Things are Heating Up

General Question: How’s everyone’s thesis process going?  😊

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The more I dive into my deep reading, the more excited I become about my thesis and the whole process of studying a topic that has become close to my heart, almost like a child. (Mind you, I have no children, but I do have a lot of nieces and nephews.) I am very protective of this topic of AAVE (African American Vernacular English); but beyond that, I am curious about it. I want to know it’s “favorite color” or “what makes it itch,” I want to know every single detail and as much as possible. Studying and taking notes more this past week made me realize that I forgot I was in a class for this and eventually will receive a grade for this. I am working hard to produce something pretty awesome for my own pleasure and ambitions. With that being said, let’s dive in!

So last week I was relieved to know that I am on the right track! (Phew). The reading list that I had in my previous blog was a good start to building a Literature Review. Obviously, between working full time and going to school full time, I can’t read 20 pieces of literature in seven days. So for now, I started with four new readings and one continuation.

  1. Bell Hooks: Black Looks, Race and Representation: This book had so many interesting points when it came to talking about black people and the way their representation effects not only their lives but how it’s metaphorically embedded in their DNA when it comes to their clothes or music. However, that representation is considered cool or current, but when it comes down to history or what a black person deals with daily, it’s considered everything under the sun except being cool. Within the first chapter, I saw a lot of great points that she made that could be used in my thesis (possibly), but I don’t see this being a book that is the main part of it. Here are the points that could be used for my thesis:
  • “We have to change our own mind…we’ve got to change our own minds about each other. We have to see each other with new eyes. We have to come together with warmth…” -Malcolm X (Hooks, pg 16)
  • Every aware black person who has been the “only” in an all-white setting knows that in such a position we are often called upon to lend an ear to racist narratives, to laugh at corny race jokes, to undergo various forms of racist harassment. (pg 16)
  • And that self-segregation seems to be particularly intense among those black college students who were often raised in material privilege in predominately white settings where they were socialized to believe racism did not exist, that we were all “just human beings,” and then suddenly leave home and enter institutions and experience racist attacks. (pg 16)
  • While it has become “cool” for white folks to hang out with black people and express pleasure in black culture, most white people do not feel that this pleasure should be linked to unlearning racism…(pg 17)
  • As long as black folks are taught that the only way we can gain any degree of economic self-sufficiency or be materially privileged is by first rejecting blackness, our history, and culture, then there will always be a crisis in black identity. (pg 18)
  • Internalized racism will continue to erode collective struggle for self-determination. (pg 18)

2. Paulo Freire: Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Freire is a brilliant scholar and based off of this book I truly admire what he writes about. However, like Hooks, I feel as if this is not what my thesis is going to be surrounded by. He spoke about oppressors and oppressed and how these groups work in the world of class, power, race, and identity. I can see this being apart of my thesis literature review, but for a Doctorate Degree. His points and topic would broaden my specific topic of AAVE too much instead of helping focus on one thing. These points I found interesting:

  • The “fear of freedom” which afflicts the oppressed, a fear which may equally well lead them to desire the role of the oppressor or bind them to the role of oppressed, should be examined. (pg 46)
  • The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. (pg 47)
  • Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility, (pg 47)
  • Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man, nor is it an idea which becomes a myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion. (pg 47)
  • However, the oppressed, who have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed, and have become resigned to it, are inhibited from waging the struggle for freedom so long as they feel incapable for running the risks it requires. Moreover, their struggle for freedom threatens not only the oppressor but also their own oppressed comrades who are fearful of still greater repression. (pg 47).
  • The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They can not see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have. For them, having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired through their own “effort” with their “courage to take risks.” If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the “generous gestures” of the dominant class. Precisely because they are “ungrateful” and “envious” the oppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched. (pg 59)

3. Lisa Delpit: Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom: This book has so many points and pieces of information that I have a separate Google Doc just for Delpit. (Click Here to see it). There were specific quotes that I would like to mention here because they made me think about my “Burning Question” and I feel like I am getting closer to finding out what it is.

  • The children in Trackton, in short, read to learn things, for real purposes. When these children arrived in school they faced another reality, They were required, instead, to “learn to read,” that is, they were told to focus on the process of reading with little apparent real purposes in mind other than to get through a basal page or complete a worksheet – and much of this they were to accomplish in isolation, Needless to say, they were not successful at the decontextualized, individualized school reading tasks. (pg 63)
  • Those who have acquired additional codes because their local language differs significantly from the language of the national culture may actually be in a better position to gain access to the global culture than “mainstream” Americans who, as Martha says, “only know one way to talk.” Rather than think of these diverse students as problems, we can view them instead as resources who can help all of us learn what it feels like to move between cultures and language varieties, and thus perhaps better learn how to become citizens of the global community. (pg 69)
  • Rather than teach decontextualized operations, she would typically first pose a “real-life” problem and challenge the students to find a solution. (pg 65)
  • To give some background information, Delpit gave examples and quoted other scholars and teachers; they were making the point that black students learn in a different way than white students would. There needs to be a purpose for learning and using it for real-life situations. Black students do not have a disadvantage because they speak AAVE, but rather it is the concept of learning differently. Here is the example I thought of:
  • My favorite TV is A Different World (About students at an HBCU (Historically Black College)). One of the characters, Lena James, comes from a rough neighborhood in Baltimore but comes to college to receive an education. She is having trouble with calculus until her professor, Dwayne Wayne, is able to relate calculus to something she is passionate about or something she could relate to. It is present that she speaks AAVE but is certainly not dumb or “less than” because of it. All the professor had to do was relate it to the student, and she succeeded. (The part I’m talking about stops at 31 seconds of the video. Also, I apologize for the bad quality!)

 

So far, I have two main points for my thesis. The first one comes from the quote I made in my previous blog about people or specifically students who can speak in more than one way, as an advantage. The stigma that African Americans speak “improper” is considered “less than” but in reality, they know how to speak in two ways (or more), which would be AAVE and “Standard English.” The second one is that AAVE is not acceptable in an academic setting but what about if the language could be accepted in the classroom, would there be a change in grades, behavior, and confidence in the students? Delpit and her fellow scholars say yes.

3. Felicia R. Lee: Lingering Conflict in the Schools: Black Dialect vs. Standard Speech: This article was amazing and on point with its context! Lee spoke about dialect and the importance of it. It seems as if dialect as far as it referring to one’s identity has been not only swept under the rug but totally disregarded and viewed as negative. Lee was able to show both sides of the argument when it came down to “who is responsible for black students not knowing how to speak properly?” but also, “who is responsible for stripping away their dialect in general?” What I also liked about this reading was that I was able to make connections to other readings and materials that I am studying. Here are the points that I could use for my thesis:

  • The black vernacular has steadily diverged from standard English and becomes more widespread in poor, urban neighborhoods.
  • The persistence of the dialect reflects, in part, the growing resistance of some black young people to assimilate and their efforts to use language as part of a value system that prizes cultural distinction. It also stems from the increasing isolation of black inner-city residents from both whites and middle-class blacks and stems as well from a deep cynicism (an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism) about the payoffs of conforming.
  • An absence of clear policy: Teachers are largely left to devise their own methods.
  • In some neighborhoods, young people acknowledge an element of resistance, and even a stigma, to using standard English or “talking proper”.
  • “English is not our language,” said Takiyah Hudson, a 17-year-old high school senior who lives in Harlem. She said her mother and sister correct her English when she slips into a black dialect, which she does not use in formal situations.
  • The issue is exquisitely sensitive, going beyond nouns and verbs to questions of racial identity and class, as well as the politics of education. There is some sentiment among the black middle class that the vernacular legitimizes poor grammar. Others blame schools for not teaching standard English better because teachers have low educators of the dialect, say it is time to become more sophisticated in the classroom.
  • Francesca Charles, a 17-year-old junior at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, said students who speak only in dialect are not understood outside their communities. “People don’t understand you, or they put words in your mouth. That’s why they’re viewed so badly,” she said.
  • “During slavery, blacks created their own langauge The students create their own language to communicate among themselves,” she said. *This will be a connection to another piece of material that I am studying.*
  • Ramon C. Cortines, the Schools Chancellor, said teachers need to correct their students’ English and prepare them for the mainstream. “I don’t know of any jobs or any college where a prerequisite is a dialect,” Mr. Corintes said. “The problem with American education is we get caught up in fads and don’t teach the basics.”
  • “The problem is not the students but many of my colleagues,” said a Bronx elementary schoolteacher who did not warn her name used. “We need to stop finding excuses for not teaching. When my students use bad English, I tell them it is bad English and that it has nothing to do with the color of their skin.”
  • Jo-Ann Graham, chairwoman of the department of communication at the Bronx Community College, said teaching standard English is not simply cleaning up grammatical lapses. “It is not just saying, ‘You don’t say “they is” you say “they are,”‘ she said. “You have to teach the structure, the vocabulary, the sound system, the grammar just as if you were teaching another language.
  • The country’s largest school system to use such an approach is Los Angeles. Its “Proficiency in English” program, started in 1978, uses methods like repetitive drills to teach standard English like a second language. Several other California school districts, including Oakland, Sacramento, and Vallejo, use similar programs.
  • Contrastive analysis: Used by programs
  • Examples
  • Bidialectalism: Students retain their home or community dialect while learning and using the Standard English dialect of the school and larger society. (The format of this instruction is based upon the pedagogy of foreign language teaching and incorporates the used of contrastive analysis. Specifically, this approach compares Standard English phonological and syntactic features with those of the students’ dialect and is structured so that students can observe how their own linguistic features differ from those of Standard English.)
  • Ms. Wright-Lewis, a teacher at Boys and Girls High School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn has students write and rewrite assignments. She makes them give oral presentation and participate in discussions that she privately assesses for syntax and grammar. She writes her own stories for students, in which characters switch back and forth between standard and non-standard English. And she corrects her students in private to help protect their fragile self-esteem. 
  • Diallo Robinson, 17, a senior at the East New York High School for Transit Technology, agrees that using the dialect is a matter of choice: “I don’t think language is not being taught adequately but that students choose not to fall in the line of being better than your brother or sister.
  • Mr. Evans, who teaches at Thomas Jefferson High School, said: “Needless to say, by the time they go to high school it’s an uphill battle,”. “The African-American inner-city kid has to turn it off and turn it on and be, in effect, bilingual.” “I tell them innate intelligence is not enough. If you speak well, it can solve a myriad of problems,” Mr. Evans said. “What they require is to see more men and women of color who are in power, who speak a certain way or dress a certain way.”

4. Alice Lee: Why “Correcting” African American Language Speakers is Counterproductive: I found this article to be amazing as far as background information of AAVE, knowing the difference between dialect and language, referencing major scholars in this topic, and also giving personal stories and experiences in order to understand why correct speakers of AAVE is, as she puts it, “counterproductive.” Lee has so many points surrounding what I want my thesis to be about, that I will only put down a few main points. The rest of the main quotes will be in a separate document, which you can click here.

  • Lee’s “Burning Questions”: Aren’t we doing our students a disservice by allowing them to talk like that in the classroom when they’ll be expected to speak standard English in the real world?
  • I also became more attuned to the ways teachers’ lack of knowledge about AAL (African American Language) played a role in their instruction.
  • Her professor: She informed me that AAL usage was only acceptable at home.
  • In this article, I would like to address the topic of AAL usage in the classroom, particularly the line of thinking that assumes “correcting” the language is what will “set students up for success” in the future. By providing some abbreviated information on how children acquire language, I will explain how AAL “correction” is not only a faulty perspective (since AAL is linguistically legitimate), actually counterproductive for student “success” – in both language acquisition and learning. Additionally, I will offer practical suggestions for how AAL can be incorporated into curriculum and instruction.
  • My goal in this article is not to provide a comprehensive linguistic background for AAL, but to provide cursory information to help readers understand why AAL is and should be considered a “real” language.
  • The term, African American Language, has also been referred to as Ebonics, African American Vernacular English, Black English, Black Vernacular English, and is defined by Smitherman (2006) in the following way: “Black or African American Language (BL or AAL) a style of speaking English words with Black flava-which Africanized semantic, grammatical, pronunciation rhetorical patterns. AAL comes out of the experience of U.S. slave descendants, This shared experience has resulted in common speaking has resulted in common speaking styles, systematic patterns of grammar, and common language practices in the Black community (pg 3).
  • The difference between a language and dialect is often defined by whether or not it is understood by speakers within the same group.
  • Smitherman argues, therefore, that what is considered a dialect versus a language is not solely based on linguistics, but involves decision-making entrenched in power.
  • As linguistics, both Labov and Smitherman have documented how AAL is systematically governed by rules-a defining marker for what is considered a “real” language.

For next week, I’m going to write about literacy and multiple literacies and why it’s important for my thesis. Also, a few scholars that I will be talking about will be Elaine Richardson, Sonja L. Lanehart, and more Lisa Delpit. I also will be talking about a documentary that I found about Black English! It’s the first documentary about AAVE, and I can’t wait to share my notes about it!

‘Til Next Time!

(Also: If you want to watch A Different World, it’s on Prime Video!)

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