Language Puts Power into Even the Smallest Hands

Posted by Michael Dolan on August 25, 2012 in Uncategorized |


One of the unfortunate side effects, we’ve learned over the past 25 years, of correcting the inferior language skills of children is that they feel bad about themselves and embarrassed for their immigrant or poor families.

Good impulse – bad outcome.

We remember the debacle when theorists tried to impose something called “Ebonics” on children whose skin was dark.  Ebonics is a so called language the kids were not connected to any meaningful way.  The plan, which never advanced past racial divisiveness, only further isolated the students.

A staffer at that respected Southern Poverty Law Center advances a new way to help young people communicate more effectively.  Carrie Craven suggests first honoring the student’s informal use of language before giving a rationale to change.  Proper language is power, she says.

“Staff members feel more comfortable correcting students’ speech, and most of our students understand why they do that.  We’re a long way from dismantling the biases that treat our students’ speech as inferior, but talking explicitly about the relationship of language and power has helped empower our students, just by involving them in the conversation,” she says.

Main stream English is the language of the job interview, she tells students.

My experience is that young people often fall into trendy slang and non-standard English because they are young people.  Loud and brash does not mean strong and confident.  Teach them the language of law school and medical school so when they are old enough to make life choices, those two paths are among the options.  For all.

Craven’s piece is a little hard to fathom.  You can see it here:


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