A.W. Strouse — a poet who teaches medieval literature at the City University of New York — has some big ideas about the English language.
In a piece he penned for Inside Higher Ed, Strouse argued that "as academics, we need to vary our ways of speaking in order to avoid the precanned insights and stale platitudes that deaden thought. In privileging certain forms of speech over others, we denigrate the possibility of thinking outside our own norms."
Meaning, slang should be accepted and not corrected in the classroom.
"Already, scholars of rhetoric believe, as the consensus view, that instructors should not try to change their students’ speech patterns," Strouse said. "In the classroom, students shut down in the face of pedantry because they hate when bossy teachers tell them how to talk, especially in cases in which bourgeois white teachers dictate ex cathedra about what speech is 'correct.'"
He cites Vicki Spandel and Richard J. Stiggins who write, “Negative comments … tend to make students feel bewildered, hurt or angry,” but “positive comments build confidence and make the writer want to try again.”
Strouse notes that experts recommend that professors use positive reinforcement rather than direct criticism.
More from his piece:
But I would take that position one step farther. Rather than simply ignoring “nonstandard” English, I try to facilitate its open, friendly analysis. For example, when my student Xuechen referred to a medieval poem as a “bromance,” I asked my class to use this word in their essays about the poem. Such assignments do not simply tolerate linguistic diversity — they actually affirm and embrace different forms of speech. As [Arthur] Spears has suggested, we must think directly about linguistic conventions in order to better appreciate the identities that we create through language. Rather than simply ignoring “improper” or nonstandard speech, we might relish linguistic diversity.
Strouse told Campus Reform the "privileging of standard English contributes to political dysfunction. Thankfully, most working-class people are too smart to drink the standard-English Kool-Aid. But the movers-and-shakers are trapped in their well-educated bubble and cannot communicate with the folks who, as workers, are actually in the best position to understand how the world works.”
He also doesn't buy into the notion that people should watch their speech in the workplace, saying employers shouldn’t dictate how their employees speak.
“The workplace has way too much power and should not be allowed to determine something as fundamental as how we speak,” he told the outlet. “People need to tell their bosses, ‘F*** you.’”
And no, Strouse doesn't believe professors should correct their students’ language, noting that such actions add to “linguistic racism."
“[Students] do not need educators to perpetuate that injustice by promoting dubious standards,” he told Campus Reform. “They need to equip themselves with a knowledge of historical linguistics so that they can battle against linguistic racism. It is racist to discriminate against someone on the basis that they speak [African American Vernacular English]. I am trying to propose that the celebration of linguistic diversity might be one small way to dismantle that linguistic racism."