©2005 Donna Wake
La Salle University
In his article "Critical Inquiries into Language in an Urban Classroom" Bob Fecho describes a scene in his urban Philadelphia high school English classroom where students engaged in a personal, open-ended exploration of language usage and language legitimacy in their lives as played out in the American academic setting. In his classroom, Fecho has his students use critical inquiry to explore the impact language and learning has on their lives. He describes the year long exploration with his students as they investigated a variety of issues on the nature of language, the power structure inherent in the culture and enacted through language, ideas of mainstream codes, ideas of alternate "home" codes, the role of language in learning, and the roles of teachers and students in the learning process. In promoting this critical exploration, Fecho argues that his students were able to become theorizers about language and culture. They were able to construct a personal perspective on how language both inhibited and enabled them as learners, thus deepening their views on language and learning. His students came to see language as rooted in their own political, social, and economic identities (Fecho, 2000). In essence, Fecho's students investigated ideas of linguistic ideologies in American culture specifically enacted in their lives as students involved in the learning process.
The differential uses of language evident in classrooms across America have been a subject of study for linguists for many years (Delpit, 1988, 1992; Garcia & Otheguy, 1989; Goodwin, 1990; Heath, 1980, 1983, 1986, 1989, 2000; Morgan, 2002; Ogbu, 1982, 1990, 1999). However, viewing the various functions of language in academic settings through the lens of contact linguistics may help to lend a unique perspective to the field. At the heart of this study is the idea of linguistic ideology as a frame for the various conceptions and manifestations of language present in traditional, American academic settings. In an attempt to contain this study to some manageable level, this inquiry will specifically look at the discontinuity in classrooms where "standard" or "mainstream" English coexists with "Black" English (referred to here for simplicity sake as "AAVE": African-American Vernacular English). Note that use of this term is problematic as it does not allow for the variety spoken even within the African-American community; however, for simplicity, the concept of AAVE serves as a starting point for inquiry (McHenry & Heath, 1994). The primary reason for this focus is the substantial amount of research on AAVE in terms of classroom discontinuity, linguistic legitimacy, and linguistic ideology. In the field of sociolinguistics, the study of AAVE has provided a central framework for much contemporary research (Reagan, 1997). Additionally, much of the wealth of information presented on the cultural mismatch between AAVE and Standard English in classroom settings can be generalized to other, less well documented minority populations.
The primary idea here is that while all speakers (players) in the classroom appear to be speaking the same language (English), indeed very diverse manifestations of the language are present. Thus, within the idea of "one" language, several varieties exist. These differences can be arguably and alternatively defined as separate "languages" or as "dialects." Debating the presence of Black English as language or dialect is problematic as those terms are expressions of social and political realities more than a technically linguistic construct. Timothy Reagan comments, "in other words, from the perspective of linguistics, the status of Black English has long since been answered: Black English is a series of related language varieties spoken primarily by African-Americans, which are rule-governed and which differ in significant ways from other varieties of American English" (Reagan, 1997, 9-10).
Regardless of how the languages in play are defined, the reality is that teachers and students often use language very differently often resulting in confusion and frustration in the classroom setting. Much research has gone into the cultural mismatch found in language usage of teachers and students; however, many of these studies do not raise the issue language ideology as a guiding framework for inquiry. The uses of language in the classroom reflect varied ideologies – in this case the ideology of the academic setting as oppose to the ideology of AAVE speakers. These ideologies guide the exchanges between teachers and students. Thus, ideologies impact the learning that occurs in the classroom context. In this analysis, these ideologies will be defined in terms of the academically-based "transmission ideology" and the minority (AAVE) "social network ideology." In particular, this study will focus on how these two different ideologies serve to compound issues of conflict in academic settings.
The ideologies held by both the teacher and the individual learners are rarely explored in as open and critical way as described in Fecho's classroom. Yet these ideologies lie at the heart of how the individuals in the classroom construct knowledge through their use of language as a cognitive, communicative tool (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986). If the ideologies at play in the classroom are not aligned, and indeed may be in opposition, then learning will be impeded. Fecho states, "a pedagogy is less than liberating if the only views given credence are those that match the ideology of the facilitator" (Fecho, 2000, p370). Classroom settings then become not only a situation of language contact, but by extension a situation of ideological contact as language and ideology are inescapably entwined. Situations of language contact reveal the socio-cultural ideals present through a study of the ideologies in the classroom.
Language Contact in Academic Environments
Before beginning this investigation, we must first establish that academic settings do indeed comprise a situation of language contact. Mary Louise Pratt's deconstructivist conception of contact situations certainly indicates that classrooms can be settings of language contact. She urges linguists to consider "decentering" the tendencies of Western thinking as a limiting paradigm. She states,
"Imagine then, a linguistics that decentered community, that placed at its centre the operation of language across lines of social differentiation, a linguistics that focused on modes and zones of contact between dominant and dominated groups, between persons of different and multiple identities, speakers of different languages, that focused on how such speakers constitute each other relationally and in difference, how they enact differences in language. Let us call this enterprise a linguistics of contact, a term linked to Jakobson's notion of contact as a component of speech events, and to the phenomenon of contact languages, one of the best recognized challenges to systematizing linguistics of code." (Pratt, 1987, p.60)
Implicit in the use of this quote here is the idea that language contact in academic settings is by nature intrinsically inclusive of inequity. The languages and ideologies at play in the classroom are defined by an imbalance of access and power among learners and between learners and teachers. This article will then explore language contact in light of the ideologies of unequal players present in classroom settings. Endemic in this examination is the question of race and ethnicity. While ideology and the language have been shown to be tied to issues of social class more so than race and ethnicity, the common reality of the American classroom setting is one where social class and race and ethnicity are inherently linked (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999). Pratt recognizes this unfortunate inevitability when she states, "think of linguistics here as referring to particular forms of relatedness of whites and blacks, as a system in which they are not separate, but continually in each other's presence" (Pratt, 1987, p.60). Although Pratt talks of this relationship in South African apartheid, it is equally applicable here.
If we look further at ideas of language contact and language ideology within "one" language setting, other linguists also argue for the study of language contact situations as enacted in tensions between speakers of unequal class. The definition for language ideology set forth by Wollard and Schieffelin suggests looking at language events through a focus on "beliefs, values, and attitudes, or on contexts and institutions" (as suggested by Humes) in terms of re-envisioning the study of language contact (Wollard & Schieffelin, 1994, p.59). Thus a focus on various language styles of the speakers in question becomes more focused on sociocultural considerations rather than "straight" linguistic patterns of speech, and these sociocultural settings can be found in classroom contexts. This consideration is also explored by Spitulnik as she describes a contact situation within "one" language in her examination of Town Bemba. She states, "In any given moment of language use, various heteroglossic elements – for example, the ideological tensions and archaeological layers within language – may be evident to a speaker, and may even be strategically mobilized to achieve a particular effect" (Spitulnik, 1998, p.31). Spitulnik describes that for both speaker and researcher language exists as a "constellation of multiple social-ideological forces and multiple systemic linguistic forces" (Spitulnik,1998, p.50). With this construct one language can be conceived of as multiple and open for situations of language contact reliant on different manifestations of language due to beliefs, values, attitudes, contexts, and institutions.
The classroom context is established as a situation of language contact, and a review of the questions that have previously posed in the research shed light on this construct of the classroom as a contact laden environment. Language contact in classrooms provide an opportunity to uncover the ideologies at play in academic settings as revealed through differential manifestations of language by teacher and student. These questions are variously posed and described by researchers in the field and can be used here to couch our investigation. These questions include:
What exactly are the functions of language in the classroom or in any situation where we claim that learning is (or should be) taking place? (Heath 2000);
To what extent do domain-based ideologies shape individuals, and how do institutional based domains like schools impact this development? (Heath, 2000);
What can literacy (and by extension, language) do for individuals in situations where learning takes place? (Heath, 1980)
What can the individual do with literacy (and language) skills in a learning setting? (Heath, 1980)
How do societies differ in terms of perceived benefits and functions of literacy? (Heath, 1980)
How do uses of literacy and language vary across contexts of use as defined by particular communities? (Heath, 1980)
Under what conditions is literacy taught, by whom, through what institutions, using what texts, and in what language? (Pratt, 1987);
Linguists contend that their work "lays open" how speakers operate with grammatical competence that lies beyond conscious awareness. How a speaker chooses to use language –semantic choices made, syntactical arrangement, tone, nonverbal language, etc - to accomplish certain communicative ends is key to understanding the ideologies underlying the sociocultural context (Heath, 2000). In truth, speakers can be said to draw upon a "linguistic repertoire", defined by Gal as "co-varying linguistic variables which have their own appropriate uses and connotations" (Gal, 1978, p.3). Additionally, this repertoire may not be consciously evident to the speaker. "Our repertoire of oral (and written) speech genres is rich. We use them confidently and skillfully in practice, and it is quite possible for us not even to suspect their existence in theory" (Garrett, in press, p.8). This repertoire can be alternatively conceived as a continuum ranging from more standard to more dialectical, ethnically defined speech. In drawing on this repertoire, and in placing themselves along the speech continuum, speakers reveal much about themselves, their views on language, and the larger sociocultural environment. In other words, the agency of the speaker reveals the ideology being employed. Implicit in this anaylsis is Bourdieu's idea of habitus to be explored later.
The speaker's choices in drawing from this repertoire reveals much about their ideology of language. Wollard & Schieffelin state,
"Linguistic/language ideologies have been defined as 'sets of beliefs about language articulated by users as a rationalization or justification of perceived language structure and use'; with a greater social emphasis as 'self-evident ideas and objectives a group holds concerning roles of language in the social experiences of members as they contribute to the expression of the group'; and 'the cultural system of ideas and social and linguistic relationships, together with their loading of moral and political interests''; and most broadly as 'shared bodies of commonsense notions about the nature of language in the world' " (Wollard & Schieffelin, 1994, p.57).
Silverstein poses the following definition, "'linguistic ideology': a set of beliefs about language articulated by users as a rationalization or justification of perceived language structure and use" (Wollard & Schieffelin, 1994, p.57). Gee comments that ideology is an expression of "how people structure their language to express themes, values and a particular world view" (Gee, 1988, p 31).
While variously defined, the core concept of language ideology in the field of linguistics is that ideologies reflect the speaker's world view in a systematic, cohesive, and culturally bound manner, and this interpretation of the world is evident in the language choices made by the speaker. Judgments made by individuals in selecting and using language within a situation of language contact highlight the relative ideologies at play within the sociocultural context. Thus, an examination of individual agency in selecting and exercising relative language usage in a situation of language contact reveals the diverse language ideologies held within the culture as a reflection of both linguistic and sociocultural contexts. The focus of this study is to examine the choices made by teachers and students in academic settings in an attempt to uncover the language ideologies present in the classroom context.
Critical here is the idea that linguistic and sociocultural ideologies are revealed in the language choices made by individuals in the culture. The ability of the individual to exercise free choice in the selection and usage of language is defined to a great extent by that individual's conception of the function, purpose, and uses of language within the larger sociocultural context. The individual's conscious ability to negotiate self through language usage as interactions with others occur thus provides a window into a larger ideological event, and this becomes more evident in situations of language contact. Thus, language use is a function of individual identity and agency, but it is defined by a larger linguistic and sociocultural ideology. Gal defines this relationship between individual and larger culture nicely by stating, "ways of speaking are viewed as the results of strategic and socially meaningful linguistic choices which systematically link language change to social change: linguistic innovation is a function of speakers' differential involvement in, and evaluation of, social change" and the "speaker's choice of code in a particular situation is part of that speaker's linguistic presentation of self" (Gal, 1978, p2 & p3). The choices available to any individual will by nature be contained by social status and access to a range of linguistic tools.
While individual agency may provide the analyst a window to understanding the ideologies underlying individual language choice, this consideration cannot move forward without an explicit focus on the speakers' immediate, lived experience. A consideration of ideology must begin with the "sociolinguistic assumption that speech differences reflect the social distinctions deemed important by the community of speakers" (Gal, 1978, p. 1). Gal suggests that speech choices must be considered in context of the speaker's social position, strategically made life choices, and the symbolic values of the available linguistic choices (Gal, 1978, p. 1.). The speaker's lived experience, revealed through linguistic choices and uncovering ideological differences, is reflective of the speaker's relative position within the culture and is bounded by the speaker's interpretive analysis of the local context.
This theme is reflected by many linguists in the field. Wollard and Schieffelin state, "What most researchers share, and what makes the term useful in spite of its problems, is a view of ideology as rooted in or responsive to the experiences of a particular social position" (Wollard & Schieffelin, 1994, p.58). Mertz comments that any "analysis would be completely inadequate if it did not also include the crucial role of local ideologies and interpretive struggles" (Mertz, 1989, p.115). Garrett comments that the "Pragmatic, stylistic, and aesthetic judgments such as these are expressions of an ideology of language that is rooted in speaker's subjective experience of the creole as language of intimacy and sentiment – of local life as locally lived." (Garrett, in press, p.7.). Here Garrett speaks of a creole community in St. Lucia, but the parallel is still applicable for urban, American educational settings. Teachers and students make pragmatic, stylistic and aesthetic judgments about language that express an ideology rooted in the speaker's unique, subjective experience.
While the focus on the speaker's unique experiences is necessary, a more encompassing view includes the inequities at play in any sociocultural context which frame the individual speaker's experiences. In viewing these inequities, a decision must first be made between viewing these inequities passively or critically. Wollard and Schieffelin state,
"the basic division in studies of ideology is between neutral and critical values of the term. The former usually encompasses all cultural systems of representation; the latter is reserved for only some aspects of representation and social cognition, with particular social origins or functional or formal characteristics (Wollard & Schieffelin, 1994, p.57).
Hill echoes this theme in her statement,
" 'Descriptive' or 'anthropological' definitions assimilate ideology to 'worldview': an 'ideology is simply a belief system, and no judgment is made of its truth or value. In the 'pejorative' definition, an ideology is viewed negatively, because its motivation is to continue an oppressive system, because it involves self-deception, or because it is in fact false, distorting reality" (Hill, 1998, p.79).
Linguistic research in the field supports the use of a critical perspective in research. Mary Louise Pratt writes of the ideal of the integrated linguistic community as something that is unrealistic and imaginary. Any examination of language and ideology must in Pratt's view include a consideration of hegemony. Pratt identifies the idea of a speech community as misleading. These communities are not homogenous, but instead gather their character from their heterogeneity. Unfortunately, heterogeneity in the human condition often means inequality. (Pratt, 1987). Here, Pratt sees that all individuals form language in relation to a social referent – in this case the dominant group. Pratt contends that cultural attempts at homogeneity in fact create heterogeneity as individuals and groups oppose themselves to the dominant identity. Research into classroom settings reveals this very phenomenon as students use language to oppose themselves to the dominant academic context despite the certainty that not complying to mainstream ideologies will result in continued oppression and inequity (Gee, 1988; Heath, 2000).
Additionally, Pratt contends that researchers tend to view language usage by these various groups as obstacles rather than constructive tools. She states, "What the 'subcommunity' approach does not do, however, is see the dominated and dominant in their relations with each other – this is the limitation imposed by the imaginings of community. The linguistics of community tends to construe social divisions rather the way nineteenth-century linguistics construed dialect differences as products of pre-given obstacles to communication, like rivers and mountain ranges" (Pratt, 1987, p.56). Similarly, research into the use of AAVE by black speakers is often posed as an "issue" and an "obstacle" to communication (Gee, 1988). Thus the ideology held by speakers of AAVE is one in opposition to and in resistance against the mainstream ideals of the academic community, yet these differences in speech by AAVE speakers should not be construed as obstacles.
Ironically, it is through the relations of subgroups to the dominant group that language becomes richer and more complex as peoples within the minority subgroups oppose themselves to the dominant culture. Pratt cites Moreau in examining this issue,
"Dominated groups ... are forced into what she calls a split subjectivity, because they are required simultaneously to identify with the dominant group and to disassociate themselves from it ... Dominated groups, in [Moreau's] view, are forced into what she calls a split subjectivity, because they are required simultaneously to identify with the dominant group and to disassociate themselves from it. Their discourse is both distinct from and permeated by that of the dominant group" (Pratt, 1987, p.59).
Thus from inequality comes creative responses and increased diversity in language by groups both favored and unfavored by the mainstream traditions. Pratt cites Moreau here: " 'Dissimilarities between language practices are meaningful only in the light of the [overall] social organization' Moreau argues that 'each class speaks to itself according to the same hidden referent. This social referent is the dominant group...' "(Pratt, 1987, p.59). Thus, linguistic heterogeneity is produced by the homogeneity of the shared social referent (or dominant ideology).
Thus, any study of language and ideology must take into account not only the identity and social class of the speakers involved, but also their relative positions in the society. In examining language and ideology in the American classroom, the inevitability of inequity must be included in order to understand the larger picture as well as the motivations of individual speakers. The community of those in the classroom using non-standard English must be analyzed to uncover the logic used by that group to interpret their social condition and to unify their social world – in sum, to create their own ideology.
Before examining the linguistic and ideological themes evident in American classroom settings, a few final notes must be made to further explicate the critical connection between ideology and linguistics. An analysis of this nature would be lacking without the inclusion of Pierre Bourdieu's research as part of the larger picture. In particular, Bourdieu's exploration of habitus, the linguistic marketplace, and symbolic domination are central to this analysis. Additionally, more recent research into linguistic legitimacy carried on in the tradition of Bourdieu is also important to mention.
Habitus is defined by Bourdieu as a socialized subjectivity which defines a middle ground between individual agency and structural ideology. Thus, habitus guides the individual in making language choices. Bourdieu asserts that cognitive structures are constructed through social origins. Individuals acquire habitus in their primary socialization as a process reflecting social structures conceived in relation to a larger referential group. This socialization process embeds in individuals a system of predispositions and manners of viewing, organizing, and responding to the world. Habitus is then manifested in embodied actions such as manners of speech production, and these actions may be enacted by the speaker at a conscious or subconscious level. However, it is important to note that Bourdieu did not think of habitus as deterministic with individuals only passively responding to conditions and stimuli. While he sees habitus as framing human action, he is always careful to uphold individual human agency in any situation (Bourdieu, 1991).
Couched in this examination of habitus is Bourdieu's examination of the linguistic marketplace. Bourdieu wrote extensively about how language controls exchanges among individuals as if the speakers were taking part in a linguistic market where certain languages are more valued than others. In this case, Standard English is certainly more valued in mainstream culture than AAVE. Bourdieu claims that this hierarchical language system comprises a type of symbolic domination which perpetuates hegemony within the culture in an often unconscious manipulation of responses by those involved in the exchanges. According to Bourdieu , " 'Symbolic domination' is the ability of certain social groups to exercise control over others by establishing their view of reality, their norms - both cultural and linguistic, and their cultural practices - as the most valued ones" (Bourdieu, 1991). Additionally Bourdieu asserts that educational systems controlled by the mainstream government seek to perpetuate and legitimate the social system as it is through a leveraging of linguistic legitimacy.
Bourdieu felt that individuals unable to produce the standard language due to their socialization into a habitus not aligned with mainstream culture may experience a type of linguistic insecurity when called upon to use formal language. In Bourdieu's view linguistic insecurity represents a type of linguistic legitimacy as conceived by the standard language speakers of the socially dominant groups. While Bourdieu describes a system where language and inequity are intertwined in a unified marketplace controlled by mainstream culture, he does not give much voice to those in the culture who continue to use non-standard varieties of the language – such as AAVE. Thus the hegemonic principles in play actually meet resistance by those who refuse to take up the mainstream language creating a type of linguistic black market. Labov and other linguists hone in on this phenomenon by linking language production to issues of identity where non-standard language production carries a different symbolic value for the speakers to the extent that rejection of the mainstream language is worth the capital lost in making that decision (Bourdieu, 1991, Reagan, 1997).
Many student speakers of AAVE actually have been shown to be relatively fluent in the mainstream "Standard" English. It appears that most Black English speaking children understand more Standard English pronunciation than they use.... (Reagan, 1997, 11). Thus a study of language use in classroom settings for purposes of uncovering underlying ideological constructs must include a consideration of a linguistic black market used by minority speakers in the classroom in order to resist symbolic domination. Here AAVE can be said to be used as a boundary marker indicating and creating edges of discourse as well as signaling identity. "Speaker's choice of code in a particular situation is part of that speaker's linguistic presentation of self" (Gal, 1978, p. 4).
"Research concerned with the question of why non-standard and 'low-prestige' varieties persist in the face of strong hegemonic pressures from dominant and standard varieties has often stressed their function as 'markers' of group identity, and the issue of 'solidarity' more generally" (Garrett, in press, p23). Additionally, AAVE is used to indicate a feeling of closeness between the speakers, "signaling as it does a shared history as members of a community" (Mertz, 1989, p.113). Finally, AAVE has been recently described as experiencing an increase in status with the co-opting of black culture in American popular culture – rap, hip-hop – it is seen as cool (Reagan, 1997). But that only explains recent resistance to using Standard English.
More accurately, the use of language by AAVE speakers can be seen as a negotiation of self in a complicated socio-cultural structure. A primary idea here is of American culture and society not being defined as a black and white dichotomy as is commonly seen in such discussions, but rather as a process of continuation and transformation that requires those involved in the process to continuously re-examine ideas of identity and its multiple forms. Here identity is seen within a culture as defined by a graduated hierarchy of European and African-American elements creating what can be described as a linguistic and ideological continuum. Thus identity results both from the tensions between the extreme ends of the continuum at the same time that it is defined by the synthesis or evolving cultural unity of that graduated continuum as it stretches between those extremes. This process then is "not a homogenizing process, but rather a process of contention between people who are members of social formations and carriers of cultures, a process in which their own ethnicity is continually re-examined and redefined in terms of the relevant oppositions between different social formations at various historical moments" (Bolland, 1992, p.72).
Gee comments on this topic, "If you opt for seeing literacy as a matter of discourse systems, you have opened a Pandora's box of social and political concerns. You are dealing with the root of people's identities, since discourse systems are ultimately about the ways in which people situate themselves in the world" (Gee, 1988, 40). Indeed this does complicate our analysis, but it must be mentioned in order to ground our perspective.
"Transmission Ideologies" in the School Setting
Much research has been done on the use of language in the classroom in terms of the language production of teachers and other authority figures (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999; Arce, 2000; Delpit, 1988, 1992; Fecho, 2000; Gee, 1988, 2000, 2001; Heath, 1980, 1983, 1986, 1989, 2000; Morgan, 2002; Ogbu, 1982, 1990, 1999; Osborne, 1999; Vygotsky, 1978, 1986). This analysis will attempt to bring these findings together into one cohesive perspective in order to uncover the underlying ideology. The linguistic and ideological study of the dominant classroom structure is presented here first to be followed in contrast by an analysis of the uses of language by AAVE speakers held in this environment.
Recent research has shown minor changes in trends of how teachers employ language in classroom settings for the purposes of "teaching". "Scholars have begun to consider small-group work, literature circles, peer conferences, and covert talk among students, as well as textbook language and forms of writing done by students under different conditions" (Heath 2000, p. 55). Additionally certain teachers have historically used language differently (an exception to the rule) than the mainstream ideals of classroom "teaching" language production. However, there is a substantial body of research supporting a stereotypical view of classroom language exchanges aligned with dominant, mainstream linguistics and ideologies (Gee, 1988; Heath, 2000).
This stereotypical paradigm is the one most familiar to those who have passed through the educational system in America, and this classroom structure can best be described as a transmission model – or a "transmission ideology." Freire defines transmission education as a means to maintain a system of domination and submission wherein students are eventually rendered unable to make decisions about their lives (Freire, 1990). "The curriculum in a transmission model is never neutral, because it reveals how a teacher determines what is important to learn and transmits it to students" (Arce, 2000). Thus, from the outset, an ideology that language should be used to inform students rather than to allow student exploration is established. And in informing students, certain class inequities are perpetuated. The enactment of this model (how is this manifested in everyday classroom interactions) creates the everyday lived experiences of students and teachers and explicates the underlying transmission ideology.
Shirley Brice Heath explores the transmission model in examining the typical classroom language of recitation, examination, and discussion in classrooms based on authority-dominant situations. She states,
Textbooks and tests were for the most part structured around decontextualized discrete-point knowledge as the only type that can determine grade-level achievement. Getting at creative, independent thought that either went beyond expected answers or raised further questions had to be left largely to certain types of classroom activities and to the extra credit sections of textbooks. Sociolinguists showed that the usual text book question called for straightforward answers, drawing inappropriate responses from children whose early socialization and peer interactions had taught them to value heavy use of metaphor and sociodramatic bids that asked others to join in imaginative and hypothesized scenarios. The logic of these and other nonstandard ways of telling stories, arguing a claim, or illustrating genralizations did not fit the standard in classroom discussion or answers called for in many tests and general end of the chapter questions of textbooks (Heath 2000, p. 52).
Thus Heath defines an everyday use of language in the classroom that reveals an ideology where language is used to "transmit", to "inform", to "tell" students what is important and what they need to know through a method of direct instruction where the teacher initiates and controls the language production. In this ideology, students are seen as "sponges" waiting to soak up knowledge from the authority figure. They are seen as passive recipients of knowledge. They are seen as incapable of constructing knowledge on their own terms. They are not allowed to author their own cognition and are thus detained from fully engaging in the learning process through a lack of engagement. Logically enough, this lack of engagement leads to incidences of counter-agendas and behavioral issues that perpetuate stereotypes of ethnic minorities in academic settings. Additionally, the students' own prior knowledge and experiences are seen as trivial or even worthless to the educational enterprise. Additional research in the field offers additional support of this view. (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999; Delpit, 1988, 1992; Garcia & Otheguy, 1989; Goodwin, 1990; Heath, 1980, 1983, 1986, 1989, 2000; Morgan, 2002; Ogbu, 1982, 1990, 1999).
Classrooms are seen as dominated by "teacher talk" (a concept introduced by Courtney Cazden) wherein a typical exchange is described by the "intitation-response-evaluation" (IRE) pattern– teacher intiation, student response, teacher evaluation. In this pattern, students are expected to respond to teachers by giving back what teachers already know (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999; Osborne, 1999). In this pattern, "linguists recognized that classroom teachers were redirecting the interrogative nature of questions – generally accepted in child language studies as truly information-seeking or routinely game-linked" (Heath 2000, p. 51). Teacher talk dominates in these classrooms, and students are encouraged, or rather limited, to supplying words and phrases for a teacher controlled script. Research indicated that students had limited opportunities for speaking. Indeed, their role in the classroom was to "listen", and this often resulted in a lack of engagement on the part of the students. Additionally, when they were allowed to speak, student's answers were constrained to appropriate responses as determined by the teacher. To further limit student language exchange, some teachers also established rules in the classroom that allowed the one-speaker-at-a-time-turn-taking system. Classroom teachers valued students being able to work alone, to be quiet, to listen, and in doing so, teachers created what can be identified as "the silent classroom" where student reticence was valued and encouraged (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999, p. 6-7).
Researchers further found that classroom exchanges reveal patterns that support the transmission ideology. Typically, students are asked to engage in graded tasks where student production is meant to match the teacher framework for evaluative purposes. Information is presented to students as "practical" or "logical" with no personal connection established between student and the information presented. Students learn isolated skill hierarchies in a pre-determined and tightly managed linear, sequential order. Students use language in very limited to contexts – to describe objects, events, and information for display purposes; to retell events in sequence; to participate socially (not academically); to request and clarify information; and to link personal and new ideas to a pre-determined school discourse. Furthermore, the information presented is most often decontextualized – that is, it is presented in a vacuum where students are not expected to make connections personally, vertically, or horizontally to other learned or available information. (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999)
While the classroom exchanges and ideology described above are horrifying enough for general classroom settings, examining these factors in light of language learning in classroom settings presents an even more problematic picture. American education has an insistent focus on "learning to read and write as the natural forerunner of reading and writing to learn." In turn, this "creates innumerable classroom scenes of individuals reading aloud and responding to teacher and test questions about the content of reading materials" (Heath, 1989, p 370). Heath makes a nice distinction here between reading and writing in order to further the learning process in contrast to common practice in schools today where reading and writing are taught as their own subject in an isolated and decontextualized format. This represents an anathema to recent views of cognitive science on the learning processes of students! (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986).
As should be evident, the model of the silent classroom provides little opportunity for children to develop the academic language skills which are necessary for school success and which middle class children are likely to learn at home (Heath, 1983). In short, language development depends on practice (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999). Ironically, judgments about language use are used in everyday interactions to evaluation character and intelligence. Heath claims that this is particularly problematic for speakers of AAVE as "negative assessments of language abilities often underlie expressions of sweeping prejudicial characterizations" (Heath, 1989, p 367). Indeed, Heath contends that schools and employers have repeatedly described black students and workers as "victims" of language poverty. (Heath, 1989, p 367). This in turn has lead to an increased focus in educational systems on literacy learning. Paradoxically, Colin Lankshear has found that even in an environment where there is an increased initiative around language, minority students are still asked to take part in mechanistic-level transmission strategies as students are seen as incapable of higher order interaction with language and text (Lankshear, 1997).
In terms of reading and writing in academic settings, schools tend to deal with literacy skills just as they deal with the information transmission described above – again, note the connection to the transmission ideology. Reading and writing are taught as isolated, mechanistic skills made up of discrete elements that must be manipulated apart from the meaning or interpretation of the text – and certainly apart from any personal connections to text (Heath, 1989, p 369). Additionally, the authority of the text is unquestioned. It is understood that the teacher and students stand outside the text and that construction of information is isolated from the text. The text is autonomous, sealed and separate, and must be dissected relying only on logic and reason, not on emotion or personal connection (Gee, 1988).
Research has found that a majority of school tasks require that students learn to read and write as individuals and to prove their skills in prescribed and limited forms to include worksheets, tests, brief essays, and answers to teacher and text questions. Writing is constrained in early years to short answer and short essay responses to prompts and later to research papers written in a one-shot chance with little chance for peer or teacher editing and revision. There is little opportunity to share knowledge and collaborate with others, to draw from multiple sources, to switch roles and perspectives, or to trade expertise with others in literacy building exchanges. In short, there is little to no opportunity for the open ended and creative manipulation of language that typifies definitions of being literate. Literacy is viewed here as an individual accomplishment measured by standardized tests of ability (Heath, 1980)
Finally, in dealing with the ideology of the transmission model, implicit here is a need to analyze the "ideology of other" - how does the overwhelming influence of the transmission model cause those within the mainstream (and those accepting or unquestioning of this model) to view those who do not or cannot meet the demands of this model? Logically enough, those unable or unwilling to meet the demands of the transmission ideology are viewed as deficit at best and deviant at worst. Heath explicates this paradox nicely in stating,
If a student can reason hypothetically but has few opportunities to hear or to generate the kinds of language forms needed to show this reasoning, then standard academic assessment would conclude that the student's inability to express this reasoning amounts to a lack of knowledge. It may well be the case, particularly for students for whom the classroom language is not their home or peer language, that these students know and understand what is being asked of them but have not yet developed the necessary linguistic means to express what they know. The same holds true for students hose home and peer talk have not provided abundant exemplars and occasions for arguing a point, debating an issue, or presenting support for both sides of an argument Such criteria hold for academic language and that of many professions, but they have no value in house holds , for example, where music, visual arts and crafts or gardening – generally accomplished through demonstration and practice rather than verbal explication – have been the primary joint family activities. (Heath 2000, p. 51).
Thus standardized tests reliant on standard forms of English may work against AAVE speakers making them seem language disabled (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999, p. 10-11). Statistics show that urban black populations have been increasingly marginalized socially and economically in part due to their proficiency with Standard English. Timothy Reagan argues, "the debate about Black English is fundamentally an educational one, concerned with the most appropriate manner of meeting the needs of a particular group of students. Arguably the most significant lesson to be learned with respect to the needs of Black English speakers is that language difference does not in any way constitute language deficit...speakers of Black English continue to be disproportionately misdiagnosed and mislabeled with respect to both cognitive and speech/language problems" (Reagan, 1997, 3).
Additionally, the model of the silent classroom does not encourage authentic engagement on the part of the student. Logically enough, this lack of engagement leads to incidences of counter-agendas and behavioral issues that perpetuate stereotypes of ethnic minorities in academic settings thus exacerbating perceptions and enflaming the situation. Ironically, due to the tenseness of this situation, Reagan feels that the language varieties spoken by this population may have diverged even further from the surrounding Standard or Mainstream varieties of American English due to the conflict inherent in the system and the need of these speakers to resist the hegemony implicit in this drive toward linguistic legitimacy (Reagan, 1997, 12). The manifestation of "bad" behavior from these students and continued deviance from standard varieties of the language perpetuate an ideology of "other" where AAVE speakers are viewed as incapable at best.
The manner in which language is conceived and perceived in the AAVE speaking community stands in sharp contrast to the transmission ideology. The transmission model has been proven wholly inadequate by recent findings in cognitive science in terms of advancing the learning processes of minority individuals in the classroom (Gee, 1988). There is a discrepancy between the use of language in academic settings and the use of language in AAVE communities. In fact, these discrepancies are so pronounced as to give rise to perceptions of deficiency and deviancy in AAVE populations due to the students being unwilling or unable to match school manipulations of language. Heath states, there are "documented wide gaps in language ideology and use between working class black and white children in their neighborhood and schools" (Heath 2000, p. 51). Note here that Heath relies more on issues of class than race in her assessment; however, again, for sake of time and conciseness, this paper will be limited to a consideration of AAVE speakers.
In truth, the conception of language usage and subsequent manipulation of language by AAVE speakers is markedly different from the patterns expected and honored in academic settings. Heath and other prominent researchers have spent considerable time explicating the language usage patterns of AAVE speakers (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999; Delpit, 1988, 1992; Garcia & Otheguy, 1989; Goodwin, 1990; Gee, 1988, 2000, 2001; Heath, 1980, 1983, 1986, 1989, 2000; Morgan, 2002; Ogbu, 1982, 1990, 1999). What is remarkable here is the contrast between not only the patterns of language exchanges examined, but the contrast between ideologies underlying these patterns. In sum, while the academic environment was shown to value an "ideology of transmission", the AAVE community has been shown to rely on a "social network ideology" (Gee, 1988, p.36). That is, while academic settings wish for the teacher to teach and the students to passively receive information, the "social network ideology" relies more on the idea of information being constructed in contextualized, social settings through exchanges with others involved in the process where knowledge is "built" through social interactions.
In the social network ideology paradigm, as typified by an examination of AAVE speaking communities described in the research, individuals learn that language is a shared experience, and in many cases an oral experience. Here information is built up as part of a community of interaction. Adaptability of thought and interpretation of information is key. "Community is seen as shared resources – they do not value the accumulation of all skills within every individual; instead, different levels and types of talents within the community provide a range of varied resources for the community" (Heath, 1989, p 367). Here a certain reliance and on interpretive talents of the individual listener and speaker is valued. The needs of the community are considered first in the construction of knowledge, and that knowledge is adapted to the needs of the community. The community regards individuals who have the ability to change forms of literacy and interaction, to gather and use information from a variety of sources outside their personal experience, to adjust knowledge to fit different interpretations and to act on information in individual ways as accomplished, smart, and literate (Heath, 1989, p 367). The information sought and constructed in this model is highly contextualized and relevant. The focus here is on that information judged meaningful – that which is functional and practical. Here individuals read to learn more than they learn to read.
In this ideology, children are taught a culture of group involvement in decision making constructed often in oral exchanges. The sequencing of thought and practice here is not linear or sequential – rather it is associative and personal. Heath contends that these public occasions for oral performances have been shown to sustain other valued characteristics in the black community such as persistence, assertive problem solving and adaptability in role playing (Heath, 1989, p 368). This ideology holds a shared respect for the talents and perspectives of others. Others in the community are seen as resources, contributors, and collaborators. Again, the reliance here is on interpretive talents among group collaboration. Thus the competitive, individualistic paradigm of the transmission model is in stark opposition to the AAVE social network ideology
In terms of an oral tradition, research has shown long standing rich verbal forms of Afro-American use of language to include rhymes, stories, music, sermons and joking (Heath, 1989, p.367). McHenry and Heath reference the sermon genre as key to advancing the notion of African Americans as an oral people (McHenry & Heath, 1994, p.421). In the literature, this oral tendency in the AAVE speaking community is on the reciprocal, dynamic, and fluid nature of speech and knowledge. Yet, these same oral skills are not routinely evaluated or recognized or consistently utilized in the silent classroom described above (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999, p. 18). Indeed, quiet – the absence of oral language – is attributed great value, and in teacher interviews "talk" is mentioned as evidence of problems once again highlighting the idea of deviancy in the ideology of other found in academic settings. (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999, p. 18)
Furthermore, text (written and read) is handled in the same manner – though an oral negotiation of meaning within the social context. Here orality is seen as a form of literate behavior with a focus on "interpreting oral and written texts, preparing and practicing oral performances and written summations of them, feeding texts through the tests of individual experience, and remaking text conceived by others into confirmation of current group identities and purposes" (Heath, 1989, p 367-68). Heath describes this interaction of text and reader/writer in stating "speaking encircled reading, and reading – especially of literature – surrounded writing" (McHenry & Heath, 1994, p.424). Again, the connections here are not discrete or sequential. Rather this model embodies a shared, associative, and personal response to text and other in an attempt to construct meaning.
The common practice here is for individuals to make public significant pieces of information in order to negotiate and debate and construct meaning, to offer judgments, and to decide appropriate actions. (Heath, 1989, p 369). One primary assumption in the social network ideology is that knowledge should be shared and that in the classroom the teacher is implicit to task. Construction of knowledge here is a process of integrating personal ideas and connections with the reading and writing process. Text is envisioned as connected to overt social encounters and action often reliant not on logic, but on issues related to morality (Gee, 1988). The authority does not lie in the text; it lies in the construction of knowledge in shared exchanges with the text and with others based on mutual negotiation, prior knowledge, experience, and context in an active construction model. The text is only starting point. In terms of writing, the short answer/short essay format of the transmission ideology toward writing stands in sharp contrast to the social network ideology. In the transmission model, teachers constrain time and task, longer pieces of writing are first drafts only, and writing is envisioned as a solo activity without opportunity given to shape and test ideas by talking with others. (Heath, 1989, p 370)
This now common depiction of AAVE culture as "oral" is at times problematic and should be used only as one descriptor in a larger examination of the ideology at play here. McHenry and Heath argue that the "this portrayal of African American culture has served the academic culture by allowing the distancing and objectifying of African Americans while reserving designations such as 'literate' for the 'dominant' culture. The focus on African American orality has thus often implied an absence of reason and permanence" (McHenry & Heath, 1994, p.421). McHenry and Heath go on to describe in rich detail the literate practices of educated African-Americans in their article; however, their descriptions of the literate basis of African-American culture share a recurrent theme of oral and shared experiences which frame the discussions of reading and writing literate practices of this population (for more on this topic, see Appendix A). Additionally, Heath claims that the support structures for the social network ideology are deteriorating with the rise of the urban, industrialized society. She contends that current forms of black culture are taking Blacks away from socially based constructions of community and language in form of alienating urban culture (Heath, 1989, p.367). As a result, this model of the social network ideology is itself in danger of eradication.
As this analysis has sought to examine, the linguistic and ideological choices relatively available to speakers in the American academic setting are complex, varied, and often in opposition. The social network ideology carried by AAVE speakers stands in sharp contrast to the traditional transmission ideology commonly used in academic settings. Yet this paradox is often not recognized by those who work in these very settings! Additionally, in not recognizing and honoring the variability of languages present in the classroom leads to debilitating effects where non-standard speakers are penalized for their language production as teachers attempt to force everyone to speak one language. Mary Louise Pratt states "Sociolinguists have often criticized the homogenizing and normalizing tendencies of formal grammar and discourse analysis and have placed the social variability of language at the center of their agenda" (Pratt, 1987, p55).
Pratt continues to explore this illogicality by stating,
"Despite whatever social differences might be at work, it is assumed that all participants are engaged in the same game and that game is the same for all players. Perhaps more importantly in these game-models, only legitimate moves are named in the system, where 'legitimate' is defined from the point of view of the party in authority. Teacher-pupil language for instance, tends to be described almost entirely from the teachers' point of view" (Pratt, 1987, p.51).
Pratt further contends,
"there is an irony, for instance, in the thought of schoolrooms as stable, harmonious, smoothly-running discursive arenas in which teachers and pupils go on producing the same orderly cycles together day in and day out. For indeed, classrooms are supposed to be places where things change all the time, where pupils do and say different things from one day to the next because education and socialization are going on" (Pratt, 1987, p52).
It is clear that minority students, here confined to speakers of AAVE, are experiencing difficulty in academic settings due to the mismatch between home and school linguistic and ideological paradigms (Ogbu, Heath, Delpit, Gee, Pratt). AAVE speakers are being constrained from authentic and natural productions of language as understood by them based on their primary socialization (Bourdieu, 1991). It is clear that the requirements of our formal education system - that students show what they know in certain oral and written forms – may not align with student's ways of communicating their competence (Heath, 2000). In addition, these oral and written forms may not even be a part of that student's own "identity kit" as a constructor of knowledge (Gee, 2000, 2001). Heath contends that this situation is further compounded in schools by the "strong tendency among English teachers within public schools to chose as exemplars of African American literature primarily works that portray individuals unable to express themselves in writing or in global English" and "it is all too easy for students to develop the idea that the backgrounds of African-American writers ... do not show the same degree of variation in class, region, and ideology as other writers (McHenry & Heath, 1994, p.436-37).
Yet language learning is cultural learning. And the extent to which individuals learn to read and write depends on the role literacy plays in their families, communities, and jobs. (Heath, 1980, Heath, 1989). Gee lays out his agenda on this matter in proposing that students confront and examine language much in the same way Fecho guided his students through their inquiry. Gee urges the recognition of students languages and linguistic experiences as real, valuable and appropriate, and something that can be used as a foundation on which to build. In this way the individual student's background is valued to as great an extent as possible in seeking to meet his or her needs while at the same time opening the world of Mainstream Discourse to that student. (Gee, 2000). Pratt presents a situation parallel to the classroom. She states, "
The doctor has knowledge in the form of facts and information; the patient has beliefs anchored in emotion and experience. On the one hand, one is led to ask why the doctor is nowhere assumed to have beliefs of his own that are in play; and on the other and, one wonders why none of the woman's 'experiences' get to count as knowledge or fact. (Pratt, 1987, p.53).
Here Pratt argues that the experiences and ideas of the patient should be just as valued as that of the doctor. Similarly the experiences and ideas of the student must be recognized and utilized. Likewise, Gee contends that language is an individual and constructivist experience created through action experienced in the world and in interaction with others holding similar or dissimilar perspectives (Gee, 2000). Thus all students need to be involved in activities that blend action, interaction, and perspective taking in socially mediated processes (Gee, 2001).
Gee's conception of Discourse as an "identity kit" is important to consider here. Gee contends that as an individual acts in and interacts with the world, they gather a "tool kit full of specific devices (ways with words, deeds, thoughts, values, actions, interactions, objects, tools, and technologies) in terms of which you can enact a specific identity and engage in specific activities associated with that identity" (Gee, 2001, p6). Gee asserts that an individual can have many tools and several tool kits available to them as necessary depending on their needs; however, at times these tool kits create internal tension if the user is not able to sort out context and prioritize values resulting in feelings of anxiety and ambivalence (Gee, 2001). Thus students must be encouraged to explore and experience these languages in a critical, contextual manner, and teachers must become skilled at leading this inquiry on behalf of their students.
Working with language involves being and doing within a much larger framework than that of just the individual working to construct meaning and define self. Gee states, "to know a particular social language is either to be able to "do" a particularly identity, using that social language, or to be able to recognize such an identity, when we do not want to or cannot actively participate" (Gee, 2001, p 5). Therefore, to know a Discourse and to know an identity means access and empowerment in terms of the choices available to the individual to either engage in the activity or to disassociate. In this case, learning the standard language provides choice to students in entering the identity of the mainstream as defined by the larger cultural model. Gee (like Heath) is explicit in maintaining that most social languages are not acquired by direct instruction, but are instead learned through immersion in meaningful practice and through significant relationships with mentors within the Discourse and scaffolded through situated experiences (Gee, 2001).
Thus Gee advocates that teachers use a student's "home" language to bridge them into learning the Standard version of the language. He clearly identifies the differential uses of language found in minority populations as contrasted to language required in academic settings. He advocates that children who use non-Standard versions be explicitly and critically taught to use Standard English and to make that language a part of their identity kit along with maintaining their home language. But is that enough? After all, Black speakers are conscious of the superior position which Standard English holds in American life. Why does this population not seek out the mainstream language as part of their educational process? After all, studies in code switching show that individuals can be proficient in two languages which they can use at will often based on ideas of domain and genre.
Perhaps speakers of AAVE don't see that the academic language and use of Standard English serves any function in their lives. Maybe they feel that the system is corrupt or dysfunctional enough that learning the Standard Discourse is pointless. In truth, the academic system with its use of the transmission model does seem to be rather limited in encouraging student learning and growth, and not just students who speak non-standard varieties of the language. If the academic system does not encourage learning in and of itself, then how can the skills gained in this environment be generalized to the workplace for continued individual success? Gal states, "Ways of speaking are viewed as the results of strategic and socially meaningful linguistic choices which systematically link language change to social change: linguistic innovation is a function of speakers' differential involvement in, and evaluation of, social change" (Gal, 1978, p.2). So what is happening in the black communities as black speakers' evaluative strategies must indicate that black speech patterns are not be honored in academic discourse. Is the evaluative judgment here that the academic language also does not serve a fruitful end? And is this going far enough?
An alternate perspective on this question might be found in analyzing issues related to status and solidarity in these settings. Woolard has argued that although the notion of "cultural hegemony" may fruitfully be applied to solicolinguistic work on 'status and solidarity', local community solidarity may advocate linguistic values that operate as a powerful counterweight to dominant ideologies. Thus, the use of non-standard English may engender creativity through resistance. Small-scale local creative acts of interpretation and of language choice are a form of cultural praxis through which local speakers respond to, but also effect, social change" (Mertz, 1989, p.115). So perhaps some praxis is evident in these populations.
Paradoxically, it appears that black speakers' ideologies of language would actually lead to more critical contexts of learning and thinking if analyzed objectively. Thus, maybe it is time to analyze the mainstream "transmission ideology" as well. If teachers are seeking to draw on recent findings in cognitive science, then a focus in classrooms should be on students as constructors of knowledge, not as passive recipients (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986, Freire 1970). With this ideal in place, it is easy to imagine a classroom based on the social network ideology wherein students are busy negotiating their language and literacy experiences in a collaborative and shared atmosphere and where they are seen as authority figures in the instructional process as they author their own learning. Heath states, "if as our folk theories maintain, schools are in the business of improving benefits for society, they have much to learn from the oral and literate traditions of Black American family and community life (Heath, 1989, p 372). Here classrooms will be filled with linguistic directness, and students will be encouraged in overlapping and simultaneous student talk, simultaneity, latching talk, and repetition while also spotlighting individual abilities. In this way teachers construct their own authority as facilitators of growth, and students' identities will parallel home routines with language and literacy (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999, p. 7). Additionally tasks can be reconceptualized so that language is seen as cultural resource rather than social problem, and language can be seen as a form of scientific endeavor rather than dull taxonomic drills. In this way instruction becomes more realistic, interesting and respectful as language and ideologies are re-examined and re-evaluated (Adger, Christian, & Taylor, 1999; Vygotksy, ???)
If nothing else, we should look to educating our teachers on these issues. "If classroom teachers are to be expected to function, in essence, as applied linguists in their classrooms ... then it becomes both urgent and essential that they receive appropriate preparation and training to enable them to meet such challenges... to ensure that the linguistic needs of all children will be considered along side their social, cultural, and educational needs" (Reagan, 1997, 21). Yet few studies show that research on what happens with language in classrooms, textbooks, and texts have sustained and substantial influence on actual classroom practice. Even more disturbingly few teacher training programs inform teachers about how language works, how context matters, and how close examination of the interdependence of language, context, and socialization could matter in understanding learning (Heath 2000, p. 52).
In looking back again at Bob Fecho's Philadelphia high school English class, the replacement of the transmission ideology with the social network ideology becomes apparent, and its successes and challenges are evident. At the end of the year-long exploration of language with his students, Fecho relates that he had to reflect back on how difficult it was to cross cultural and personal boundaries with his students. He tells us that it was incredibly difficult for him to give up the authority stance in the classroom and to "allow" learning to happen. Yet he values the time spent in this classroom and with his students. He urges teachers to slow down and to move away from seeing students as endless consumers of facts. In essence he urges teachers to break away from the transmission ideology prevalent in schools today. He relates that his experiences using the social network ideology (although he does not call it this) encouraged his students to question issues of power, hegemony, and marginalization in their exploration of how language impacted their learning and their livelihoods, and their experiences and language should be honored first and foremost. This is should be the goal for all students.
McHenry and Heath (1994) argue that the African-American community does have a strong written and literate base; however, even within the context of this article the authors reiterate strong ties to socially constructed uses of language. This pattern of black men and women meeting in groups to socially construct literature and written forms of discourse emerges as a recurrent theme. The authors describe various situations where black men and women worked within the mainstream discourses to further their own political and social agendas. In all of these descriptions, the joining of ideas and thought in social situations played a key role (McHenry & Heath, 1994). The authors state "much has been written on the absence of literacy skills among African Americans across American history or on the individual achievements through literacy of particularly individuals, such as Harriet Jacobs or Frederick Douglass. But literacy in most of these studies has centered on reading or the simple ability to sign one's name...it has been more fashionable to valorize poverty than to detail the contributions of middle- and upper-class African Americans" (McHenry & Heath, 1994, p.420).
Furthermore, these authors write, "the role of the literary in projecting and expanding this literate presence has gone largely unreported, whereas much has been written about the distinctive oral culture of African Americans Public arts performances, media portrayals, and scholarly articles and books since the 1960s have celebrated and demonstrated the rich and varied oral culture of African Americans. From folktales and proverbs to testifying and rapping, the verbal performing arts of African Americans have received wide recognition, and educators and social scientists, as well as literary critics, have fallen easily into the habit of referring to African American culture as 'oral in nature'" (McHenry & Heath, 1994, p.421).
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