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Real Answers™
Copyright: © 2010 Gary Hardaway
690 words


By:  Gary Hardaway

I was born in the Ozarks of Southern Missouri. In our town and surrounding hills, many folks spoke the colorful regional dialect.  Al Capp’s cartoon, Li’l Abner, though exaggerated and somewhat mocking, humorously elicited the flavor of the lingo, as did Lum and Abner on radio.


Almost all of us had a drawl, and we all either spoke or understood the distinctive hillbilly idiom. If a farmer hadn’t come into town for a while, some would say, “I ain’t seen Dale lately.” Others would say, “I haven’t seen him either.” Through no fault of their own, many of our neighbors had not gone beyond eighth grade.


Among some high school and college teachers of composition, there is a senseless, political, anti-establishment movement to destroy the idea of standard language – multiculturalism run amok. It’s called “Student’s Right to Their Own Language.” SRTOL, for short. The ideology goes like this. White people have their grammar, as in the sentence, “Jesse saw Denise yesterday.” Urban black people have their grammar, as in the sentence, “Jesse seen Denise yesterday.” Oppressive, culturally insensitive white teachers imperialistically refuse to acknowledge the black student’s “right to his/her own language.” English teachers have no right to “correct” the jargon of the street or ghetto. To do so is to attack the student’s core identity, community, and culture.


In my personal library are some highly valued books by Dr. Thomas Sowell, Dr. Stephen Carter, Dr. Shelby Steele, Dr. Martin Luther King, all distinguished citizens and intellectuals. Sowell occupies the role of Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He grew up in Harlem and had to claw his way to maturity and success against overwhelming odds. His many refreshing, enlightening works on economics, education, culture, and race relations attest to his eloquence and brilliance of expression. Imagine the immense waste of a great mind if some idiotic teacher had convinced him to rebel against academic protocols.


Stephen Carter who also came from Harlem – and Washington DC – is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School.  Shelby Steele serves as research fellow at the Hoover Institution. His twin brother is Columbia University Provost Claude Steele. It is surely safe to say that none of these academic stars would have attained any worthwhile influence speaking or writing in jive or the backwoods parlance of “dem, deez, and doze.”  


As human beings, all speakers of human language are to be highly esteemed. But those who aspire to become doctors, lawyers, Supreme Court justices, TV newscasters, Secretary of State or president need to function in standard public English. In Dr. Rice’s case, she also speaks fluent Russian, a skill of unfathomable value and use in her role as America’s chief envoy. Her other many accomplishments in academia, music, government, and world class skating are legendary. Thankfully, she was raised in a cultured home where standards and expectations were high – and appropriate for a wondrously gifted young girl.


In Reed’s Spring Missouri, my parents spoke Standard English. So did my first grade teacher, who successfully taught every single kid in our class of 25 to read. The kids who spoke hill dialect at home quickly learned to read and speak like Mrs. Workman, at least at school. Most of these kids eventually scattered over all “tarnation” and shed their distinctive idiom.


 I reject the accusation that Mrs. Workman assaulted kids’ identity and dignity. She prepared us for adulthood in the real world. Ultimately SRTOL cripples those it intends to honor. It confines them and blocks them from exploring the horizons beyond their immediate circumstances. In some cases it locks them into a gang culture of vile profanity and constant verbal abuse of others.


Not long after I learned to read I started to read the Bible. It taught me a higher language. For example, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,” The word “compassion” entered my vocabulary. So did other powerful words like “worship,” and “fellowship.”


Education should elevate our speech and thoughts. It should cause our heart to seek higher wisdom. Whatever is in our heart determines what we say.

Gary Hardaway, a regular contributor to the Amy Internet Syndicate, directs Summit School of Ministry in Bellingham, WA.

"Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091;

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