posted by james hlavik on 4/22/2009

I have heard mostly negative attitudes towards students writing in SMS, and I must admit that I originally had a bad attitude towards students who did so. I remember getting frustrated because it seemed like pure laziness, but I then gave quite a bit of thought to the question of "Why are these young kids writing like this on paper?" The answer was not so much laziness as the fact that life is now so fast paced and small electronics are so ubiquitous (cell phones were how many of my students did most of their writing outside of school) that this condensed way of writing is becoming a dialect unto itself that bleeds into all other forms of writing and even into the speech of young people.

So, the whole idea of language forming as a social phenomenon entered into the picture, and I began to have a much more positive attitude towards students using SMS in their writing. In fact, the annoyance shifted from my students to myself for not knowing as much about a version of English as they did; I began to feel a little ignorant. On that note, I began to learn and am still learning more about SMS and finding out that it really does work like all other dialects (with its own set of implicit "rules").

Something that caused me to originally have an ambivalent attitude towards SMS (even after viewing it as a dialect in formation) was the idea of students texting in class, something that was against school rules and that I was supposed to enforce. Texting is kind of like the new version of passing notes, except by texting, students can pass notes across campus, including cheat notes. While I did pick up my share of cell phones, I am sure that some of my sneakier students got away with a few texts here and there. Anyway, while it is a teacher's job to make sure students are academically honest, I think it is interesting that texting is being used in such a subversive way.

It reminds me in some ways of something I read about the origins of AAVE, a mutation of English once used by slaves to communicate to one another and keep their masters from understanding what they were saying (and still often used today for purposes of inclusion and exclusion). Now, I'm not saying that, from my point-of-view, public school officials are like masters and students are like slaves, but I think that, from students' perspectives and from things I've heard them say, things look a bit differently.


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