16 November 2010

On unintended consequences down the line...

 (Actually this post has been held back for several weeks to anonymise it for readers who may also be my students; some details have been changed for the same reason.)

I've put it off for several days, but I've finally commented on a complicated (second) draft submission from a student.  It's complicated because although she is British by birth, English is her second language. She is a graduate (in fine arts) but her written expression is nowhere near graduate level. And when my colleague pointed out that problem to her, on her first module assessment, she protested that no-one had ever picked her up on it all the way through university, probably because of her ethnicity (and perhaps because literacy was not much assessed in fine arts, and even dyslexia is becoming "normalised"--not necessarily a bad thing of course...).

But now she is teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)! She has been seriously let down by PC sensibilities, and she won't pass the course if she can't catch up, and if she doesn't pass she can't carry on working... She's clearly trying very hard, but I'm not sure she has the background knowledge to make full use of my feedback, and there's a limit to how much assistance it is fair for me to give...

So. Do I provide feedback as I would to anyone else? Do I make allowances for her linguistic heritages? Or is that simply patronising and indeed colonialist? Or do we arrange specialist support for her? Or do I disregard her claimed (but so far unassessed) dyslexia as worthy of support, but not her heritage? ....

Do I apply the same pass criteria as I would to anyone else? I have to answer "Yes", to that. The obligation to guarantee minimum standards for the sake of the students and even the employers must outweigh others. But clearly her teachers at school and university have colluded in the past to avoid confronting problems. Moreover, the exam boards must have done the same, because her grades were sufficient for her to get to university.

(This bit is current) On Saturday we had one of our Study Days. The theme on this occasion was "Race and Gender, Inclusivity and Diversity"; and the speaker quoted from the report of the Victoria Climbie inquiry (Laming, 2003),
“It may be that assumptions made about Victoria and her situation diverted caring people from noting and acting upon signs of neglect or ill treatment”
More telling, however, in the present context:
"It was the belief of two senior staff managers from Haringey that some staff had difficulty in reading practice guidance because of problems with literacy. (Laming, 2003, para. 1.60)
I've commented on this tragic case in relation to the ultimate cruelty of "kindness" here. (For some reason, the transcript of the Climbie Inquiry to which I refer is no longer on-line.)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:33 am

    I've had a similar problem with some of my young entrepreneurs, many of whom are ESL speakers. The situation is worsened by class issues in my case, as they seem not only understand less English than they need to, but seem to have picked up the English they do have from rap videos.("da" for "the" etc.)

    After a short internal dialogue along the lines of yours, I confined myself to marking them down for what I described as "non-standard English", with advice to write in "a more formal style" in future.

    You are right, it's doing no-one any favours to be too PC about this issue.


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