Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Response Feb 6 From Jordan’s “Nobody Mean More…” and Thurston’s “Mitigating Barriers…”

Jordan’s article was different than all we have read so far, because she was not just advocating acceptance of Black English in college classrooms, she was teaching it. Why? I can understand writing in Black English intentionally to achieve voice or dialect. I can agree that an understanding of it is necessary to study the literature of black women in Jordan’s first course. But to teach “The Art of Black English” as a semester long course for college credit? Why not teach a course that unravels many of the different varieties of the English language, or study varying cultures at work in the writing process? This seems kind of narrow in and of itself and I would like to know more about the educational (not political) purpose and goals of the course.

I liked the part about the three qualities of Black English: “the presence of life, voice, and clarity” (346). Voice is harder to achieve and maintain the more a writer agonizes over style. My advanced students lose a lot in their writing worrying about style over voice and depth and life. The idea of keeping it real is a good one. Halfway through the nineteen guidelines I was laughing out loud. I don’t think she meant it to be funny, but it could have been a stand up routine. I also am not sure I would have addressed the police in Black English. I understand why they did it, but I am not sure it was the mature, responsible, most effective choice to make a difference, if that is in fact what they were trying to do, which is not the same as making a statement. In the end, did the course in Black English do anything, really?

In contrast, Thurston’s article may be my favorite so far. Issues of budget, family obligations, attendance, and audience are tangible concerns addressed. Good teachers can teach people who are present – with or without a surplus of materials. Thurston reports that teachers must be aware of family obligations and I agree. But on the reservation, with 96% Navajo, this is easy to do. How do you determine these exceptions to attendance policies in other colleges? Once a teacher starts with all the exceptions, why have an attendance policy or due dates or required attendance at all? In an effort not to be discriminatory, it becomes discriminatory, and if a student’s goal is to work in the mainstream, don’t we do him a disservice by not reflecting that environment on campus?

I love the attitude of this college towards standard English. They have strategies to address writing issues, rather than saying the rest of the world just has to accept that the students’ culture is different and therefore they must be allowed to write differently. Basic writing courses here deal with problems specific to Navajo students, and the kinds of errors they make, using Navajo themes and special textbooks. The instructors “approach SAE as one dialect, not superior… but the one required for success in the world…” (360). This college is respectfully making a difference for its students. It is serving them responsibly, putting real student needs above political agendas. I think this is a bridge that works, a way to reconcile all we have been reading and questioning. “Here in the Southwest, then, effective instructors would teach both the Western and the Navajo rhetorical styles, privileging neither, and would explain the necessity of taking audience and purpose into account when choosing…” (361 my italics). I do not think Jordan’s class did this.

Educating teachers about whom they are teaching is a good practice, and in my own experience, gets better results. Otherwise we are teaching curriculum and not people. The goals of Navajo education include development of self-confidence and inner strength, a strong personal foundation, or center, in addition to academic skills. If we want to make a statement, we can allow students to exist on whatever cultural island they want and demand that the rest of the world accept them where they are. If we want to make a difference, we must bridge the gap between the cultures through understanding and preparation. If previous readings and discussions seem like troubled waters, in Thurston’s article, “we be building a bridge.”

Elva Martinez February 6, 2007

Article: Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the future life of Willie Jordan by June Jordan

My opinion is that Black English is similar to the Chicano, Tex-Mex, North America Spanish dialect and Pachuo language. What I gathered from this article is that Standard English has numerous forms of so call “English.” (341) just like Spanish language. According to Jordan, “white standards control our official and popular judgments of verbal proficiency and correct, or incorrect, language skills, including speech.” (342) What I would like to know who and where do these individuals sit to say this is the correct way?

In this article when the class was creating the Black English Rules 1-19, I saw a connection to Anzaldúa article. Black English is similar to several to Anzaldúa language. She talked about the Pachuco and the Chicano Spanish. Those two languages and Black English eliminated works, verbs, use slang words and the –ed. In the Pachuco, it is similar but one thing difference is that this language is a rebellion, both against Spanish Spanish and Standard English. In the Chicano Spanish language “… collapse two adjacent vowels into a single syllable…shift the stress in certain words… leave out certain consonants…” (333) is that what Black English is doing?

What I was amazed is when (342) the students read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. They did not like the language in the book but how they did not see themselves talking that way.

And about Willie Jordan with his dead brother, Reggie Jordan, times do not change. This kind of police brutality continues and what can be done. It is the white power structure against the people of color. How can this been change? No matter what language is written, Black Language or Standard English, it does not have the power to convict the policemen.

Article: Mitigating Barriers to Navajo Students’ Success in English Courses by Kay Thurston-February 6, 2007

I read this article and brought me memories of how hard it is to learn the Standard English. I related with living in poverty, struggling to retain traditional ways and family obligations. Then we enter academic environment and the Anglo instructors has little or no knowledge of other cultures’ conventions. It seems all cultures have a problem learning the dominant English language. As I have said it before “who and where are those individuals who develop the Standard English or the Academic English? Last week we read the Spanish language and this week we are reading Black English and now we are reading about the Navajo’s culture. Society has a language problem and how can this be resolve? Look at what Thurston writes, “Such instructors (1) assume in students a level of familiarity with Standard American English (SAE) that a middle class Euro-American would have; (2) are untrained and unaware of dialect or second language difficulties, regarding conventional Indian English as “wrong,” and expecting students to “clean up” the English they have spoken and heard their entire lives; and (3) expect students to replace their Navajo English dialect with SAE in fifteen to sixteen weeks. (359) Did we read that in the Slang English, Tex-Mex, Chicano Spanish and the Black English? I continue to hear “wrong” and “clean up.” We are told we do not speak correct dialect. How can somebody learn correct English in fifteen to sixteen weeks? Then, why Thurston puts in Euro-American? Is Thurston comparing to Europe? We are already full of different cultures, do not compare to Europe.

This article has showed me that been an under-poverty Mexican American student and not knowing Standard English, I was not as bad as these Navajo students. They are in worst situations. How can this be resolve? This makes me think about all Mexican-American students who are dropping out of school. I compare them to the Navajo students and they are having the same problem. One thing that came into my thoughts is that there is extreme expectation for these Navajo students and other cultures. How can this be resolve?

Melissa's Response

I think that these readings are important for the discussion of culture in the English classroom. The first reading, "Nobody Mean More to Me than You" was interesting because it highlighted several aspects of the impact of language on students and community life. First of all, I am not against learning culture in college, I just don't think that it should be taught in place of Standard English in composition courses (for reasons I will discuss later). I am all for using one's culture as something to write about, but that what is expressed should be written in Standard English. For example, when I taught English 1301 last semester, I had a student from China. The theme of our course was the First Amendement, and students were to write on a topic that dealt with their rights in conjunction with the First Amendment. However, this particular student came up to me and asked me if she could write about her culture and about a certain problem that persists in China. Not knowing much about teaching and about dealing with cultural issues, simple common sense told me that she would care more about the topic that meant something to her as opposed to a topic that might not mean anything at all to her. Needless to say, this student flourished. Her papers were interesting and well written (in Standard English). At the end of the semester, she wrote me a note thanking me for giving her the confidence to learn English. And now that we're reading about these cultural issues, I see that my decision to let her write about her culture prompted her to learn English more efficiently, because it revealed to her that the classroom is not a place where teachers try to beat culture out. Instead, we can use what we know to continue learning.

Jordan sort of hints at a truth that Thurston boldly acknowledges, "SAE can be used as a tool to resist assimilation and preserve Navajo tradition, and show students how writing skills can help students meet the needs of their families, communities, and nations..."(Thurston 365). When Reggie's brother is killed, and the students write a letter in Black English, it is ineffective. Yes, the students were able to express themselves, but it made no impact on the oppressors, because it was written in a language that they did not know and thus rejected. As people who are oppressed, it is our duty to learn the language of the oppressors in order to speak to them and make a change. They will not learn our language, so we must learn theirs in order to communicate.

I particularly enjoyed the Thurston article for the Navajo culture is not a culture that we speak of often, though their oppression is far greater than most marginalized people. I think if we want to study culture, the Indian culture is ideal for study since it remains intact. Many of their ancestral traditions are still alive and practiced. I think what I liked most about this article was Thurston's attititude towards Standard English, "Finally, composition instructors at NCC approach SAE as one dialect, not superior to Navajo English, but the one required for success in the world beyond the Navajo Nation's four sacred mountains" (360). If the students are in college, it's because they know this. They know that to be successful outside of their own personal community, they must learn the language of those in power. So I agree completely with Thurston that the classroom should be a place for students and teacher to discuss the obvious ambivalence (365) and for students to know that they are not giving up one language for another, but instead learning another dialect of English that is not superior but necessary for survival.

Butch Cardenas' reading response for 06Feb07 Jordon & Thurston articles

These two articles provide excellent insight into the problems that culture encounters in the Basic Writing classroom. June Jordon’s discourse gives Black English legitimacy in literature, but more importantly, she uses it as a bridge in getting her students to write and to use it as means to promote social change in a community. Thurston’s article illustrates the degree of difficulty in teaching Basic Writing to Navajo Native Americans at the college level. The degree to which culture disrupts the process of learning to write Standard English is daunting for someone like me who is not preparing for a teaching career and from what the article details, it must be equally daunting for the Navajo student.

Meanwhile, the reaction that Jordon receives when she assigns her class a portion of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is exactly how the students in an African American Literature class reacted here at this university when I took this course a few years ago. Both classes found it extremely difficult to read and some of the students in my class scoffed at the notion that the Black vernacular used in the book was a legitimate form of English. One reference I wish Jordon had mentioned is how Mark Twain uses Black English in his book Huckleberry Finn, which I believe is the first time Black vernacular is used by a white American writer of this nation’s literature. The Black vernacular that Twain uses is equally difficult to understand and perhaps a parallel can be drawn between these two books and their influence in the evolution of today’s Black English. In reference to Jordon’s grammatical guidelines of Black English use, I believe that dialectical differences in various sections of America need to be address, but these guidelines are a good start.

With respect to Thurston’s article, I thought she adequately outlined the difficulties that Navajos face just to survive in their world. I share her viewpoint that a teacher of these students must be culturally aware of the customs and traditions the Navajo nation has and observes. Any less and a teacher will be hopelessly lost and so will her students. I concur with Thurston when she writes “. . . as long as the ambivalence remains hidden or unstated, it constitutes an obstacle to student’s success” (365). I was particularly impressed with her call to arms for English teachers in culturally dominant classrooms to stop blaming the failure of these students on “bilingualism, substandard schooling, low self-esteem, lack of familiarity with SAE, and/or lack of motivation . . . “(366).

OK. So this is a pretty heavy subject area. I think that sometimes, even if we can't help it, we see people in terms of the way that they talk, and orally communicate, which is kind of the same thing, but kind of not. We speak different ways to different people, depending on who it is that we talk to, but the articles this time were talking about something much deeper.

I thought it was interesting how the students in the article, "Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan" were set against Alice Walker's "The Color Purple." The criticisms that targeted the language is a direct product of student's being indoctrinated to the standards of standard english. Students are sometimes taught that anything that is published is supposed to be in a "I've been published" voice and that is disheartening to both the students as writers and readers. what does it say about their writing? I liked the idea that she had of conjugating the paragraph, because in a way it showed them still putting their own voices into it, but at the same time, taking the "black english" out of it. I think that the guidelines were interesting, and I think that a good discussion on rhetoric would have been nice to tie into the guidelines.

When I realized that they did a class project for Willie Jordan's brother, I wasn't surprised that the project was rejected. Why is there such a bias against language, when we are still communicating the same types of messages? Activism comes in different forms, and all that this taught was that activism doesn't do anything if it isn't in standard enlish. lame.

Navajo article:

Isn't it a little presumptuous to say that Native American families have strong ties? Some of the things in this article made me feel like they were isolating the Navajos and making something out of nothing.

-Erica Rangel

Anne Ries

I was intrigued by June Jordan's article, "Nobody Mean More to Me..." However, I have a few questions that were raised because of it.

1. Was it ethical of Jordan to have the class write those messages to the police and media, even if they all agreed on it?

I am not sure. My first reaction would be to say that if the entire class agreed on writing the messages, then it should be allowed. The messages create a physical and applicable space the students can use to express themselves in what sounded like was the majority of the students "native language," if you will. It's civic engagement - community involvement - which is what we're supposed to want to create in our comp classes, right? Mayybee...


It wasn't all of the student's native "language." Not only that, but we've been discussing a lot about students' reacting to the desires (or preceived desires) of their professors. Were the students following what they thought their teacher wanted? Why did she make the choice to bring the issue up to her entire class? I don't think it was an ethical decision. I understand why she did it, however, I still don't think it is right.

2. Why wasn't the guidelines for Black English written in Black English?

I wondered why Jordan didn't address this in her writing. Also, why was everything in SAE first before BE? I kept expecting her to discuss these issues, but she didn't. I could (ish) understand if she changed everything to SAE for this article, but she didn't mention any revision. So then, did the students write the rules to speak and write in BE in SAE? I would think it would be more empowering fore the students to write about their (or in some cases the language they were learning) language in their own language (or in some cases the language they were learning).

I did think the translation of Celie's letter into SAE was hilarious and poignant.

And so on to Thurston's article...

I was particularly interested in the section of the article entitled "Instructor/Faculty Ethnocentrism." I think that instructors need to be sensetive to the needs of their students, but this needs to be for all students. The author's description of the instance when she was teaching at UNM where the three Navajo students dropped because of the reading of embalming. Three students out of how many? I understand the impact of the fact that the three students were the only Navajo students in her course, especially in an institution in an area that is so culturally impacted by this group of people. But when are we not going to potentially offend some students? How do we learn to become as culturally sensetive as possible to all groups of people? How was she supposed to know that would offend them? At an institution like NCC, I understand the importance of being as knowledgable as possible with the Navajo people. But UNM is so much more culturally diverse. So then what do we do?

This could lead into an interesting discussion of TAMUCC priding itself on being a hispanic serving institution...

Reading these two pieces, I was reminded of the argument I sometimes hear which claims that Standard English is necessary so that we all understand each other – a “standard” that allows for easy communication. However, this is not really true. These articles point out that, even though we might understand other dialects, Standard English is on the top of the social hierarchy. In June Jordan’s essay, Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan, we see how the papers and the police neglected both the story of what happened to Reggie Jordan and the responses from the class. Whether or not Jordan was shot due to racism, it seems clear that the media’s response (or lack of) was due to racism. Just by accepting that Standard English is “White English,” and expecting people conform to that standard, is acknowledging racism in my opinion.

The difference is that most articles say, “Well yeah, it’s wrong [racist], but that’s how it is.” Jordan does not say that. By not conforming, her class is making a statement about their dialect and the importance of it. Just because the police do not accept that message does not mean that they should change it. The message was more than the statement; it was the words used to convey that statement. It seems to me that when people keep assimilating in order to be accepted, that this just perpetuates the problem of the accepted standard. If more people rejected that standard, in favor of other ways of writing, what would happen?

Furthermore, if we admit that understanding is not the key issue (as most people understand different dialects) then what is the purpose of requiring Standard English? Shouldn’t the goal be to effectively communicate? If people can effectively communicate in a dialect that is not Standard English (or in a rhetorical style different from the “standard,” such as the Navajo style of coming around to a point instead of stating it upfront) then what does that hurt?

And if we decide that understanding is an issue, then who is to say that the non-Standard English speakers should conform to us? If we say that there is nothing that inherently makes Standard English better than other varieties, then how can we justify automatically assuming that the conforming should be done by the non-Standard English speakers?

Heather Dorn

June Jordan “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You”

From a linguistic point of view, I loved the study of Black English and the “rules” or guidelines that the class created. I still believe that there is a deep prejudice against those who speak “non-Standard English,” but the class’s study does a lot to show that it is a valid language. In the same ways that there are variants of Spanish depending upon where it is spoken, there are variants of English and no one type should be valued more than another. Approaching Black English as a language of value and belonging to a specific culture seemed to be incredibly important to the students enrolled, and by looking in-depth at their language they learned to value it more and developed greater confidence in themselves. There is a lot to be learned from this study, and living in South Texas provides an interesting culture in which to employ some of the same tactics that Jordan did. This is an area where people speak Spanish, Tex-Mex, English, Slang-English, and many other variants of these. Students have their own language when not at the university, so taking a deeper look at that will make them think outside of the “Standard English” box that they have been living in since the invention of standardized testing—which is forever.

I was incredibly moved by Jordan’s account of Willie Jordan, especially Willie’s essay. I think that the part of the essay that is most relevant to teaching composition is when Willie said that “justice may only exist as rhetoric,” and even I felt empowered by his last line that “we do have the power to make a change” (354). In our program we often try to get our students involved in the community or just to interact with their surroundings, and our job is to make them understand that language is powerful and useful. It isn’t easy. The quote that I kept hearing while I read this article is Anzaldua saying “If you want to hurt me, take away my language.” By ignoring Black English, or devaluing it in classrooms, we are insulting those who employ it every day. Language is directly tied to culture, so studying Black English means learning about a culture and teaching that it is important.

Kay Thurston “Mitigating Barriers to Navajo Students’ Success in English Courses”

I knew nothing of Navajo traditions or the problems that they face when entering institutes of higher education. I think that the broader point Thurston is trying to make, or maybe the way that I related the reading to an overall sense of basic writing, is that we need to be aware of the diversity of our students and keep their needs in mind. In an institution like NCC it is easy to say “this is how the Navajo culture is and this is how to teach them,” but in a university with a more diverse student population, how do we effectively teach class while keeping individual cultures in mind? It is great to say that we need to be conscious of the things that help or hinder students from doing well in college, but with such diversity it is difficult to come up with guidelines that suit everyone.

As far as accommodating absences, understanding the hardships of life outside of the university, etc, these things should be dealt with case-by-case, and the developing relationship between the student and the professor should aid the professor in determining what is best for each student individually. What I am having difficulty with is developing lessons that are “safe.” Should we try to remain safe so that our students are not offended, or is it ok to offend them now and then just to make them consider different perspectives?


Somewhat unintentionally, Jordan demonstrates that language and thought are socially, rather than linguistically, related. Some of Jordan’s claims about the relationship between language and thought are questionable from a linguistic viewpoint. What does hold up linguistically is the point that there is no linguistic reason for teaching variety X or Y. I think this brings us back to the question whether Basic Writing (or any writing class, for that matter) is a language learning class. If supposedly linguistic (meaning “help students write SAE/SWE”) pedagogy has, as Jordan and Thurston suggest, strong social and ideological consequences, we may need to rethink how we organize and structure education.

The educational model we are used to is largely based on theories of teaching and learning that view knowledge as individual and psychological; similarly, language teaching classes, and to a large extent writing classes, are based on theories of language and writing that see communication as the encoding/decoding of meaning. If, as it appears, we are beginning to view both language and knowledge as social (and socially constructed), how can we make sure that pedagogy and education in general remain relevant.

Why is education increasingly being seen as a unifier and schools as places where students are made to fit the mold of society? Do we want a society of “perfect” citizens who are “productive” by filling the roles we have created for them? Assimilation and conformity have significant practical and immediate benefits for the individual, but what are the long-term effects for the community/the collective?

What does the establishment of a linguistic standard do for and to the members of a society? Standards are traditionally seen as unifying, but do we want unity at the expense of individuality? The strength of a society is its ability to encourage, learn from, and cultivate diversity. Unity, in my opinion, comes from a willingness to let everyone be who he or she is—a difficult, challenging, and messy process, but, in my opinion, an important aspect of making human society meaningful.