Banning slang? Alienating young people innit?

Now I do not profess to be an expert on the use of slang and how teenager use it, despite me being not long out of my teenage years. I don’t understand a lot of text speak and what people send me in a text message half the time. But I do understand that language changes every year, with people using new words all the time.

The issue is that employers don’t employ people who cannot use the correct language. Schools generally attempt to deal with this by banning the use of slang in their school. There is a danger of this though.

If children do not speak in the way that they feel comfortable with, children can often be muted. If a child is muted, they can be alienated by their peers, which will hinder their development on a social level, which will make them less confident in themselves. Is that what these schools really want?

Darren Chetty, founder of the Power to the Pupils hip-hop education project, gave this opinion: ‘Banning these words makes a very strong value judgement and directly effects children who use them. It situates the school as a middle-class place.’

I’ve always hated the idea of class. Whoever decided we should have a class system needs to be shot. The system itself provided a structure for bullying, making a mockery of the working class sector, who used to be (and in some cases still are) hardworking, respective people who provided a community of values. If I had to go down the class sector, while I’m studying for a degree with those who have financial assets greater than mine (almost a middle class way), I consider myself to be a good, honest working class man. I would go the extra mile to give children as many opportunities as possible, not just academically. I’m not afraid to shy away from the staff room and spend time out in the playground during break and lunchtimes to be a social role model for children who lack that confidence, possibly due to language.

Chetty goes on to say: “It’s the idea that speaking slang is speaking nonsense that doesn’t make any sense to me. Where would there be the place for patois poetry and writing that uses dialect? Schools shouldn’t be pretending that these languages don’t exist.”

The decision by schools that ban slang fits into a long tradition of demonising certain sections of our society for the language they use. The target is often slang associated with the working classes or ethnic minorities. Typically, middle-class people tend to be the ones complaining…

Last year actor Emma Thompson criticised young people’s “sloppy” language. When visiting a school she told pupils not to use slang words such as “like” and “innit”, “because it makes you sound stupid and you’re not stupid”. At least in this case, we can agree that young people are not stupid.

But the problem with these arguments is that they fail miserably to explain why the use of slang is a bad thing in itself, beyond the fact that it’s not the language used by its critics: the language of power. If someone is likely to struggle to progress through society if they occasionally slip an unnecessary “like” or “innit” into their conversation then we should see that as evidence of how shallow the values we judge each other by really are. A good example of this is a girl on Educating Yorkshire called Safiyyah. She uses this language, and she also speaks ridiculously fast. There will be those out there who judge her for how she speaks, which I find disgraceful. Thankfully she was fortunate enough to get onto a course to be a cabin crew worker.

As for schools, it is important to educate young people about the language of power, but without simultaneously reinforcing that power. Institutions of learning should be about access and inclusion. Teachers should be thinking harder about ways to equip and motivate young people without muting them. The last thing a teacher wants is a mute, especially in secondary where social skills become absolutely vital. You cannot live in this world by being quiet. Every profession requires being part of a team in some way, and with teamwork comes communication. Communication cannot easily be done if you can’t talk.


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