If we do not vigorously, unashamedly promote standard English in every classroom, we are doing our pupils a terrible disservice. Standard English is the language which opens doors, the language which allows access to professional work and to literate, educated discourse. Those who come from middle class homes just pick it up. But here, as in every other area of education, the school has a duty to add to the cultural capital of all pupils, not just to depend upon what they get outside the classroom.
It is not a matter of intelligence. All human language is complex, and all human beings achieve a remarkable cognitive feat when they learn language as young children. There are some who happen to learn a language at a young age that will open many doors to them later in life. Others do not. That does not make them stupid, but it does put them at an educational and economic disadvantage.
We must be honest and open about this. Schools must deal with reality, not the fantasies of left wing university professors, and they must give their pupils the tools to succeed, and to take part in the cultural conversation. Standard English just happens to be the language of classic literature, and the language of power in business, politics, law, medicine or any other serious professional domain.
Promoting Standard English means insisting on specific requirements for speech as well as writing. We must adopt a zero tolerance attitude towards slang, especially the kind of crude slang that derives from certain kinds of popular music. In doing this, we are simply making the classroom an environment in which fluency in the language of power is promoted. Repeated practice and insistent correction of mistakes are necessary if fluency is to be achieved in any language, and oral fluency is always the basis of writing skills. Therefore we cannot compartmentalise language and accept informal, non-standard spoken English, while insisting that written work is slang-free.
Standard English rules. If we don’t make that clear to our pupils, they are likely to have a rude awakening when they enter the world of work. They will find themselves wishing their teachers had been tougher on them, to prepare them for life.