Fighting White Supremacy: Celebrating the Language of Our Kids

There is no doubt that language instruction is valid and necessary. As teachers, we have heard quotes like “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” by Ludwig Wittgenstein. We think about issues like being college and career ready and the language needed to get there. We may even think to ourselves, “What about my personal evaluation and state testing?” Here's the struggle we are currently wrestling with; we feel pulled between the need to provide our students with the tools and access to be successful beyond our classrooms, and the knot in our stomachs that tell us we are just preparing them to be successful in a white society. When I encourage “academic language” what message am I sending to my kids? Am I making them doubt they are academic? Are we subconsciously asking them to abandon their language and conform to a white system?


It's hard to think about, but racism can be unconscious. Instead of “speak academically” what if we said things like “How would a scientist like Neil deGrasse Tyson say it?” Or you could try “If Maya Angelou was to write

your paper, what do you think it would sound like?” With this approach, we are pointing out and celebrating successful people of color, while providing tools. We can’t force assimilation, or we are just buying into the system of white supremacy. What is the goal? To make our kids more “white,” or to grow in their language skills for access?



For some, when we discuss “language” for our kids, we think about grammar or vocabulary. Sometimes we talk about focused or integrated English language development. Let’s be honest; how many times as educators do we give a list of words for kids to memorize. They study throughout the week, practice with a friend, and then ace the test on Friday. Proficient right? Maybe not. Will that student actually be able to hear the word, comprehend it, and apply it in the setting its intended? For kids, and us as educators, knowing terminology doesn’t necessarily make us experts. For example, when we discuss racism, we may be able to spout off a definition. However, that doesn’t mean we fully comprehend it’s impact or far reaching ramifications. How as educators, do we make the acquisition of language meaningful to our kids?


This starts with the celebration of the communication styles and language our kids come to us with. As the type A people we tend to be, this often leads us down a path of expecting “academic language” from our kids at all times. We shy away from emotions in communication and what may be considered slang. Although it’s important to provide tools for all students to be successful academically, we need to be extremely careful in the way we approach our black and brown students in particular. In addition, are we consistently expecting our students to demonstrate understanding through writing a 5 paragraph essay, giving a 2 minute speech, or taking a multiple choice test? What if we provided choice in modes of writing for our kids? Spoken word assignments; song writing, and illustrations need to be incorporated into the assignments we provide for our students.


How do these words affect your planning? Is there a way to provide a balance of what’s expected from our standards, and a celebration and acknowledgment of the culture and uniqueness our kids bring to us? We would say absolutely! We would even say, don’t focus all your energy on state testing or requirements. Instead, focus on engagement and connection with your students.


If you encourage out of the box thinking AND demonstration of knowledge, meeting the standards will take care of itself. This starts with teacher beliefs and willingness to do the work; know and celebrate your students. If you put your faith and energy into this, it will change the experience for your students long term. This is what being an educator is all about.


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