From these readings, the first obvious question that comes to mind is this: According to the standards set forth by CCCC, NCTE, and other more recent BW scholars, is anyone teaching basic writing by the accepted yet somewhat ideal standards? It is my experience (courtesy of my observation at a local community college) that these standards are far from being met. It seems the most difficult concept for any BW instructor to grasp is NCTE’s position statement “Students’ Right to Their Own Language,” “which provided teachers with ‘suggestions for ways of dealing with linguistic variety’ and urged that students be exposed to ‘the variety of dialects that comprise our … society, so that they too will understand the nature of American English and come to respect all its dialects,” (Otte and Mlynarczyk 83). I can just imagine a BW instructor reading this for the first time and thinking to themselves that this must certainly be a joke, and that the same grammar rules apply to all students in all cases. I know that’s harsh, but I think it’s more of a reality than many of us realize. When BEV and AAVE are seen as “broken” linguistic variances, this implies that teachers consider their students as “needing to be fixed” and standard American English as the way to “wash clean” the student of their deviant dialects.
I’m not arguing that there is no place whatsoever for Standard English, but instead that teachers change their perceptions toward the rich English dialects found in every corner of our world. Farsold and Shuy remind us that “teachers should help children [or any student] to make the [linguistic/dialectic?] switch comfortably from one setting to another (vi)” (qtd. in Otte & Mlynarczyk 83).
This “intolerance” to dialectic variation ignores two very specific assumptions that CCCC makes in regards to writing assessment. First, it ignores “language by definition is social” (CCCC 374). Relatedly, it also refuses to acknowledge that “reading…. Is as socially contextualized as all other forms of language use”. The failure to recognize and properly respond to these statements is evident in Agnew & McLaughlin?’s “These Crazy Gates and How They Swing.” Language is truly social, and thus the extreme variation in our students’ writing. If you even so much as skimmed Agnew and McLaughlin?’s article, it’s easy to see that both students were shaped by their social/home/cultural contexts. Since Kyle simply ‘sounded’ more white (please forgive my political incorrectness) his writing was easily seen as ‘more correct’ and thus evaluated with higher marks. He, too, however, demonstrates that his language is shaped by his social situation/standing.
Rowena’ language, like Kyle’s, is also socially and culturally shaped. Unfortunately for her, though, her language doesn’t fit into the (somewhat false and cruelly biased) white, Standard English paradigm. Thus, she is forced to repeat BW at least 2 or 3 times before she can even begin taking regular credit baring courses at the college level. It’s a radical idea, but what would have happened had her evaluators, and if all evaluators, actually understood that linguistic/dialect variance is normal, and saw different dialects merely as ways for students to write in specific contexts [thus erasing the value attached to each one—making each dialect rather a specialized skill in the writing toolbox]? How very radical.