Saturday, May 15, 2010

Arizona Improves its Teacher Corps

In this WSJ article,
"Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as "biolet," think as "tink" and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.
These teachers "are very good educators who understand the culture" of their students, said Ms. Agneessens, Creighton's principal. "Teachers should speak grammatically correct English," she acknowledged, but added, "I object to the nuance of punishment for accent."
I certainly agree that those teaching English should be fluent in English. It's less important for them to be New England Private School Stereotypes. (Mr. Chips left this building years ago.) If only all teachers and administrators were fluent in English (which apparently mine is not, despite being a WASP), that would be a very good thing for all of the kids, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever.

It would be nice if they were all fluent in mathematics, too, but I wish for too much.

The accent, though, is a much dicier matter for me. Knowledge can be acquired. Style can be learned. Strategies can be developed. Accents are forever.

Einstein spoke with an accent. Arianna Huffington. Henry Kissinger. Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz. Half the engineering faculty in this country speak with accents. Which "accent" is the Arizona DOE putting out as acceptable? Is it just the Hispanic accents they are denouncing? Careful how you answer that.

Would Arnold Schwarzenegger be allowed to teach in Arizona?

I speak with an accent, too. I try for different ones to crack up the students - I'm quite proud of my North Carolina and my Kain-tucky. Every Southerner I know speaks with a distinct drawl. Most Texans can't seem to pronounce "you" with one syllable and three letters, not to mention most of the rest of that bastardized version of English. The Welsh guy and the German and Italian teachers all have accents - duh. Every wanna-be gansta kid (black or white, though the white kids are funnier) works on a pretentious, ridiculous accent that practically guarantees that they will never be taken seriously in an intellectual context. Ebonics was a sick joke.

And Arizona is concerned with "tink"?


  1. There's interesting academic work on the conflicts and difficulties engendered when New England, Mid Atlantic and Midwestern teachers went south with readers written with New England accents in mind after the Civil War. The differences in vowels caused special difficulties.

  2. I quite agree with you both that knowledge of English is necessary, and that it's idiotic to penalize people for accents. Plenty of people with foreign accents speak excellent English, and few people can learn second languages as adults or even teens without retaining portions of their native accents.

    Actually we all have accents--only when we speak our native tongues, we speak the accent of the majority and no one seems to notice.