Reading chapter six of Dialects in Schools and Communities gave me the same feeling I had in my linguistics class [you all know the class I'm talking about: the worst class in the English education program that (almost) each and every one of us had to suffer through with you-know-who]. It gave me the feeling of confusion and a loss of answers.
Should we or shouldn't we accommodate for a dialect? The problem is not in acknowledging the dialect itself. Rather, it is addressing and dealing with a dialect that interferes with a student's formal writing abilities. The issue is that there are so many factors influencing learning and writing beyond dialect, that I really wonder if a dialect alone is entirely to blame. A red flag for this, to me, was when the book willingly admitted research is "limited in terms of the role that a student's dialect background plays in the writing process." While I do understand that I grew up with a dialect much closer to standard English than some, I never used my family's Scandinavian "uffdah!" in any of my formal writings. Ever. I was able to see the difference between formal and informal writing and work with it. The fact that we are treating other dialects like it is hindering a student from understanding and seeing the apparent visual differences is a little insulting. I think most, if not all students, regardless of their speech, can see the differences in tones and styles of writing. Like the chapter said, it's simply important to catch this early and show them a mode of filtering and monitoring their writing for the audience.
The book points out how we should not condemn a dialect used in formal writing...but we shouldn't let it go either. I'm sort of at a loss here. I'm not sure how to handle this if we should do something but not do something either. The chapter argues that each dialect has its own system and grammatical rules that we should recognize, however it also does not deny that students should be taught standard English. It even goes on to say that using a dialect in a formal writing is not necessarily wrong either. This is the part where I make a mental note that I was completely wrong for going into English instead of Math. In math there is no "well, I don't know, 2 + 2 could equal 3." An obvious oversimplification, but valid no less. The answer is either right or wrong. But with English, so much is influenced by society and it is always changing, always. I have a friend in medical research that continues to berate me because he was marked down on two separate papers for grammatical errors: in the first, he was marked down for having a comma in a list of things before the "and insert-final-object-here" and in the second was again corrected for not having one before the "and." I have tried to explain to him that language is always changing and right now, the comma at the end of a list is in transition. He insists I cannot give him this answer as it can only be right or wrong. If he only knew...
So, the point? I guess I still don't know where to stand on this. I don't feel convinced that dialect alone influences the quality of a student's writing and I still don't really know how to address this...or not address this.
My resource link is Reflection's Edge. The archived article talks about dialects, its uses and importance, in creative writing and literature. I thought this would be an interesting discussion in class when reading Huck Finn or Dickens.