The idea for this exploration began four years ago during an observation
in a Vancouver adult literacy classroom.1 The
class was engaged in a grammar lesson. The teacher had asked the class
for a sentence with an object and one of the students volunteered an
example. He walked to the front
of the class and confidently wrote "I seen the bus" on the
chalkboard. It seemed like a good example to the student. The teacher,
concerned; although the sentence included an object, the verb was wrong.
She corrected the sentence by crossing out the verb, "seen",
and substituting the standard verb, "saw". The student was
chagrined. He stood at his seat and, pointing to his sentence, demanded
to know why "seen" was
wrong. He repeated his sentence loudly and with conviction as if to
demonstrate its rightness and acceptability; however, the teacher was
steadfast in her refusal to accept it, even though the reasons for
her refusal were
not made clear. It was simply not correct. Other students were also
confused. They considered the original version preferable and argued
for it; however, their point of view was not accepted. The teacher
explained that although they could say "I seen the bus" in
conversation with their friends, it was not acceptable in literacy
class. As the students filed out of the classroom for the break, they
gathered around the offended student and confirmed their disapproval
of the incident.
event left me wondering about the possible impact of this cultural
interpret the event as a challenge to (and diminishment of) his working
class language, culture and identity? Would he decide that the adult
literacy classroom was not for him, that the personal costs were
too great? Would this result in him dropping out? Or, alternately,
would the solidarity
of his classmates and his capacity to question and resist the teacher's
point of view sustain him?
All names of persons and places in this research study are pseudonyms.