18 We Must Create a New Standard

Benjamin Jancourtz

The writing handbook The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, set the standard in Pre-Civil War America. Nowadays, we must challenge their standard to include more writing for and by more diverse and less represented groups, including people of color and the LGBTQ community. This is particularly true as students of color face racism while fleeing Ukraine, and as politicians continue to advocate for legislation banning discussions surrounding race, sexual orientation, and gender identity in schools and businesses. Different cultures have their own folklore, stories, languages, and styles of writing, and they should all be celebrated instead of students of certain backgrounds being made to feel like there is something wrong with part of who they are. For years, English teachers have argued that The Elements of Style and other writing handbooks are biased against people who do not abide by Standard American English rules. The cultural and ethnic backgrounds of all students must be respected and allowed to be brought into their writing if they so choose. Academic writing badly does not want to be changed, but our society changes with the times as people become more aware of the racial and cultural divisions between different people. People of color and LGBTQ people are still fighting for their right to an equal education today, as well as for their history to be taught in schools. If kids continue to be taught their core subjects from the same straight and white point of view, they do not have a chance of truly understanding much of the events in the modern news cycle.

On March 28, 2022, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, often dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The legislation is set to go into effect on July 1, and bans classroom discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. About a week after the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was signed, a Florida high school student named Will Larkins went viral for teaching his classmates about the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which is widely considered to be a pivotal turning point in the modern LGBTQ rights movemnet. On March 30, 2022, California’s Reparations Task Force voted to limit eligibility for reparations to the descendants of slavery, meaning that neary one hundred seventy-eight thousand black immigrants would not be eligible. The task force will examine how slavery continues to affect African-Americans in areas of life such as education, finances, and homeownership. At around the same time, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime. This bill is named in honor of the fourteen-year-old black boy who was murdered in August 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman at her family’s grocery store in Mississippi. One hundred days after Till was murdered, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. While doing so, Parks thought of Till, having attended a mass meeting four days before to hear from the lead organizer in the Emmett Till case. A week after President Biden signed the antilynching bill, history was made when Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first African American woman to be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court. These are all major events happening in our modern news cycle that children must be more exposed to. If The Elements of Style and other writing handbooks are indeed biased against marginalized groups, we must create a new standard to fulfill the needs of students whose cultural and ethnic backgrounds do not allow them to abide by Standard American English rules as stated in writing handbooks, and all children, regardless of who they are or where they come from, must learn that there are alternative ways of writing that they likely did not learn before. In doing so, students should be introduced to authors of color and LGBTQ writers as alternatives to consistently just learning about the works of William Strunk, Jr., E.B. White, and other voices that are overrepresented in writing handbooks and materials. This new standard would center the perspectives of authors who, if not dismissed entirely, are almost never brought to the forefront of writing instruction.

Under the new standard, language arts classes would tell more diverse and inclusive stories so that more students would be able to see themselves represented in the curriculum, rather than certain students being made to feel as though they are lesser than their peers. As the world becomes accepting of more people and history continues, we must use diversity as the strength that it is to set a new standard for Post-Civil War America. This is a new America where lynching is officially considered a federal hate crime, a historic task force in California debates reparations for slavery, and a Black woman sits on the highest court in the land. It is also a new America in which LGBTQ people are much more accepted than they were at the time when The Elements of Style was written, but with legislation such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, there remains a lot of work left to be done. As we evolve as a society, our educational standards must change with the times to ensure that every student has the opportunity to thrive in our schools.

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Good Ideas About Writing by Benjamin Jancourtz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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