More on Andrew Holness’s proposal for teaching English in Jamaican schools

This was written to respond to someone (and the many someones ) who claim that it is “romantic” to argue that Patwa should not be replaced by English, since the former does not help with Jamaica’s ‘competitiveness’ in the global economy.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

[His] comments are funny (and not in a ha-ha way) for how [he] vainly tried to disguise ideology with the same old neo-liberal hogwash about reason, competitiveness and what not. There’s no “reason” in [his]  comment, just defense of a system of thought that was never based on anything but a justification of the presumed superiority of all things European. Hence, the denigration of whatever the subaltern produced, no matter it’s ‘marketability’. What [he is] spouting is really an updated form of that ideology, you know, the one that says that speaking English is a marker of how civilized one is?

Our children don’t need to learn to read and write in English because of lofty macroeconomic claptrap. They need to learn because they are being excluded from membership in the society and are being denied the opportunity to make informed choices about how they want to live their lives.  Speaking English is not going to change the mega-exploitative tendencies of Jamaica’s ruling class (now called corporations) or guarantee people jobs with living wages.  It does guarantee that at least more people will have a chance to carve out alternatives within that structure, and that they will be able to figure out when they are being screwed and even be able to do something about it.

(I also think it really, really bothers English-only proponents that Jamaica’s major contributions to world culture have come through patwa and patwa-speakers. A bit of red-yeye *and* embarrassment, I think)

Teaching English with the assumption that children speak “broken” versions of such, is *not the same as* Teaching English with the assumption that children already have a different language structure in place. In the first instance, you spend a lot of time “correcting” rather than instructing, a technique which denigrates patwa as non-language, as essentially wrong in all facets, and not worth speaking except by the ones who were not lucky enough to be “corrected”.  Now, where have we heard and seen this strategy in use before?  Hmmm, just in most of the world where those Europeans who had claimed the right to dictate the cultural and political climate decided that their particular way of speaking was best.  And indigenous peoples around the world are still paying for those decisions.

In the second instance, you actually get improvement in command of both languages. (Oh drat, that’s not what the English-only folks want – it’s English or nothing.) To use [his]  example, the best way to teach Spanish to a Portuguese kid is to recognise that there is *both* overlap and divergence between the languages, and that the patterns in errors that the child may make is due to the child having prior knowledge of and facility in another language.   If you don’t know, or fail to point out that yo and eu do mean the same thing and are used in the same way, but are spelled and pronounced differently, then the child cannot appreciate that in many instances, s/he will be able to figure out the Portuguese equivalent (see that word?) to a term they already know in Spanish, or that you can say the same thing in different ways, depending on the language you are using.

As an aside: I totally blame people like Carolyn Cooper for unleashing the most heinous transliterations of patwa onto the public, as if they were ever accurate translations; that effort has only allowed the English-only folks to maintain their position that patwa is really broken English that can be ‘fixed up’ so respectable people can understand.

So, don’t even try that “all AH really wants is for Jamaican children to know English” line.  There are few who will miss how his personal prejudices taint an otherwise reasonable (yes, [his] word) and necessary step to improving children’s academic achievement.
Furthermore, if he had bothered to read the volumes of research written in ENGLISH, he would have noticed that one can teach a language with sensitivity and with excellent results.

And by the way, there is actually a hybrid of Portuguese and Spanish – it’s called Portanol – that is spoken wherever Portuguese-speaking and Spanish-speaking people regularly interact with each other. And no matter which is the primary language, people who speaks it knows the difference between the three, and can switch from one to the other. But being educated in the fullest sense is not what is desired is it?  No, it’s indoctrination about the superiority of English. I’m sure that you don’t think the subtext of those hundreds of English language institutes that are popping up in Japan and China is that their indigenous language is cluttering up the airwaves, and is inferior to English? Nope, it’s about having another tool in the toolkit.

But somehow, the colonialist mentality has never left Jamaica. Too many of us not only want to fling wheh the existing tools – dem too ol an tan bad, dem nuh look modern – but wouldn’t mind ef di govament nuh jus’ fling whe’h di toolbox dem a dungle heap tuh.


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