What’s in a Mispronunciation? Micro-aggression Possibly?

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Hundreds of school districts across the country have taken a pledge to “pronounce student’s names correctly” to avoid the “microaggression” of mispronunciation.

According to ‘My Name, My Identity: A Declaration of Self,’ a national campaign launched in 2015 by the Santa Clara County, Calif. Office of Education (SCCOE) and the National Association for Bilingual Education, a teacher who mispronounces a student’s name can cause that student “anxiety and resentment”.

“Mispronouncing a student’s name truly negates his or her identity, which, in turn, can hinder academic progress,” according to Yee Wan, SCCOE’s director of multilingual education services.

Rita Kohli, assistant professor of education at the University of California at Riverside, says it is a sign of “microagression” when a teacher mispronounces, disregards, or changes a child’s name, because “they are in a sense disregarding the family and culture of the student as well.”

The Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada is one of 528 school districts across the country that have recently implemented a campaign to “pronounce students’ names correctly” – including names teachers and administrators find difficult or unfamiliar – in order to be sensitive to the ancestral and historical significance of a child’s name.

In a 2014 Cult of Pedagogy blog post, former teacher Jennifer Gonzalez claimed that “mutilating someone’s name is a tiny act of bigotry. Whether you intend to or not, what you’re communicating is this: Your name is different. Foreign. Weird. It’s not worth my time to get it right….

“And before you get all defensive about the bigotry thing, let’s be clear: Discovering that something you do might be construed as bigotry doesn’t mean anyone is calling you a bigot. It’s just an opportunity to grow.”

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