The article “Teaching Standard English: Whose Standard” by Linda M. Christensen might be seen as controversial due to her advocacy regarding English education techniques utilized to teach proper English to grade school students in America. Particularly, Christensen believed English teachers should be able to focus more on a personalized method of teaching that allows students to engage and elaborate on a topic of interest. The author believed that implementing a more personalized strategy on the student would uncover and explode the student’s creativity and ingenuity. Eliminating the over-exaggerated importance of proper English mechanics will more likely diminish the fear the education system has instilled upon students. Furthermore, Christensen believes that a shift in English teacher’s traditional mentality will transfer their focus from the rules of standard English to a more meaningful process that would reach the core of the student’s experience in the English process.
In this essay, I will examine the persuasive techniques Christensen employed to convey and convince her target audience to believe and recognize the negative consequences of enforcing the concept of standard English. Specifically, I will focus on rhetorical strategies of persuasion the author utilized including textual examples, such as the use of authority, the ability to identify, establishing an emotional connection, and thinking outside the box. Understanding the basis and history of Christensen’s argument will highlight how enforcing and prioritizing the concept of rules of standard English prevents a student’s freedom of speech, due to fear of properly defending an argument or idea.
Christensen presents herself as an authority in the subject of teaching rules of standard English. After being a part of the classroom for at least thirty years and experiencing the role of a student and as an educator, Christensen can be viewed as an expert and a primary source in strategies executed to teach English. Consequently, Christensen is able to build a strong rapport with her target audience, particularly, English teachers. People are more likely to believe someone who is immersed in the subject being presented, as opposed to someone who has studied but has not personally experienced it. As displayed in the article, Christensen became incredibly self-conscious about her pronunciation that she began policing her own sounds (Christensen 100). Consequently, the technical focus interfered with her thought process which hindered her communication skills and her ability to logically present, voice, and express her ideas. Emerging herself as a victim of this problem, Christensen is able to capture her audience’s attention to her knowledge on both sides, as a teacher and former student.
The author’s tactic in identifying with both sides of the spectrum provides her with the ability to strengthen her argument before several levels of authority in the school system. For instance, Christensen’s fear to pronounce a lawyer or lay in the classroom was the consequence of the laughter of students around her and the teacher’s strategy in placing her in the spotlight (Christensen 101). Furthermore, the author’s ability to personally identify with her student Fred regarding his inability to write granted her a better understanding of the difficulties her students encountered when attempting to communicate or to express their thoughts on paper (Christensen 101). As a teacher, the analogy she used in referencing Fred’s football practices versus his actual football games in relation to practicing writing in the classroom was a perfect example that solidified the author’s ability to understand and advocate for a change in the strategies implemented to educate students in Language Arts.
Christensen creates an emotional connection with her audience, as she presents her own examples of her experience as an English student. As emotion is one of the elements of a human being, by creating a personal bond, Christensen allows her audience to connect with the issues that caused her fear of the English language. According to the article, Christensen began to replace words she was mispronouncing in the general standards of society. Instead of assessing the words her teacher corrected, Christensen would seek synonyms of such words and use those when speaking (Christensen 100). As a result, Christensen learned to avoid situations she felt unable to manage. By presenting the negative results of her teacher’s teaching strategies, Christensen is able to demonstrate that the focus and emphasis on the technicalities of the English language as a precedent over allowing students to discover their own thoughts will only teach them how to sway and find altering methods in fear and anxiety of their mistakes.
Christensen uses her ingenuity in thinking outside the box to solidify her argument. Normally, published research studies follow a strict format where the scientific method is implemented. Evidently, Christensen’s research was based on her personal experience as a student and a teacher. The author was the only teacher participant presented in this article, which is not a sufficient sample to conduct an academic research study. Additionally, the article excluded variables and hypothesis statements. While most people would immediately disregard this article as an unreliable academic source, the act of deviating from the norm is a testament of Christensen’s advocacy in shifting the focus on the standard rules of English that have been drilled into the brains of English teachers; hence, thinking outside the box. This is evident from the commencement of the article, as the author establishes the first sentence by stating, “When I was in the ninth grade . . .” (Christensen 100). Since the beginning of the article, the text transmits a notion of a written diary or journal, contrary to that of a scientific methodology. In fact, it is this first-hand experience that connects with the strategies of authority, identity, and emotional connection, which have been aforementioned.
To logically persuade an audience, one needs to asses several elements of effective communication combined with psychological factors. During the first few minutes of a presentation, whether it is written or verbally expressed, the author must capture the attention and interest of the target audience. This process is crucial for the development of the idea; therefore, an emotional connection is crucial during the beginning of a presentation. For these reasons, I believe Christensen strategically employed the tactics aforementioned. Presenting herself as an authority in the subject, identifying with the problem, creating an emotional connection, and thinking outside the box were all successful in presenting a logical argument. I believe that establishing a personal connection between an experienced teacher and former student with other English teachers will ignite the change needed in English classrooms.
Consequently, students will begin to assess their personal fears and reluctance in developing their English skills. Furthermore, as students begin to exercise their right to freedom of speech, they will be able to practice their writing and diction without the fear of making mistakes or being humiliated in the presence of other classmates, as Christensen was by her teacher Ms. Delaney (Christensen 100). As a result, English teachers will initiate an important and crucial process in the personal and educational development of their students. In doing so, students will realize that internal analysis is more likely to result in personal education.
Christensen, Linda. "The politics of language." Reading, writing, and rising up: teaching about social justice and the power of the written word. Milwaukee, Wis.: Rethinking Schools, 2000. 100-104. Print.