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The Skin That We Speak


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Table of Contents


Preface vii

Introduction xv

Part One: Language and Identity
C H A P T E R 1 Ovuh Dyuh 3

C H A P T E R 2 Ebonics: A Case History 15

Part Two: Language in the Classroom
C H A P T E R 3 No Kinda Sense 31

C H A P T E R 4 Trilingualism 49

C H A P T E R 5 Some Basic Sociolinguistic Concepts 63

C H A P T E R 6 Language, Culture, and the Assessment
of African American Children 87

C H A P T E R 7 I ain't writin' nuttin': Permissions to Fail
and Demands to Succeed in Urban Classrooms 107

C H A P T E R 8 ". . . As Soon As She Opened Her Mouth!":
Issues of Language, Literacy, and Power 121

Part Three: Teacher Knowledge
C H A P T E R 9 Topsy-Turvies: Teacher Talk and Student Talk 145

C H A P T E R 1 0 Toward a National Public Policy on
Language 163

C H A P T E R 1 1 The Clash of "Common Senses": Two
African American Women Become Teachers 179

C H A P T E R 1 2 "We don't talk right. You ask him." 203

Appendix: Linguistic Society of America Resolution on
the Oakland "Ebonics" Issue 221

About the Author

Lisa Delpit, a MacArthur Fellow, received the award for Outstanding Contribution to Education in 1993 from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which hailed her as a "visionary scholar and woman of courage." She is the author of Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom (The New Press) and is currently the executive director for the Center for Urban Education and Innovation at Florida International University. Joanne Kilgour Dowdy is Associate Professor of Adolescent/Adult Literacy at Kent State University in the Department of Teaching, Leadership, and Curriculum Studies. She is the author of GED Stories: Black Women and Their Struggle for Social Equity.


When Delpit's 11-year-old daughter transferred from a small private school as its only African American female to a predominantly African American public-charter school, she switched dramatically from Standard to African American English. For her part, Dowdy was forced by her mother to imitate British English while growing up in Trinidad. Using these experiences as context, MacArthur award winner Delpit (Other People's Children; Ctr. for the Study of Adult Literacy; Georgia State Univ.) and Dowdy (Georgia State Univ., Atlanta) have gathered a series of essays exploring the link between language and identity and between language and cultural conflict. The essays written by Herbert Kohl, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Asa Hilliard, and Victoria Purcell-Gates, to name a few differ dramatically in approach and opinion, so it is hard to say what case they present regarding the use of Ebonics (or African American English) in schools. They are also divergent in quality; some include superficial comments that would not stand up under scrutiny, while others are better developed and include more cohesive remarks. Finally, the lack of references for most of the reminiscences and the absence of works beyond 1997 in the two-page selected reference list may limit the audience. Libraries that already own the more coherent and convincing Voices from the Language Classroom (edited by Kathleen M. Bailey & David Nunan) and Ian Tudor's The Dynamics of the Language Classroom both from Cambridge may skip this title, as it contributes little to this important debate. Leroy Hommerding, Fort Myers Beach P.L. Dist., FL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

These 13 essays by teachers offer firsthand perspectives on the provocative issue of dialects in the classroom a controversy sparked by the notorious ebonics debates of the 1990s. Delpit (Other People's Children) and Dowdy, education professors at Georgia State University, have gathered both new and previously published pieces by distinguished educators like Herbert Kohl, Jules Henry and Victoria Purcell-Gates. The collection opens with personal essays by two teachers Dowdy, schooled in Trinidad, and Ernie Smith, from South Central Los Angeles who describe their own struggles to come to terms with the formal language of school and the nonvalidated language of home. Other essays move into the classroom, looking at how different teachers address questions of dialect and how students experience their instruction. The classrooms described range from kindergarten to high school to teacher training. While most of the essays focus on African-American language, there's also a piece by Michael Stubbs on students with working-class English or Scottish vernaculars in the U.K. and an article by Purcell-Gates that follows a poor white Appalachian boy in the public school system. Although these lucid, accessible pieces speak most directly to teachers and would-be teachers (including specific suggestions for instruction), the issues are broad enough to attract more general readers, especially parents concerned about questions of power and control in public schools. (Mar. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Although these lucid, accessible pieces speak most directly to teachers and would be teachers . . . the issues are broad enough to attract more general readers, especially parents."
-Publishers Weekly

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