Walter E. Williams
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"Do you mean he is taller than me am?" sarcastically barked Dr. Martin Rosenberg, my high school English teacher, to one of the students in our class. The student actually said, "He is taller than me," but Rosenberg was ridiculing the student's grammar. The subject of the elliptical (or understood) verb "am" must be in the subjective case. Thus, the correct form of the sentence is: He is taller than I.

This correction/dressing down of a student, that occasionally included me, occurred during my attendance at North Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High School in the early '50s. Franklin was predominantly black; its students were poor or low middle class. On top of that, Franklin had just about the lowest academic standing in the city. All of our teachers, except two or three, were white. Despite the fact that we were poor, most of Franklin's teachers held fairly high standards and expectations.

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Today, high standards and expectations, at some schools, would mean trouble for a teacher. Teachers, as pointed out in one teaching program, are encouraged to "Recognize and understand the cultural differences among students from diverse backgrounds, and treat such differences with respect. Intervene immediately, should a fellow student disparage a Black student's culture or language." That means if a black student says, "I be wiff him" or "He axed me a question," teachers shouldn't bother to correct the student's language. What's more, should anyone disparage or laugh at the way the student speaks, the teacher should intervene in his defense. Correcting the student's speech might be deemed as insensitive to diversity at best and racism at worst, leading possibly to a teacher's reprimand, termination and possibly assault.

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Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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