Monday, February 05, 2007


Society's inequalities are reinforced in our classrooms through our perceived value on one social discourse over another. The dominant culture has created a "standard language" that any linguist as James Paul Gee points out in his work, "Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses 2nd Edition," would note has no more value than any dialect. However in classrooms throughout NYC teachers are mandated to reinforce the economically dominant culture and their values through a test prep regiment that is admittedly flawed even by the most ardent supporters.

It is all about language. "Test Prep" classes for NYS Regents exams focus solely on the vocabulary of the test, and the format of the discourse. Being well verse in the language of the dominant culture will let you jump thorough the hoop of college acceptance. College acceptance and graduation will allow one to gain access to a white collar job, and the economic resources that perpetuate the system of the dominant culture.

The deck is stacked against students who do not have the dominant culture's language spoken in the home. Students whose home dialect does not closely aligned with the school valued code are quickly dismissed as inappropriate for school. They must either learn the language of testing from the teachers who take for granted there own success at jumping through the hoops, or fail the standardized tests.

The sole purpose of the NYS Regents exam is to create a gate keeper into the world of the dominant culture. It is in the best interest of the writers of standardized exam to perpetuate the myth of "right and wrong" discourse.

The successful "dominant culture" student is actually limited by the schooling system that does not allow him to see the value of the dialects that are not standardized. Essentially upper-class students grow up learning only their own English (the language of standardized tests and successful school discourse.) The student whose community speaks the non-standard English (the evolved form of the English language that fits needs and better allows for expression of non-dominant value systems) is able to speak and read two languages upon graduation. The dominant culture and that of its own community based culture.

The irony is the dominant culture has a more limited language because it evolves slowly and must not upset the social applecart as it changes. Roles of gender, race and ethnicity must remain in play in order for the dominant culture success stories to remain successful. The purveyors of dominant culture are winners at the game they have created and are of course going to be slow to change the rules.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen my brother!

This is why I tell the students to just copy the damn answer for the DBQ from the given paragraph. Beating "the man" at his own game dammit!