Inability to Speak Proper English Contributes to Failures

Letter to the Editor:  

The following commentary is in response to Senator Louis Patrick Hill’s remarks in “Is the Territory Suffering an Academic Crisis?”(May 28-June 3, 2007 edition of St. John Tradewinds) I concur with his view that the V.I. is suffering an academic crisis and I accept his assessment of the five areas that need to be addressed. I would like to suggest that another area be addressed: it is the limited ability of many native Virgin Islanders to communicate effectively with speakers of Standard American English.

There is a major problem in the V.I. related to effective communication and it is not simply related to “limited vocabulary.” This is not to suggest that those native speakers who have limited knowledge of SAE are not competent, decent or good people; it is simply to suggest that one of the reasons there is such a high failure rate in passing “exams written in SAE” is due to the failure of many native islanders to learn, to speak or to interpret SAE adequately. It may also be due to the inability of the V.I. educational system to adequately teach SAE.
The lack of adequate SAE among the “average native Virgin Islander” may also contribute to the failure of many governmental agencies to meet criteria written in SAE.

If it is correct that only 55 of  210 people taking the recent exam to become a police officer passed — a 74 percent failure rate — one should ask if language acquisition skills played a major role in the extremely high failure rate.

I do not adhere to the view that one should not speak one’s native language or that it is improper. I am simply attempting to suggest a reason for a high failure rate of native islanders when they take exams in SAE. Examples of native islanders who are more bi-dialectal are those who attend Good Hope School or Country Day; the latter school had a recent 100 percent college acceptance rate. While economics and parental involvement play a major role in their success, language skills may play a more important role in their success.  

When they leave the school, they are often in an environment in which their SAE skills are still being developed unlike many of the native islanders in public schools. Unlike the public school students, where economics and parental involvement have a different affect, as Senator Hill suggests, those students primarily have an exposure to a “Crucian dialect” outside of the classroom which makes them less exposed and less competitive in SAE. (Do our teachers in public schools always teach/speak in SAE? If not, should they, for the benefit of our students?)

A student with an average ability cannot afford to miss one or two exam questions due to inadequate SAE language skills. Did that happen in the last exam for V.I. police officers?

It may be helpful for someone at UVI to do a study to see if what I am suggesting is related to the success rates of native Virgin Islanders in an SAE written environment. Only then can the “academic crisis” be adequately addressed. Regardless of a uniform curriculum, exit exams, or more positive parental involvement, if SAE language skills are the problem and not addressed, continued high failure rates are inevitable!

Peace and love to those who want all native islanders to succeed.

Hap Clark,
St. Croix