From the Archive - 23.11.1973

7th December 2012 at 00:00

BBC English 'bar to learning'

Schools are so geared to BBC English that working-class children find language a major stumbling block to learning, Dr Harold Rosen of the University of London's Institute of Education said this week.

Speaking at a conference on language in the middle years of secondary schooling, he said that the richness of working-class language had never been appreciated. Very little research had been done on it and the main aim of people who had studied it had been to find out what was wrong with it, he argued.

Schools discounted the language spoken by the majority of their pupils and were invariably geared to middle-class English, he said. A working-class child who wanted to climb the educational ladder had to learn middle-class English first.

"It is only by looking at working-class language that we can perceive the strength in it," Dr Rosen said. "And we won't find out by assuming that we are dealing with a fundamentally inferior kind of discourse.

"All kinds of things are said about the inadequacy of the language of working-class children, but very little is known about it."

Dr Rosen said that middle-class speech was "permeated by the impact of literacy" while that of the working class was not. This was one of the reasons why working-class children took so much longer to learn to read.

The education system offered many pupils a package deal. If they wanted a good education they had to accept middle-class language and often the choice was a traumatic one for it meant that pupils had to sever themselves from their homes and the language they had learned there.

Dr Rosen's defence of a child's mother tongue was strengthened by a paper from Mr Peter Doughty of Manchester College of Education.

"If we attack a pupil's language, if we show him that we think the language he brings to us is unacceptable, or inadequate, or in some way or other totally unsuited to the needs of the classroom, then we attack him," Mr Doughty said. "As many of us know from bitter experience in the classroom, his chief means of defence is apathy and his more disturbing and damaging means is a violent rejection of anything we might attempt to do in the context of the school."

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