U of Wisconsin Researcher: Standard English ‘Oppressive’ to Minorities; Teach Ebonics Instead

  1. Home
  2. Culture Wars
By Ian Miles Cheong | 5:13 pm, April 9, 2017

An undergrad researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has entered the public limelight with research indicating that standard English is “oppressive” to minorities, essentially stating that grammatically correct speech is too hard for them to learn.

Erika Gallagher

Erika Gallagher argues that schools must allow for minority students to speak in ebonics, just weeks after the University of Washington-Tacoma endorsed a similar campaign declaring standard grammar racist. The Daily Cardinal reports that Gallagher’s research was chosen for presentation at the Collegiate Conference on Composition and Communication in Portland, Oregon this semester, where her work to erase the stigma against ebonics attained national attention.

Gallagher’s research focuses on a theory called “code switching,” which means that individuals adapt their speech and mannerisms to those around them. She believes that minorities with poor language skills feel marginalized by having to adapt to those who speak proper English. To mind their sensitivities, Gallagher intends to end the stigma of ebonics—also known as African-American Vernacular English—a dialect spoken by some black people in the United States—and encourage its use in schools.

“I want to center the voices of the people who need to be centered,” said Gallagher. “As a Writing Fellow, as a white-passing person, I have a lot of power and privilege that should be shared.”

Gallagher says she based her research on three interviews with student leaders at UW-Madison from minority groups. She asked them how they felt about code switching, and says that the persons she interviewed “overwhelmingly” said they felt oppressed, one of whom called it “the biggest form of cognitive dissonance that exists.”

Yes, you read that correctly: her research is based wholly on interviews with three college students who, like many special snowflakes, would feel oppressed if you looked at them the wrong way. Apparently, the three students are now the primary spokespersons for every minority to ever live in the United States.

As a writing fellow, she says that the focus on teaching students how to use proper English causes minorities to feel excluded, and she wants to change that. “Just because you speak a different way doesn’t mean you’re not smart, but there’s a huge stigma around it,” Gallagher said. “I want to teach [educators] a different rhetoric, teach them to be more accepting.”

Gallagher has expressed her intention to funnel her research into a nonprofit organization that encourages teachers to allow students to speak in any way that makes them feel comfortable—even in broken English.

After all, why should colleges be places of learning when they can serve as nurseries for overgrown infants, instead?

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.