Yes, you read the title correctly, is writing "white" essential? Hey, that rhymes! As a black woman, among other things, I have been asking myself this question for a long time. Because of my mild British ancestry and the fact that they colonized one-third of the world, I believe I have a say in how the language is utilized. But I don’t want to get off track too much. Now let's get back to my argument. Is it necessary for students to write proper English or does it harm them? That's what I want to explore.
You will find that higher education was built on the exclusivity of who gets access to education and its quality. It also includes the way language is used. This attitude is even carried outside of the academic sphere by some. Controls the way a person speaks or writes. An example: formal tones are preferred to sound professional, avoiding clichés, contractions, and jargon. As well as avoiding parenthetic words. Including idioms, weak modifiers, and passivity.
It is substantial to understand the nuances of this problem. Especially when considering the history, gatekeeping, and quality of sociolinguistics in education. Nearly thirty years ago, a study found that black students were more likely to fail their studies than their counterparts from other cultural backgrounds. This study was conducted by the late anthropologist John Uzo Ogbu, who wrote Beyond Language: Ebonics, Proper English, and Identity in a Black-American Speech Community. The California education board conducted a study in the mid-1990s to solve the Ebonics problem. They proposed the California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) and attributed their overrepresentation of special education to their performance in language assessment tests by 71% (P.148 Ogbu). In this analysis, Ogbu states "The problem with sociolinguistics studies is that research hasn't been able to correlate attitudes and behaviors of dialects into educational studies.”
It is important to keep in mind that educational integration only took place sixty-nine years ago. When discussing the nuance of education and sociolinguistics, and how to dismantle racism embedded in academic frameworks, there is much to be reformed and learned. Institutional learning structures were built to gatekeep and cater to white populations. Without a doubt, those who didn't assimilate would be left behind. Students' learning success and career prospects are affected by this alone.
In From Race to Racism: The Politics of "Race" Language in "Postmodern Education", Antonia Arder and Rodolfo Torres examine how marginalized students can achieve academic success. When it comes to culturally democratic school reform, both authors believe that racial relations and political economy cannot be ignored. So, what does that mean? It means that educators should build genuine relationships with their students from different backgrounds. A white student from an affluent background should be held to the same standards as all other students. Or as the co-authors put it “racialized expectations held by teachers toward students of different communities, and their attitude toward the achievement potential of these students...” ultimately affect their learning experience. Moreover, they claim that a "new language" is required. What is that exactly? Recasting and reinterpreting educational issues in a specific language, and constructing educational theory and practice that are culturally democratic. This can provide an effective educational policy for the development of emancipatory principles, according to Arder and Torres.
According to Scott Ferry, contributing writer to The Inclusion Solution, there is a mild advantage to this problem. People can communicate across cultural barriers thanks to the ubiquity of standard English. However, when weaponized or communicated in a less effective manner, these assets become liabilities. Ferry acknowledges this problem in By Whose Standards? "Standard English has been socialized to be the preferred dialect in formal settings such as government, schools, and world places, and it is no longer correct." This issue is linked to prestige because standard English is associated with wealth and power.
This is challenging for individuals whose first language is not English. This insidious sentiment finds its way into the workplace as well. Having limited English proficiency, for instance, reduces your credibility and efficiency. Additionally, having such does not guarantee success or intelligence. Furthermore, Ferry claims that language gatekeepers "use our language system as a weapon" by objecting to new words. These “gatekeepers” spend decades mastering standard English, only to see it replaced by text-speak and emojis. “Its resentment is born of the perception of losing power and influence.” Ferry finishes off by affirming that codeswitching is an effective cross-cultural communication.
Ultimately, I agree with these authors that when people in power adhere to what is considered "professional," we hurt collectives, since outside formal spaces these rules do not apply! Standard English can create a language barrier that hinders communication. We should recognize the importance of nonstandard language, as it can provide insight into a person's culture, identity, and history. Furthermore, nonstandard language can help bridge the divide between different cultures and societies. The latter gets to the point of what one is trying to convey, unlike the tedious dialogue in standard English that sounds affluent. So, it is my hope to create a space where I and my future students can learn from each other. Peace out!
Day Sibley is a multidisciplinary artist based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Art and literature have always been a passion of hers since a very young age. Her work is primarily concerned with faith, politics, self, and human experiences. Furthermore, Day founded two magazines, Dream Noir magazine and Words of the Lamb magazine. Currently, she is pursuing a degree in secondary education at Nevada State University, and she had previously worked in the healthcare industry.
Ogbu, John U. “Beyond Language: Ebonics, Proper English, and Identity in a Black-American Speech Community.” American Educational Research Journal, vol. 36, no. 2, 1999, pp. 147–84. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1163537. Accessed 1 Nov. 2023.
Darder, Antonia & Torres, Rodolfo. (1997). From race to racism: The politics of “race” language in “postmodern education”. New Political Science. 19. 89-95. 10.1080/07393149708429788.
Ferry, Scott. “By Whose Standards? The Gatekeepers of ‘Proper’ English.” The Inclusion Solution, 14 Oct. 2021, theinclusionsolution.me/by-whose-standards-the-gatekeepers-of-proper-english/.