Notes on a Research Project: Cognitivism + AAVE

(The title of my research project and the first 
slide of a presentation on the project's research)

           Doing research can be difficult sometimes, especially when the research you need hasn’t been conducted yet. Thankfully, I found that pedagogical studies on the "best" classroom practices have come a long way, so I was able to find substantiative research on both cognitivism (a theoretical framework for understanding the mindand implementations of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Ebonics into the college composition classroom. I chose to conduct a research project that applies the theory of cognitivism to AAVE and Ebonics because I felt like previous scholars acted as composition gatekeepers, preserving a modernized form of colonialism; if the composition student didn’t write exactly the “right” way, then their work was ripped to shreds without the acknowledgment of their ideas. I felt that since "Students’ Right to Their Own Language" opened the door for the recognition of “other” languages as “legitimate” in the composition classroom, then AAVE and Ebonics deserved that same treatment. If a person speaks in a language that can be understood by others, even if it isn't universally understood, then that person speaks a legitimate language. 

        From my research, I attempted to show how the exclusion of AAVE and Ebonics as “legitimate” languages leads to unfavorable and uninformed narratives about African Americans in general that also prevent them from succeeding in the college composition classroom. To really prove this point, I tried to find research about the general writing process and cognitivism so I could then extrapolate that research to my topic. I also tried to include research about what happens when professors continue to exclude AAVE and Ebonics but claim to be “colorblind.” These professors suggest that merit alone is the key to creating good writing, but this belief ignores the very real cultural and historical contexts students live in that put them at certain disadvantages than other students. 

        I think my most substantial piece of research came from a transcribed interview with Dr. Robert L. Williams, the “founder” of Ebonics (which can be, at times, interchangeable with AAVE, but encompasses more than just the language of African Americans). Williams discussed the reasons why he felt the pressure to coin a new language, and the biggest factor was that white scholars considered AAVE and Ebonics to be “deficient.” Though professors may not realize it, they still perpetuate this gatekeeping notion when they focus on the student’s grammatical or syntactical differences from “Standard” English instead of what the student actually conveys. My research helped me find the tools to systematically end unconscious, racist practices in the college composition classroom. 

        Research can be a little tricky at times, but if you keep searching, it can pay off big time.