Vernacular_Dialects_in_U.S._Schools -...

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View Full Document Right Arrow Icon Vernacular Dialects in U.S. Schools Donna Christian, Center for Applied Linguistics The Dialect Issue Children from different backgrounds come to school speaking a wide variety of dialects. Should our schools try to teach all students to use a standard dialect? If so, how? If not, how should different dialects be handled in the school setting? What impact does speaking a non-school dialect have on students' academic success and on their interactions with others in and out of school? These complex and controversial questions have been debated through the years, but they have become increasingly prominent in the last three decades. In particular, the controversy aroused by the December 1996 announcement of the Oakland (CA) School board about its policy on the instruction of African American vernacular dialect speakers underscores the fact that these issues have not been resolved. One central issue in this controversy is whether mastery and use of a standard dialect should be required in schools. Some people consider such a requirement to be discriminatory, because it places an extra burden on certain students. Others argue that it is a responsibility of the education system to teach a standard dialect to broaden students' skills and opportunities. For instance, students who do not develop facility with standard English may find that their employment or educational potential is restricted. A student's chances for success in school and in later life may be related to mastery of standard English. Consequences of Dialect Differences Dialect differences can affect the quality of education received by some students both academically and socially (Labov, 1995). A child's dialect may interfere with the acquisition of information and with various educational skills such as reading. In a court case in Ann Arbor (MI) in 1979, a group of African-American parents sued the local school system on behalf of their children, claiming that students were being denied equal educational opportunity because of their language background (Chambers & Bond, 1983; Farr Whiteman, 1980). Specifically, the parents maintained that the schools were failing to teach their children to read because the language differences represented by their children's vernacular dialect were not taken into account. The parents won their lawsuit, and the schools were ordered to provide special staff training related to dialects and the teaching of reading.
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