The bulk of non-standard dialect writers ends up in basic classes because these students are victims of language discrimination. Great writers are disguised as struggling, unmotivated people whose talents unfortunately remain buried underneath pedagogical authority. Not only does pedagogy stifle talent, but it dangerously creates a misleading belief within the student about himself.
After much in-depth investigation, Cleary found that the subtle yet crucial missing element in Carlos’s education was the accessibility of help at home. Carlos, whom Cleary selected as the subject of her intensive research, came from a family of eleven kids and one mom. The father was apparently absent. Aside from the fact that his family was large, Carlos’s mom couldn’t help, period, because she didn’t know how.
Carlos had one teacher, Ms. Hirsch, who inspired and encouraged him to write freely. She was his connection to the “outer world.” She became a mother figure and friend to Carlos, showing him a world of literacy. However, only one teacher wasn’t sufficient enough to carry on through the years, when Carlos’s passion for literacy would be stifled by pedagogy. Over and over again, Carlos was forced to rewrite his essays, and his education was reduced to word-level exercises. It was a snowball effect; the further he advanced, the more he was behind.
Carlos lost all confidence in himself because the subliminal messages from these remedial classes communicated to him that he was stupid. “When I was a kid, I was dumb, too dumb. And I still am, because I’m way behind,” comments Carlos. His view of himself as a writer was totally distorted because of the wrong messages he gets when he is transferred from one remedial class to another. This feeling of inferiority prevented Carlos from getting the help he needed, because he was so concerned about what his peers may think of him if he were to ask a “dumb” question. Students like Carlos project an image of rebellion or apathy because underneath this hard surface, these suffering students do not want their ignorance to be exposed.
It wasn’t until Cleary thoroughly interviewed and observed Carlos that she was able to understand why Carlos wasn’t “getting it.” His insecurities were deep-seated in his fear of being exposed, ridiculed, and pushed back to yet another inferior level of basic English classes. The insecurities were a by-product of teachers’ impersonal judgments imposed on him. When Cleary helped Carlos to see that he was not stupid, but just unfortunate due to his family’s economical dilemma and lack of academic support at home, Carlos’s self-perception gradually lightened up. The more he got in touch with the reasons for his lack of success, the more he was able to find the courage to grapple with English without having to feel intellectually challenged. Cleary concludes, “We need to get down to the hard task of helping [nonstandard dialect speakers] to understand consciously what lies underneath their ‘basic writer’ symptoms and make them writers.”