are facing some very economic concerns behind the political impulses which limit our linguistic instruction.

I'm not sure a good way to respond to that issue aside from improving the economy, though...


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