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Educators Explore the Global Influence of African, Creole and African American Languages

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Young people around the world have adopted Hip Hop culture-'"rap music, baggy clothes, graffiti and dance-'"and its variation of language and style into their own experiences.  As the popularity of Hip Hop spreads, mainstream culture embraces it as far as it is profitable and rejects it based on its association with violence and misogyny.  Standard American education practice, under the pressure of high stakes testing, not only ignores its existence, but denies it as a legitimate influence on classroom practice and educational policy. At the same time, in Africa, the spread of English and debates on revitalizing indigenous languages in education are the concern.  

An International Symposium on African and Diasporic Languages and Education  at Teachers College's Cowin Center October 5-7, brings together international experts who will discuss the educational concerns of incorporating language variations and the political consequences they can have on policy, development and education.

"The conference involves a tremendous amount of diversity," said Associate Professor JoAnne Kleifgen, Co-Chair of the Symposium with Professor George Bond   "We are trying to think more globally because of the movement of people and languages, whose influence is going in both directions-'"coming to America and going back to their areas of origin." As people move between Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas teachers are working more and more with students from diverse language groups.  Yet, educational systems resist accommodating students who have a language background that is different from the "standard" language. 

The three-day symposium highlights a different language group each day.  It begins with an exploration of the cultural, historical and linguistic roots of African language in education, policy and planning in Africa and in the U.S. The second day focuses on Creole --its status as a language and how scholars have studied and categorized it. The  third day addresses the social consequences of stereotyping on speakers of African American English.  "Researchers will talk about how linguistic profiling of speakers of African American English still occurs today," said Kleifgen. Each day, the schedule emphasizes three main discussions:  the research, how it applies in the classroom, and how policymakers can use the information.

"There is College-wide participation in the conference with students from a variety of departments on the planning committee," Professor Bond said.  Faculty and alumni are also participating with support from the Dean's Office and the Office of Community and Diversity.  Teachers College, he added, has "carried the flag" for the study of language and literacy after the closing of Columbia University's linguistics department several years ago.  The College also houses a Center for African Education under Professor Bond's leadership and a Center for Multiple Languages and Literacies overseen by Professors Kleifgen and Ofelia Garcia. 

Teachers College alumnus Jon Yasin, a Professor of English, Linguistics and Religion at Bergen Community College, is among the speakers, who include other Teachers College alumni, scholars from Africa and the US, political and educational representatives from New York City, and practitioners from non-governmental organizations.  Yasin, who is a frequent speaker on hip hop culture, discovered that his own students, while having trouble writing college essays, were having no problem creating original rap songs. Yet, they were using the same process in developing their songs as they needed to do with the essays.  He discusses how educators can make that connection for students in the classroom.

Each day, a different alumnus from Teachers College will be among the presenters.  Along with Yasin, they include Shondel Nero, native of Guyana and currently an Associate Professor of TESOL in the School of Education at St. John's University in NY; Peter Mtesigwa, Principal Language Research Officer at the National Kiswahili Council of Tanzania; Ellen M. Schnepel, Senior Research Associate at CIFAS in New York City and principal of Schnepel Consulting; and Kate Parry, Professor in the Department of English at Hunger College who spends four months a year in Uganda working on various literacy projects. Additionally, Parry will present Professor Emeritus Clifford Hill with an award for his many years of leadership, inspiration and achievements as educator and researcher in the languages of Africa and the Diaspora

The symposium can be attended for credit or non-credit, with a special rate for Teachers College alumni and for K-12 educators.  A parallel for-credit course is also available in conjunction with the symposium.  Details can be found at under "Continuing Education."

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