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READING AND BLACK NON-MAINSTREAM STUDENTS

If Black non-mainstream children wish to make their way successfully in mainstream society, it is necessary that they learn Standard American English...In a complex  technological, highly impersonal society such as the United States of America, a great deal of information must be shared by means of the printed word..The ability to read well is a prerequisite for navigating one's way through such a society..Without the acquisition of basic reading skills, the probability of having a happy, productive life, free from the crippling cycle of poverty and frustration is low indeed..Those persons who do not possess basic functional reading abilities, with a few, a very few exceptions, are relegated to a caste system.

They become the people least equipped to cope with a complex, rapidly changing society...Many economic, social, and cultural avenues are closed to non-readers and poor readers..When people learn of their illiteracy, they generally consider it to be symptomatic of low intelligence..This society places a heavy stigma on illiteracy..The illiterate person is considered to be dull, ignorant, backward, narrow, and uneducable..Even worst, the illiterate person often comes to consider himself/herself, to be all of these things and more..  

 The illiterate person will frequently give up all attempts at formal learning because he or she has internalized the stigma attached to illiteracy..The illiterate person in a highly literate, technological, achievement oriented society is hanging by a thin thread, practically and psychologically..The person's ego must constantly defend against tremendous feelings and perceptions of inadequacy..As  an adjustment, or ego-defense, the illiterate often learns to engage in avoidance behavior..He or she often avoids school and educated people, because both tend to elicit feelings of anxiety and frustration, feelings of failure and inadequacy...

 

It is no accident that reading instruction constitutes one of the highest priorities in American education..A school system's reading scores serve as indicators of the academic health of the system..Few indictments of a school are considered more damning than pupils' low achievement in reading..Many school superintendents have discovered that their job security is directly or indirectly related to how their school system ranks in comparison with national reading norms..Yet in this country, the most technologically advanced in the world, the reading problem is of frightening proportions..The headline of a recent article read"Study shows that more than one-fifth of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate in today's society."

 

Black non-mainstream students, often referred to as Black inner-city students, represents a reading problem of even greater magnitude..They come from families that are poorer than the general population and that are considerably lower in formal educational attainment..They possess a culture, language, and set of experiences that are different from the general population...And to complicate things, they must, for the most part, attend schools that are not prepared and/or willing to use the student's; culture, language, or experience in an educational manner..Their problems are even further complicated by the assumptions made concerning students, which underline the educational philosophy of schools in this country..

It is mistakenly assumed that all students are, or should be, similar to the "idealized White mainstream, normative student..If Black non-mainstream students differ from the normative student by not responding to the methods of instruction and materials in a similar manner, their abilities are suspect..They are frequently labeled and stigmatized as "educationally retarded, culturally deprived, and linguistically impoverished."  This labeling occurs with little or no regard for the fact that the standard of comparison is schools designed to accommodate the culture, language, learning and lifestyles of White mainstream students..Today, it is not uncommon for seventh and eighth-grade Black non-mainstream students to score at the second and third-grade level on standardized reading tests..It is also not uncommon for Black non-mainstream students to finish high school reading below the fifth-grade level.."Between the Rhetoric and Reality" Lauriat Press;Simpkins&Simpkins,2009:Amazon.com..

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Comment by Paulo Borba on June 27, 2011 at 7:36pm

Very interesting insight on black culture and american mainstream society.

When I lived there, I couldn't help but notice that black people were more worried in keeping their 'underrated' language rather than speaking like 'whites'. I am pretty sure that it leads to poor reading, therefore they are considered lower and education deprived.

I think no matter how  schools and teachers make efforts to change this reality, these efforts will not be as effective as it could be if the students and their families do not set apart the substandard black English, many times spoken in their homes, and let them speak more educated English and the most important, it should not be categorized as 'white language'.

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