Thursday, 17 October 2013

"But it's just a dialect that I select when I hang..."

This week, I was interviewed for a Guardian 'Comment is Free' article on the banning of slang in a school. Today I was invited to give an interview for a Canadian radio show.

My own thoughts are that slang/language bans are problematic but I don't know all the details around the school in question and wouldn't want to comment on it directly. It's easy to launch into a criticism of something without taking the time to find out more about that which you are criticising. I have experienced that more than once with regard to Hip-Hop Education and it achieves little more than boosting numbers of blog views and twitter followers.

I view the current obsession on slang in the UK within the broader context of the return to a narrative of the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor and the argument that social inequality can be eradicated by working class people becoming more 'respectable'; modifying their speech, clothes and cultural practices. I find it interesting that there are so many stories about the undeserving poor at this particular moment in history. I note also that this same narrative is prominent in the US, where a discussion about the ethics of killing an unarmed working-class Black teenager soon descended (in some quarters) to a discussion on how working-class Black teenagers dress.

Whilst I place great emphasis on teaching the language of power, I would argue that secondary school is a place where the question of what counts as 'Standard English' (and why) can be explored through poetry, literature, grammar studies and historical enquiry. I do not think that teaching 'Standard English' is at all oppressive to working class students (I say this only because many of the comments seem to assume that this is the position of anyone who doesn't favour banning slang). Recognising that different language registers are used in different contexts is important. Enabling access to higher education, whilst not the only purpose of educating children, is an important one. However, I am unconvinced that listing banned words is the way forward.