Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Case for Applied Linguistics in Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Case for Applied Linguistics in Teacher Education

Article excerpt

The notion that black English is a language and that black kids are actually bilingual is ludicrous and patronizing. Ebonics is ungrammatical English. What students who speak Ebonics need to learn is that they are speaking substandard English and that substandard English brands them as uneducated. (Hernandez, 1996, p. A-21)

This quotation, from a recent column by Roger Hernandez about the decision of the Oakland, California, Board of Education to recognize Black English (or Ebonics [see Blackshire-Belay, 1996]) as the dominant language many students in that district speak, makes clear both the emotional and psychological importance of language in the educational process as well as the extent to which normally well-educated and articulate individuals can be victims of their own ignorance of the nature of language and linguistics (see, for example, Bennet, 1996; S. Holmes, 1996; Maxwell, 1997; Olszewski, 1996; Schorr, 1997; Staples, 1997). The debate about Black English is only one component of a far larger problem in contemporary American education: the lack of knowledge of applied linguistics common among educators and educational professionals.

Trueba (1991) recently noted that there are approximately 35 million persons in the United States who speak a language other than English at home, of whom about 20 million are not fluent in English. Almost 11 million of them are school age children (p. 45). These numbers alone are significant, but they take on considerable urgency when one considers the demographic trends they represent. Both the percentage and the absolute number of language-minority children in the public schools in the United States will increase dramatically in the decades ahead as American society itself becomes increasingly diverse culturally and linguistically (see Ager, Muskens, & Wright, 1993; Baker, 1993; Corson, 1993). These children bring with them educational needs distinct from those of their English-speaking classmates in important ways. They must learn to function in an American society very different from that existing when earlier non-English-speaking groups were assimilated into the dominant society. It is neither socially nor educationally sound simply to assume that left to their own devices, such students will acquire English (see Scarcella, 1990). At the same time, school-based programs that target such students especially bilingual education programs and English as a Second Language programs--are increasingly unpopular with many segments of society and are under fire all over the country (see Baron, 1990; Crawford, 1992a, 1992b; Moraes, 1996; Porter, 1990; Smitherman, 1992; Tatalovich, 1995). It is, in any case, unlikely that such programs will be available for all language-minority students. Rather, significant numbers of non-English and limited-English-speaking students are almost certainly going to be placed in English-medium classroom environments, taught by teachers with neither special language skills nor professional training to prepare them to teach such students.

The needs of children who do not speak English, or who do not speak English fluently, are only one part of the linguistic challenge facing teachers, as the debate in Oakland makes clear. Millions of children speak distinctive non-mainstream varieties of English or exhibit various sorts of language and speech pathologies; many language-related classroom issues arise on a daily basis related to language use. Few debates about language in the educational sphere generate the heat and passion that discussions of nonmainstream language varieties, especially of Black English, generate. The 1979 judicial decision in Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Children vs. Ann Arbor School District (473 F. Supp. 1371, E. D. Mich. 1979) led to a widespread national debate about the status of Black English similar to that taking place about the Oakland decision (for earlier discussions of King, see Chambers, 1983; Smitherman, 1981; Whiteman, 1980). …

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