Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Effect of Talking Trash, Part 2

Writing in the New York Times, Anna Jane Grossman recently wrote about parents’ resistance to the Junie B. Jones series (July 26, 2007, “Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?”). In a previous posting, I took issue with Grossman’s characterization of whole language, but there is another issue that Grossman discusses that I’d like to comment on. According to Grossman, some parents are banning Junie B. from their homes because they’re worried that Junie B. Jones is a poor model for their children. The problem is Junie B.’s mischievous behavior and her non-standard language (she uses words like “funnest” and “runned” and her adverbs often lack the “ly,” for example). But will exposure to Junie B.’s naughty behavior and non-standard English undermine children’s morals or their language development? Lots of folks seem to think so. The popular press routinely reports on the dangerous influences of reading materials on children’s language, morals, and learning. Children’s books featuring dialect or informal language registers promote “bad” English. Reading books in Spanish discourages literacy in English (Governor Arnold Swartzenneger asked Hispanics to stop watching Spanish television programming). Reading instant messages encourages unconventional spelling. Harry Potter promotes Satanism. Books including gay characters forward a “homosexual agenda.” And on and on. The common thread in all this criticism is a lack of faith in children. Children may be impressionable but they can distinguish between fictional texts and reality. They can distinguish between good and bad behavior. And they’ll make their own lifestyle choices, influenced by their family’s religious and cultural values and their biological endowments. But, most of all, they know that language use varies according to the context. Informal and non-standard forms of English are appropriate to some settings like conversations between friends. More formal, standard forms are especially appropriate to schooling. These same forms are wildly inappropriate in most settings outside of school. Children learn to vary what they say and how they say it at a very early age. Eventually, they learn that spelling conventions also vary according to the context. IM-ing is not a threat to western civilization. Parents and teachers need to have faith in children’s remarkable abilities as language learners while helping children figure out which language forms are most appropriate for which settings. Our goal is to push student to learn a range of oral and written language forms appropriate to a wide variety of audiences and settings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think your passion is misdirected, your presumption erroneous, and your understanding darkened. Instead of aruging for the faith in children, you might try zealously pursing the faith of children; it will yield much better results.