5016 reading - archive
On pg. 109, Heath mentions that Trackton people are aware of the peculiarities of their way of speaking to their young children. What is the implication of this awareness for the interpretation of the overall case?
This is a comment not related to the to the posted Study Place conversation question but my own observation. I think it’s interesting how little the issue of gender has come up both in our discussions of the ethnographies we’ve been reading as well as the ethnographies themselves. In Heath’s book, she mentions briefly how marginalized girls are in Trackton in terms of the amount of attention they receive, especially non-infant girls. For example, when relatives or other visitors come with gifts, the understanding is that girls are not the main recipients of these gifts and that they must rely on the altruism of their male or younger siblings to share. They are also not usually the main participants in the public square, which is the place where children are allowed to be expressive. In Roadville as well, Heath spoke about how girls are restricted to playing with toys connected to traditionally feminine realms such as home and parenting. In Peggy Miller’s book, we also saw that men were only peripherally involved in the language instruction of children. Yet, neither author discusses these observations further. I wonder about the implications of gender differences in terms of language instruction for schooling later on. It has been commonly observed that boys tend to dominate classrooms (American Association of University Women. (1992). How schools shortchange girls. Washington, DC: American Association of University, and Orenstein, P. (1994). School Girls. New York: Doubleday), regardless of whether or not their answers are correct, while the opposite is true for girls. The silencing of girls is a pervasive problem in schools and throughout society, and I think this topic should have a place in our discussions about language and communication, and especially within the ethnographies themselves. – Kara Balemian
To jump in on your comment, Kara, and perhaps weave in the StudyPlace question, I think in both Heath's study and in the classrooms you mention...the "awareness" may relate to how participants view gender and sex roles as an essential component of one's identity and behavior. Per Susannah's comment below, I interpret Trackton residents' use of language not as incompetence but about pragmatic use of language; both childrearing and teaching practices can reflect views about gender that are consistent with social structure. - Matt R.
I think that the use of the word 'peculiar' is in itself very telling. As a society, we have a clear idea about the standard form of English and how, when, why, where it is used and learned. Heath does a good job in illustrating how lacking mastery of the formal English language is seen as reflecting a lack of linguistic, social, and cultural competence. However, the opposite may in fact be true. Children who speak an English dialect, such as Ebonics or pidgin, have been socialized and taught to communicate in that particular way. It is not that they are any less competent or intelligent, but rather that they have been educated in a language that is not the standard used in schools. The people of Trackton are aware of the peculiarities of language just as they are aware of their difference in economic status, material possessions, etc. Language emerges to fit the needs in a particular context; when it fails to do so, it is no longer used. If the children in Trackton were taught to speak in the ways of Roadville, they would have just as difficult time participating at home as they do at school. For whatever reasons, a standard, formal form of English has gained power and position within modern American society and all other forms of language are viewed as peculiar. I think this says a lot about the disconnect between classrooms and home/family/social environments. - Susannah Marble