Just My Thoughts: Writing & Teaching

Log #2 for Teaching College Comp
Black English

I graduated from high school in the year of 2006. This was a very interesting year because most of my English courses focused on the new Writing section for the SAT. My class year was the first to take the new format of the SAT. We were given multiple different essays to write that mocked the design of the new test. This had its ups and downs. The up part was solely because we were being prepared for this new test. The down side was that this standardized test did not actually test how intelligent you were, but what you knew at that time. Attending a majority African-American, but well diverse school, we were told that statistically speaking that the test was bias towards African-Americans. How could this be so?

We were told that the only unbiased section was the Math section since math was the same in every country and in every language. However, the writing and grammar section seemed the hardest and biased especially after receiving my test scores. I would see this again four years later after applying to graduate school. After majoring in Writing as an undergraduate, I had to take my placement exam, the GRE. The GRE, after looking at my scores, proved to resemble those of the SAT scores. I couldn’t understand why I scored so low on a test, especially in my native language.

Blaming my problems on the socio-economics of our country, it wasn’t until I read “Nobody Mean More to Me than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan.” The section about Black English hit home with me, as you can say slang and non-standard English were my main modes of communication. “I be chilling” and phrases such as that plagued my manner of speech. The analogies on the exams all seemed to be grammatically correct. I had no clue at how I would correct these problems than to teach myself the language all over again.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure at presenting a paper on Zora Neale Hurston and her effect on me as a young, black writer/activist in my community. It was held in her hometown of Eatonville, Florida which was the first, fully black run town in the country. In her most prized work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston used the vernacular speech of those whom she heard the stories from. She did not put the dialog of characters in standard English because, frankly, that’s not exactly how everyone in America speaks. I talked about the importance and power of language. An excerpt is below:

In her most, appreciated work, Their Eyes Were Watching God revolves around the main character Janie who is on a quest to find her voice in the world. Through her quest, Hurston manipulates language to show that using the voice in respects to language can be used as an instrument to achieve selfhood and empowerment. According to The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neal Hurston, the story is about a young woman’s spiritual, emotional, and physical journey toward self-actualization. She uses oral, folk vernacular along with the engagement with language to show that silence can be used as strength amd language can also be used as a source of identity. It is through language that Janie begins to appreciate her dependence as a strong-willed woman. How is this message relevant today? The real question is, how isn’t this message still relevant today. Through education and language, any group of people can flourish.

With a college degree in Writing and Public Relations and a Master’s degree in the works in Creative Writing, Hurston’s message of language as a source of identity helps me as a writer, find my unique voice, which will eventually be used to help me give back to my community where it can be used the most.

Who are the disenfranchised today? It all depends on where you’re located. If you’re in the United States, it could be the lower class, African-Americans, Hispanics, those of Middle Eastern descent, women, and the list could continue. Hurston helped give back to the disenfranchised during her times with her study of folklore cultures and through the use of language, gave back to her community through the written word.

In my graduating class at Loyola University Maryland, there were a total of 6 black males out of a little above 900 students in the graduating class. It is here, my love and the importance of the English language and education would again be emphasized, as it was when I was in the 8th grade. A Caucasian companion of mine said the word nigger in my presence. What did I do to education that friend about the use of the word? I used my hip-hop column in the school’s newspaper to confront the power of the word. The article consisted of this short excerpt: Not only is the N-word one of the most offensive words in English language, if not the most offensive one, but it is also the most used word in the art of hip-hop and its culture. As Americans, we can learn a priceless lesson that the use of the N-word in hip-hop teaches; for example, in a art form dominated by the black population in the US, one of the top ten rappers of all-time is a white male who has never used the N-Word publicly.

I then begin to talk about Eminem, the rapper and how he’s never used the word. This was the power of the English language. It could educate everyone regardless of race and create a dialogue between others for understanding. This is where I see Hurston’s effect on me as a person and a writer. Normally dominated by the white race, as a black male, I was able to dominate through the use of language.

Black English can be an obstacle for teaching students in urban communities due to the formation of the speech patterns they learn overtime. During my presentation, Dr. Carmen Kynard, a professor at St. Johns University talked about her class teaching first year writing students at her university. She spoke about something that was similar to what June Jordan did in her piece about Willie Jordan. She went on to say that the university thought that the kids in her first year writing program didn’t know how to write; however, Kynard focused on the using your native tongue to give way to writing and creative expression.

I really enjoy readings like the Jordan piece because they focus more on actually writing rather than focusing on academic writing. Pieces like these help me during peer revisions. I have always struggled in writing to get my ideas out to those who don’t share the same status as I; for example, I wrote in my college’s newspaper. My weekly column focused on hip-hop. Every Sunday I saw myself writing articles that would explain my knowledge of hip-hop to a general body who may not have appreciated the art as much as I. This was completely different in the classroom when I would write poems with subject matter that none of my peers could relate to. Peer revisions would be 15 minutes of changing periods and commas instead of how I could improve the piece.

This makes me feel a little bit more comfortable now from the perspective of someone who has taught English in GED programs and middle school. It is all about relating the material in an effective way; for example, faced with Jordan’s situation now, it would be easier to reference how Black English thrives in hip-hop and how the art of rap has really helped emphasize the power of the English language.