Experiences Learning about AAE in Teacher Education

Racial discrimination is illegal in the United States. However, linguistic discrimination is not similarly prohibited, even though some common beliefs about language are deeply rooted in racism. In recent decades, scholarship that critically examines the relationships between language, race, and racism has had transformative effects on language arts education. However, comparatively little work has explored the effects that critical linguistics can have in science education (Charity Hudley & Mallinson, 2017; Mallinson & Charity Hudley, 2014, 2018).

This study will explore the influence of critical linguistics in science education by investigating the sensemaking of current and prospective K-12 science teachers as they learn about African American English (AAE) in their teacher education coursework. AAE is a well-documented language variety historically associated with African American communities in the United States (Rickford & Rickford, 2000). Research on AAE has played a central role in the development of sociolinguistics, and many universities now offer courses which assign readings about AAE (Weldon, 2012; Wolfram, 2007; 2015).

These texts sometimes employ strategic essentialism to debunk racist stereotypes and raise awareness of the ways in which language ideologies reproduce systemic racism (Bucholtz, 2003; Morgan, 1994). However, some scholars have expressed concerns about strategic essentialism; while it may help to foster critical language awareness (Alim, 2005), it may also inadvertently reinforce problematic beliefs about racial identity (Morgan, 1994). Essentialist beliefs about race are already a topic of considerable concern in science education (Donovan, 2014). It is therefore crucial to understand how science educators make sense of information about AAE in their teacher education coursework. This study will use repeated-measures surveys and interviews to investigate science teachers’ sensemaking and racial ideologies. Findings will provide practical and theoretical insights to help science teacher educators reap the benefits of critical linguistics while avoiding the pitfall of reifying essentialist ideologies of race.

Do you teach a course in which current or prospective K-12 science teachers (or other teachers) learn about AAE? If so, we'd love to talk with you about potentially taking part in STELAAE! Please contact Quentin Sedlacek at qsedlacek@smu.edu for more information.