PULLMAN, Wash. — Results of a national survey of kindergarten through
college English teachers, led by a Washington State University English
professor, found that English teachers are not prepared to cope with the
diversity of language among students who make up their classrooms.

The study, which was recently released by the National Council of Teachers
of, was conducted by Victor Villanueva, chair-elect of the WSU English
department, and Geneva Smitherman, professor of English at Michigan State
University, both members of the Conference on College Composition and
Communication’s Language Policy Committee.

“Language Knowledge and Awareness Survey,” the three-year study initiated
in 1996 and completed in 1999, was funded by the CCCC and the NCTE.
Villanueva is former chair of the CCCC and Smitherman chairs the committee.

The NCTE stated that the professors had found that the majority of 2000
teachers surveyed have come to accept the idea of language diversity, but
acceptance of that diversity is not being translated into classroom practice.
They also found that a significant number of teachers had not received any
kind of training they themselves believed necessary.

“I’m not surprised when the public in general still thinks of ‘good English’ and
‘poor English,’ and I think ‘poor’ really is a telling word,” Villanueva said. “But
I continue to wish that teachers could understand better that the more
students know about language, including its varieties, the more likely they are
to succeed as writers, as competitive workers and as politically active citizens.”

Based on their research, the professors believe that teachers must learn more
about the vast amount of research that shows the legitimacy of various
dialects and languages. Such studies often suggest ways teachers might teach
Standard English without denigrating other dialects and languages.

Villanueva and Smitherman found that attitudes about language diversity were
related to the educational level and racial/ethnic background of those
surveyed. For example, significantly more people of color disagreed with the
statement that students whose primary language is not English should be
taught solely in English.

Contact Villanueva at 509/335-2581 or Smitherman at 517/353-9252 for copies of
the survey.

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