Language Groups Call All English Dialects Valid: Sandard Speech Gets Tepid Support in Guidelines

Article excerpt

Standard English is "the language of wider communication," but ethnic and cultural variations get the respect of the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association, which will announce today voluntary national standards.

The standards, being released this morning at Gage-Eckington Elementary School in the District, acknowledge that students need standard English to enter the mainstream of society and to find satisfying employment.

But the document stresses: "This does not imply that other varieties of English are somehow incorrect or invalid."

That doesn't mean the IRA and NCTE advocate teaching black dialect, said Barbara Walker, a college professor from Montana who is on the IRA board of directors.

"You don't punish them for what they bring to the classroom," she said. "Rather than say `this is wrong,' a teacher would say, `that's the way you might say it in your community, but this is the way the wider community says it.' "

The document represents current consensus among literacy teachers and researchers about what students should learn in English language courses, defined as "reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and visually representing."

Multiculturalism permeates it.

Standard 9 states: "Students develop an understanding of, and respect for, diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

"Celebrating our shared beliefs and traditions is not enough," the document states. "We also need to honor that which is distinctive in the many groups that make up our nation."

Bowing to bilingual education, Standard 10 says: "Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum."

"Bilingualism is addressed as multiculturalism," said Miles Myers, executive director of NCTE. "We want to approach diversity as a resource. The stress is on English, and bilingualism is a bridge to English.

"Our primary responsibility is to give them standard English," Mr. Myers insisted. "The multicultural standards are a way of reaching across all sorts of cultures in a classroom."

"They have a big problem privileging one language over another," observed Diane Ravitch, an assistant secretary of education in the Bush administration and now a senior research fellow at New York University. …