Should We Teach Code Switching in Inner City Schools?
Many do not realize they codeswitch everyday, but using it can mean the difference between unemployed and...
April 24, 2017 at 6:34 pm
Everyone practices code switching—but the word probably doesn't exist in everyday vocabulary. A phenomenon studied widely by linguists, code switching "is the practice of moving between variations of languages in different contexts," according to Learn NC.
NPR's blog, "Code Switch" discusses the nuances of the practice as "hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction."
This isn't just switching between English and Spanish. It can be the change between how you speak to your mom versus your boss. Even more nuanced, this can be how you speak to your friends in an unfamiliar group to how you speak to them when you're alone.
Code switching can happen both consciously and unconsciously. Oftentimes, it helps convey a point in the most effective way possible or even helps us fit into a specific social setting. And it happens intuitively for some, but not all.
In fact, some people rarely code-switch successfully or are not as keen to adapting to varying social settings. There is bias against AAVE or "Ebonics." Those who speak the English vernacular are often seen as unintelligent. Therefore, if a person of color walks into a job interview speaking AAVE, their likelihood of getting hired goes down dramatically. Although AAVE is, in fact, grammatically correct, its use is frowned upon in the professional sphere.
Code Switching in the Classroom
In light of this, code switching is a skill that everyone should learn—and it can start in the classroom.
As a student teacher at an inner-city all girl high school, I met girls from many different backgrounds. Many were African American and many also practiced code switching on a daily basis. However, some didn't, and almost all hadn't even heard of the term.
These girls were in 10th grade with college and life after high school beginning to surface in their thoughts. Teachers are responsible for giving students the tools they need to succeed in higher education, but in my short time as a teacher, I often felt like I was not doing enough when it came to life skills. For instance, as a hostess in a restaurant where I was responsible for dress coding guests, I saw grown adults who didn't understand "business casual" dress attire. Can I expect 10th graders to understand?
What about how to prepare for an interview or how to follow up a phone interview or even send professional emails? Considering all of the factors that contribute to success after high school, code switching is only one piece. However, it is an important one nonetheless, because appearance can change, but the way a person speak is a large part of their identity and how they are perceived. And the nuances of language and communication can't be taught in one 45 minutes class period.
Considering the stigma against AAVE, should we teach code-switching in our schools to help children have career success after graduation?