Date: Fri, 10 Jan 1997 15:33:03 -0800 (PST) From: Aaron Fox
Subject: Ebonics in NEW YORKER
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Several thoughts here to stoke the fires of obsession . . .

The current issue of The New Yorker has a smart editorial on Ebonyx (as one can imagine it being spelled in a parallel universe of even more political complexity.)

Also, re; "teaching linguistics in school," I had more in mind than a presentation of linguistic knowledge in the abstract. I mean that language teaching (both native "English" classes and "foreign language" classes) ought to proceed from a more comparative, local basis, in which children are taught to reflect on their own linguistic intuitions and contexts of lingusitic experience and practice as a basis for developing their written and oral expression skills. I am basically asking "why has the 'linguistic turn' in social and cognitive scientific thought had so little influence on the curriculum?" although I am sure someone out there will give me good examples of ways it has. On the other hand, Chomsky reminds us in *Language and problems of human knowledge* (1988/MIT) that "Psychology and linguistics have caused a good deal of harm by pretending to have answers to [the questions of pedagogy and translation which skilled practitioners of those arts know unconsciously] and telling teachers and people who deal with children how they should behave. Often the ideas presented by the scientists are totally crazy . . . The truth of the matter is 99 percent of teaching is making the students feel interested in the material. Then the other 1% has to do with your methods. And that's not just true of languages . . . if you use methods designed to make sure that no sensible person could possibly pay attention, then there's no hope" (1988, 180-2).

He goes on to note, apropos of Ebonyx, "Somehow young children have a theory of society and a theory of language, and they are able to link them up in some fashion to indicate that you speak this language in sthis social situation" (ibid, p. 188). (Of course many colleagues on this list will argue that the theory of language and the theory of society are not so distinct in the child's head, which is reasonable to infer. Interestingly, the indexically obsessed wing of linguistic anthro. will often state their theroretical object as precisely the mechanisms of linkage btwn. these theories, along with the theory of nature which correlates.)

And then again I think of his famous metaphor (e.g., ibid) for competence as something more like a plant than a building. You water it and it flowers from a seed and an internal principle. You don't supply the materials and join them together. ". . . [A]ny organism needs a rich and stimulating environment in order for its natural capacities to emerge . . . if you don't give the flower water, it's not going to grow well . . . It's not learning from the water to be a flower" (ibid p. 197).

What I am thinking of as a "linguistically" inspired curriculum requires multilingual and multidialectal preschooling, I think. It also requires social (and thus sociolinguistic) diversity in the school, which we certainly have as raw material in poor schools, if only its energy could be harnessed creatively (although for lack of class diversity our public schools are collapsing.) And ultimately it requires children to encounter the real class divisions that exist in society, but not to encounter social hierarchy from such an alienated position (e.g., on television but never in the corridors of your own school people only with those of your own class background, whatever it might be) that there is no possibility of inspiring a child's interest in negotiating a path past/through those divisions for her/himself or her/his community. I guess I'm dreaming, but it's dreams we lack these days.


______________________________________________________________________ Aaron A. Fox
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music
The University of Washington Box 353100, Seattle WA 98195-3100 FAX: 206-543-3285, TEL: 206-685-1811
EMAIL: WWW: ________________________________________________________________________

"We're not here for glamor or FAshion
but here's the question I'm askin
Why isn't young black kids taught BLACK? They're only taught to read, write, and act It's like teaching a dog to be a cat
you don't teach a DOG to be a cat
you don't teach WHITE kids to be BLACK
why IS that?
Is it because we're the miNOrity?"

KRS-1/BoogieDownProductions "Why Is That?" From *Ghetto Music: THe Blueprint of Hip Hop.* Copyright 1989 Jive Records (BMG)