WWU's Judy Pine to Discuss ‘The Myth of the Word Gap: Ideological Obstacles to Equity in Education’ May 3 at City Hall

Judith M.S. Pine, associate professor of Anthropology at Western Washington University, will give a talk titled “The Myth of the Word Gap: Ideological Obstacles to Equity in Education” from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3 in the Bellingham City Council Chambers, 210 Lottie St. 

The free, public talk is an installment of the WWU College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean’s Lecture Series and is co-sponsored by the City of Bellingham.

In the presentation, Pine will explore the consequences of the widespread claim that children in poverty struggle in school because they are exposed to fewer words in their homes.

Often falling under the heading of the “word gap” or “language gap,” these claims have been reported in the national press and have become the basis for programs aimed at reducing equity in K-12 education.

Pine will argue that the word gap claim is at best an oversimplification of a serious situation, misrecognizing crucial elements of the problem. However, this myth fits well into an existing structure of ideas shared by many of those with influence in education and in government. Solutions based on “language gap” theory may, by playing into a shared set of stereotypes, reinforce rather than reduce the inequity experienced by poor children in the K-12 school.

Drawing on an extensive body of published research in the K-12 setting, as well as critical analysis of the support for the “word gap” claims, Pine will discuss the ways in which this myth resonates with many people and organizations committed to social justice in education. Leading the audience through a critical analysis of that myth and its success in the broader conversation on education, she will lay the groundwork for discussion of alternative structures of ideas within which solutions to inequity can be pursued.

Pine teaches courses in Linguistic Anthropology and in Asian Ethnography. Her dissertation, focusing on the Lahu ethnic minority in northern Thailand, looked at relationships with written language and was her first engagement with the anthropological approach to literacy and schooling that informs this lecture. Her interests include indigeneity, minority language use, language shift and its reversal, and the semiotics of 21st century identities. She is committed to the integration of scholarship and social justice work.

Audience questions for the May 3 talk will be welcomed.  The lecture will be recorded and shown on Bellingham TV Channel 10.

For more information on this lecture and for disability accommodations, please contact Kirsten Anderson, WWU College of Humanities & Social Sciences, (360) 650-3763, or Kirsten.Anderson@wwu.edu

The College of Humanities and Social Services (CHSS), Western’s largest college,  includes the 13 departments of Anthropology; Communication Sciences and Disorders; Communication Studies; English, Health and Human Development; History; Journalism; Liberal Studies; Modern and Classical Languages; Philosophy; Political Science; Psychology; and Sociology; as well as four interdisciplinary programs: East Asian Studies; Linguistics; Multidisciplinary Studies; and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.