Directions in children's literature; 10
Directions in children's literature at Riverside radio WRVO in New York City presents the 10th program of the second series with Richard Lewis poet and teacher and other authorities in the field of children's literature. At this time Mr. Lewis is guests on my Adelman. Jerry Wilson and right in the first thought of a two part discussion on headstart and the teaching of language. This is Richard Lois and I have with me today three guests who are going to be talking about Head Start and language and they are Mrs. my Appleman who is early childhood consultant for the NYU headstart in-service training program. Jerry Wilson was a field advisor for the New York City had Starr and Wright who is presently director of the Westside community nursery school. Ladies I'm going to throw out at you a number of questions which hopefully will get us to define this whole problem of language
and children in Head Start and what Head Start is attempting to do with the problems that certain children come into the classrooms with. Jerry before the program began you suggested that perhaps we begin by first defining what we mean by language and I'd like to just ask you first what do you mean in terms of your own feelings about languages for starters and how do you define language. The reason I feel that I would like to define language is that I think that some of the concerns that people have around whether or not the disadvantaged child is verbal and non-verbal has to do with the fact that many people have been talking about programs to help the children learn a new language since it is a very prevalent attitude among people that disadvantaged children and their families speak another language.
I would like to suggest and feel personally very strongly that language is a sound system. It's a grammatical system which have vocabulary items in them and I would like to suggest further that we speak many dialects in this country. All of us including disadvantaged children and that all of these dialects have the same sound system the same grammatical system and the same vocabulary system and that the variations of these systems from one part of the country to another has to do with Region ethnic background and so forth but that some of the programs overlook this fact because their emphasis has been to rather emphasize the teaching of language to disadvantage children rather then dealing with the dialectical form right.
In this connection and I think this is a very good place for us to start. When you talk about the dynamics and the various dialects which you might find say within a particular classroom what has always been a question on my mind is. Does head start or do you as somebody involved in Head Start feels that we should preserve the Dialectics or should there be a means of getting the children to speak. A What can I say sort of a generalized dialect which is useful for all the children not the words what I'm saying in brief is that obviously when they get to public school there might be pressure put upon them to speak without the dialect to speak without the idioms which are natural to them. And in terms of Headstart is it important for them to learn something other than the dialect. Or to put it
in their own minds to keep this dialect is something which comes naturally. You know first I'd like to say that the opinions expressed by me are not necessarily the opinions of my sponsor. That my opinion is a personal one and not a head start philosophy or guidelines as such. I feel that is very important personally that we preserve what disadvantaged kids and my particular interest in terms of my personal feeling and in my job are black children because all of the agencies with whom I work are black agencies with the exception of one which has Puerto Rican children as well. I feel personally that black people in this country have made a tremendous contribution to the language of the country so that if we insist on change I think that we are then
denying ourselves the opportunity of further contribution to the language by us. This is one thing educationally. If we believe that it's true that we start where children are then we have to be committed to the fact that we will build on what they bring rather than to make any changes. Now the problem is that in the public schools we emphasize the writing language of our country rather than the speaking language. And I think as far as disadvantaged kids are concerned that we have said to them and to their families you must only speak one language or language while all of us speak many languages we have the language of our profession we have the language of our family the language of our peer group but we are insisting that they only speak one language. And let me ask you this. You work in a nursery school which I from what I
understand is is partly headstart and partly an ordinary nursery school. Where you do have children who obviously have very different dialects from each other. Now how is this problem in terms of your school worked out. Do you try to preserve the dialect say of the white children as opposed to the black children in their own particular domain. Or is there some cross relating going on here. As far as language is concerned. I don't think we we have exactly worked it out it's a long long process to work it out. I would say we respect the the different dialects of each child and in that respect they children are respecting each other and exposing themselves to different dialects. Of course the way the teacher speaks is it's probably the way the children feel is the correct way but we have never indicated that that it that it is. Yeah and we've used the site the songs that some of the children have made up and we've sung them just the way they've made them up and sung with us.
And stories are poems that they might have said to us so that they are exposed to it and they respect it. But you know I'd like to then go back to a question which perhaps should have preceded the one I asked you. Jerry in terms of the definition of what Head Start is supposed to be. In other words. Head Start and if I understand correctly it basically means the attempt to give children who have been denied certain communications certain starts in life. A start so that they will be able to basically be on the level of. Now I don't know we should call this the white middle class level which in a way is a conflict with what you said Jerry from the standpoint that that in attempting to preserve the very rich natural language these children are exposed to
then if we're giving them a headstart we're also saying well we've got to teach them the white language the white middle class language which they're going to get in public school anyway. Now do you find there's a conflict in terms of your work as far as something of a contradiction in the whole business of Head Start. I think that perhaps the term is a misnomer and focuses our attention on dealing with symptoms rather than trying to solve the basic problem. We are saying that if we do certain things for children they are for you know the world will be better. Or this is sort of the impression that people have I think that Head Start a philosophy would not necessarily agree with this because they have emphasized parent involvement very strongly. I think this is an important point because I don't think
that we can help children solve their problems nor can we make changes for them unless we deal with the whole family. And that the dealing of the whole family has to be dealing with the whole family has to be geared toward making some change in the social structure. And I think that a head start is committed to this. You know in terms of its philosophy I think the problem of language is really rooted in the social system. Language is one part of culture. I would suspect that the differences some of the differences in language among poor people have to do with their distance from the mainstream of the social structure and that you cannot you know isolate and work with
one aspect of the problem unless you really understand and are willing to face the entire problem is what has the social system done to people. Or a particular groups of people in this country and that language is one piece of this. More are you going to say yes I'd like to get back a little bit further to what Jerry was saying before about. Respecting children's dialects and accepting children's language from accepting the language of all children and I think we would all agree with that but I think the problem goes a little bit beyond that. When I think of language and Head Start and how to help the children it never occurs to me to change their individual way of speaking because I think this is very important for a child to have his language accepted because he's trying to express something and we don't correct it and make him feel inadequate. Some children don't speak
or speak very little or don't speak enough for an adult to communicate with him. And so in a way of language as communication and How can teachers help the children. To speak more. And what are they doing. Is one of the things that I'd like to yes. And well let's let's bring in there because let's go back even further the program has been going backwards and questions of what creates in your terms a non verbal child. And what is basically a nonverbal child because I think again it's one of these loose definitions of of a human being. Because I think basically all people do communicate with language. But perhaps some don't communicate in terms of what we think is adequate communication. Now what do we mean basically by a nonverbal child and what are the variations of non-verbal children. Well I I certainly I'm no expert on this subject but just thinking you know quickly of different children that I've seen in Head Start
programs there's such a tremendous variation has first of all a very obvious thing off they Spanish speaking child who doesn't speak because he doesn't know English he's not non-verbal at all but many teachers regard him as such because he doesn't speak the language so that's the whole problem then that children who don't speak in school. At all or hardly at all. But we know from speaking to their parents and watching the child outside of school that he is very much at ease you know and speaks a great deal. So this is another problem and then there may be a child who speaks very little at all time who doesn't use language the way we do for communication who may not be spoken to very much and who in his life Padam language has not been there important so it's not used a great deal. So right away this study and tile are different situations but very often in school they are lumped
together. You know this is the non-verbal child. And you're going to say well we have some children that we consider non-verbal when they're communicating with adults but I find when they're playing with the children they often are chattering away to each other and really communicating. But when it comes time to facing an adult and that kind of a communication there is there is the hesitation and the problem as Durham's are. I would like to agree with Ann and she mentioned what I feel is a very important word and that's communication. That language is only one part of communication. And I think that one of the problems we have to help teachers deal with is the reading of non-verbal communication. I think that while in this culture we emphasize verbal communication. We have completely overlooked the fact that while we emphasize it that the non-verbal communication still goes on and
that a language according to some anthropologists is only one small part of the total part of communication. So this is one problem. I think that my also said something rarely important in terms of the non-verbal child that the teachers regard him as such. And I think that the situation or the adults in the situation make or create much more often than I think we are willing to admit. Makes a non-verbal child more children and I can speak specifically about poor black children because those the children that I know very well and I was once a poor not a poor black child I'm almost sorry I can say that. I mean I was fortunate. But teachers have very specific
ideas about what poor children are whether they are poor Indians or whether they're poor Mexican-Americans or whether there were riots in Appalachian here. Because I don't think this is ready this country is ready for poor people of any particular type. The educational literature the literature with which we train teachers there's literature with which we train teacher trainees says certain things about disadvantaged children which I do not feel you know are true. For instance there's a great deal being said about the poor children who come from large families. And what living in a large poor family does for us well you know I submit to you the fact that this country has always had large families. We have always had slums up until 1930 there were 700000 Jewish people who lived on the Lower East Side. They had large families.
The signal noise ratio was certainly no lower than it is in today's black ghetto families so you know what then is the problem. I have some ideas about it but I just want to kind of throw that out. I think that we're not wanting to face the problem. Yes I think an opportunity like I just want to make one one comment is that. I think there is a getting back to Jerry what you have said a social problem here that much of what we're speaking of is basically and completely in many ways the social problem of our country. That when we speak of the disadvantaged we put them in a category as having certain in quotes dis advantages. And one of those disadvantages is the inability to communicate. Now I think what you're saying Jerry in some ways if they don't basically have an inability to communicate they communicate very well. But in terms of the social standards of this country
we have termed them as incapable of communicating which already has put sort of a social stigma upon them which almost leads me to another question but I think I'll withhold the question until and you say something. I just wanted to point it up and the fact that the white middle class child whose very quiet school is often turned to Shah-Chat where it's at. Black poor child will be disadvantaged or damaged or whatever term is the thing that they use the word shot and doesn't know it doesn't seem to be applied to so-called disadvantaged John Meadows who do use the word non-verbal for quality of IOI Jonah. It's a set different from the whole value system that you know I think that a man's point is very very important. Because I think that we have to really deal with the fact that we are a very euphemistic country on one hand and that we legitimize certain deficiencies and white robe we
term as deficiencies in poor black children. We legitimize these same deficiencies through the use of positive language with with white middle class children just as Ian said you know I think she's made a very good point. But you know my question is after we've just sort of mentioned this point why headstone. What's the purpose of the words. That's a good question. Oh this again is a personal opinion. I think we have to look at the context in which the Economic Opportunity Act was passed it was passed because there was a great deal of unrest in cities in the summers of 64 and 65. I think that Michael Harrington's book The Other America had a great deal to do with calling to our attention. And I should when I say our attention I should say I like to exclude myself from that because
I have known that there's been poverty but he did point out to many people the fact that we don't. Have the same kind of poverty that we used to have because poverty was a banner you kind of wore proudly maybe even two or three generations ago but that we've been forced to look at the fact that we have people who've been locked in poverty some for three hundred years as a group. And that the poverty bill has been a very small way that we've begun to deal with that problem. And that again people. Have we all right in some sense a child or youth oriented society and we place our hopes on the young and they have what we give them programs we give money for those programs however I would like to see a program where we train fathers
and then when you have in this society families that can move out on their own then the disadvantaged so-called child will have the other things that the white middle class families have. Yes my use. Well I've been thinking for a moment or two about your question why headstart since we seem to be have been talking about you know a lot of the positives in the so-called disadvantaged children and they certainly exist and I wouldn't denied for a moment I think that very much of our approach is you know focusing on the deficit and trying to change the children in to some kind of middle class image of a verbal. You know a different kind of child and I think that's wrong. But perhaps we ought to you know at least I'd like to say that I think that there are deficits and I think
that there is a reason for Headstart. It's not quite so easy to say what it is because it varies a great deal. But there are perhaps experiences language included. But many many experiences that the children lack I know they have many other. It's that middle class children don't have but that seem to make it very difficult for them to succeed in school. That gets us into the whole question of you know are we preparing them for school is this the purpose and is school good a set or a set up but this seems to be the present reality. Public schools exist and they have to go into them and somehow rather they have to make it at least while we're trying to improve the school system and can headstart help the children succeed better not only in in public school but as learners in general I think this is
what I'd like to kind of emphasize you know can they can we help them get an approach to learning that perhaps will stay with them in public school. I'm not sure that. They get enough of that without some kind of positive preschool experience. Except there are two thoughts that haunt me. As you say the first thought is what and said that. In the middle class white area there will be children in nursery school or in kindergarten who are shy who may have come from broken families who any number of situations we call them quote slow learners we call them having difficult family problems and so on. We don't call them disadvantaged. We don't think of them in terms of children being capable for or that headstart would be necessary for them because they are in.
Let's put it this way the mainstream of of the white learning process. Then getting back to Jerry's thoughts on our ability to retain in a child's mind his natural means of communication. Now that seems to me that this sets up a very very complicated problem that on the one hand how does one retain what is natural what is instinctive what is from a social standpoint something which is very close to home that that if a poor black child could could and would speak his particular way of speaking and learns under the context of that and other a well to do a middle class white child learns and his contacts that we don't consider him. Disadvantaged it all. Then in a sense headstart
almost is being defined as educating for the white middle class means of learning which to me presents a very serious problem and I think one which I could see contradictions coming from which could in a way damage the children who are in Head Start without really helping them. Because we're saying to them without realizing it many ways look you're in Headstart because you are in quotes disadvantage. We are going to teach you how to get along in the white middle class learning process. In the meantime they are giving up intellectually and spiritually something of their own roots and their means of communication. Now I can see by our clock that unfortunately our time is up for this particular program. But I'd like to just leave this this question to be answered next week. And I would like to thank you again for
coming here. And we'll pick it up then on our next program with this particular question. You've been listening to the first part of a two part discussion on headstart and the teaching of language with my Appleman consultant for New York University's in-service training program. Jerry Wilson field advisor for New York City is Head Start and right director of the Westside community nursery school. Mr. Lewis is the author of five volumes of poetry for children most recently miracles and the wind and the rain collections of poetry by children and out of the earth. I sing the poetry of primitive peoples for a free summary of this program writer WRVA our department B New York New York 1 0 0 2 7. Please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope. This is been directions in children's literature the 10th in a series of 12 programs with Richard Lewis and other authorities in the field of children's literature. At this time next week the second part of this
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