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The Problem
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  1. The Problem • Black children in central urban ghettos do poorly on all subjects • Reading: More than 2 years behind the national average • Gap is cumulative- perform worse in fifth grade in comparison to first grade • Poor performance correlated to SES • Poor performance correlated to race and ethnicity • Analysis: A caste system. But how does this mechanism work? By what mechanism does the “color bar” prevent children from learning to read?

  2. Cultural Deficit Review • Cultural deficit as a result of impoverished environments during early years • Cultural deficit as verbal deprivation: little verbal stimulation, little exposure to well-formed language • Cannot speak in complete sentences • Do not know the names of common objects • Cannot form concepts or convey logical thoughts • Lower class black children in particular have NO LANGUAGE • “The language of culturally deprived children…is not merely an underdeveloped version of English, but is a basically non-logical mode of expressive behavior”

  3. Critique of Cultural Deficit Models • Focuses more on interactions between black children and their parents rather than between black children and white society. • Blames the “victim” • Places responsibility on the family rather than power and social processes [society] • Ignores the role of power in interactions between adults and children

  4. White interviewer, African American boy named Leon WI: [Puts a toy fire engine on the table] Tell me everything you can about this (12 seconds of silence) WI: What would you say it looks like? (8 seconds of silence) Leon: A spaceship WI: (HMMMMMMM) (13 seconds of silence) Leon: Like a je-et (12 seconds of silence) Leon: Like a plane (20 seconds of silence) WI: What color is it? Leon: Orange (2 secs) An’ whi-ite (2 secs) An’ Green (6 secs silence) WI: And what could you use it for? (8 seconds silenced) Leon: A je-et (6 secs of silence) WI: If you had 2 of them, what would you do with them? (6 seconds silence) Leon: Give one to some-body. WI: Who do you think would like to have it? (10 seconds silence) Leon: Cla-rence WI: HHMMM Where do you think we could another one of these? Leon: At the store WI: Oh-ka-ay! African American interviewer (CR), African American Boy named Leon [SAME SES] CR: What if you saw somebody kickin’ somebody else on the ground, or was using a stick, what would you do if you saw that? Leon: Mmmmm. CR: It was supposed ot be a fair fight- Leon: I don’ know CR: You don’ know? Would you do anything?...huh? I can’t hear you. Leon: No. CR: Did you ever see anyone get beat real bad? Leon: …Nope??? CR: Well –uh-did you ever get into a fight with a guy? Leon: Nope. CR: That was bigger than you? Leon: Nope. CR: You never been in a fight? Leon: Nope. CR: Nobody pick on you? Leon: Nope. ETC. Interviews 1 and 2

  5. Interview 3 (This conversation is punctuated by the sound of potato chips) CR: Is there anybody who says, “Your mama drink pee?” Leon: [rapidly and breathlessly] Yee-ah! Gregory: Yup Leon: And your father eat doo-doo for breakfas’! CR: Ohhhhhhh! Leon: And they say your father- your father eat doo-doo for dinner! Gregory: When they sound on me, I say “C.B.M.” CR: What that mean? Gregory and Leon together: Congo Booger-Snatcher! Gregory: And sometimes I’ll curse with “B.B.” CR: What’s that? Gregory: Oh that’s M.B.B. Black Boy (potato chips crunching) Gregory: ‘Merican Black Boy CR: Oh. Gregory: Anyway. ‘Mericans the same as white people. Right? Leon: And they talk about Allah CR: Oh yeah? Gregory: Yeah CR: What do they say about Allah? Leon: Allah- Allah is God….Allah is the son of God…. ANALYSIS: The social situation is the most powerful determinant of verbal behavior. An adult must enter into the right social relation with a child if he/she wants to find out what a child can do.

  6. Language in Low SES African American Communities • Labov’s findings: • Children bathed in verbal stimulation • Speech events that depend on upon the competitive exhibition of verbal skills (singing, sounding, toasts, playing the dozens) • Younger children try to acquire these skills from older children • Speech abides by the grammatical rules of Black English Vernacular • Negative inversion: “don’t nobody know” • Negative concord: “You ain’t goin’ to no heaven” • Invariant “be”: “When they be sayin’” • Replace “it” with “there”: “it ain’t no heaven” • Optional Copula deletion: “If you’re good…if you bad.” • Deletion of “is” or “are” instead of using contractions: “They mine” vs. They’re mine” • NO CONNECTION between verbal skill at speech events in the community “street culture” and success in the classroom

  7. Middle Class (Standard) English • Middle class verbal behavior= Standard English • precision in spelling, handling abstract symbols, defining words, knowledge of Latin type vocabulary • Imposing middle class verbal behavior BUT How much of it is useful vs. stylistic or even dysfunctional? • EXAMPLE: Middle class high school and college writing • Working class speakers as more effective narrators, reasoners, and debaters than many middle class speakers who are saturated with verbiage.

  8. Interview #1 JL: Interviewer Larry: Interviewee (lower class black 15-year-old male) JL: …but just say there is a God, what color is he? White or black? Larry: Well, if it is a God…I wouldn’ know what color, I couldn’ say- couldn’ nobody say what- JL: But now, just suppose there was a God- Larry: Unless’n they say… JL: No, I was jus’ sayin’ jus’ suppose there is a God, would he be white or black? Larry: He’d be white, man. JL: Why? Larry: Why? I’ll tell you why. ‘Cause the average whitey out here got everything, you dig? And the nigger ain’t got shit, y’know? Y’unnerstan’? So-um-for- in order for that to happen, you know it ain’t no black God that’s doin’ that bullshit.

  9. Interview #2 CR= Interviewer CS= Interviewee (Upper-middle class college educated black man) CR= Do you know of anything someone can do, to have someone who has passed on visit him in a dream? CS: Well, I even heard my parents say that there is such a thing as something in dreams, some things like that, and sometimes dreams do come true. I have personally never had a dream come true. I have never dreamt that somebody was dying and they actually died (Mhm), or that I was going to have 10 dollars the next day and somehow I got 10 dollars in my pocket. (Mhm) I don’t particularly believe in that, I don’t think it’s true. I do feel, though, that there is such a thing as-ah-witchcraft. I do feel that in certain cultures there is such a thing as witchcraft, or some sort of science of witchcraft; I don’t think it is just a matter of believing hard enough that there is such a thing as witchcraft. I do believe that there is such a thing that a person can put himself in a state of mind (Mhm), or that-er-something could be given them to intoxicate them in a certain- to a certain frame of mind- that-that could actually be considered witchcraft.

  10. Language and Power • “This the oppressor’s language yet I need it to talk to you”- Adrienne Rich • Learning to speak against the black vernacular (the speech of a displaced people) • Standard English is the language of conquest and domination • Using language as a form of power • It is not the language itself, but what is done with the language that makes it a tool of oppression and colonization (remember Macedo et al.) • Language used as a • Territory that limits and defines • Weapon that shames, humiliates, and colonizes (defining languages as gibberish rather than logical modes of communication)

  11. Slavery and the Oppressor’s Language • Language and Oppression • Terror of slave ships, auction blocks, and displacement compounded by hearing a language they could not understand • Further compounded by not being able to speak to others in the same position, sharing only their skin color but not a common culture or language • First hearing English as the oppressor’s language

  12. Using the Oppressor’s Language • Using the oppressor’s language as a space to bond with other Africans • Shared languageShared CommunityPolitical Solidarity • Using the language but reinventing it in order to speak beyond the boundaries of conquest and domination • Taken broken bits of the language to create a COUNTER-LANGUAGE • Research on song as resistance but not the grammar of such songs • Using language as a political statement • “Nobody knows de trouble I see” vs. “No one knows the trouble I see” • Connected to Black English Vernacular of today

  13. Black English Vernacular of Today • Rupture of “Standard English” that enables rebellion and resistance- • Forges a space for different ways of thinking and knowing that are in opposition to the hegemonic world view • Rap music’s use of Black English Vernacular • Invites dominant, mainstream culture to listen • Can be trivialized through its adoption by young white kids • Academic Settings and the Absence of Black English Vernacular • hooks uses Southern Black Vernacular in some of her lectures, speeches, and publications • Repressing such language use is a political act • Emphasis on listening and experiencing the inability to understand rather than “Mastery or possession”

  14. Summary “When I need to say words that do more than simply mirror or address the dominant reality, I speak black vernacular. There, in that location, we make English do what we want it to do. We take the oppressor’s language and turn it against itself. We make our words a counter-hegemonic speech, liberating ourselves in language.” hooks