Lay off Ringo, Will Ya?! (RJ, pt.2)

This is the second installment of a three-part podcast with my friend RJ. He’s a talented percussionist and straight-up badass drummer. Furthermore, he’s smart, passionate, charismatic, funny, and incredibly thoughtful. This makes for what turns out to be a booze-soaked master class on music criticism and appreciation. If you skipped part one but love music…not just listening to it but thinking about it, not just as background but as an integral part of your life and happiness, not as a soundtrack but as a primary focus…you should NOT miss this one.

I asked RJ to tell me why Ringo Starr is such an important drummer, and why the majority of casual Beatles fans, who generally consider him to be the least important, least talented Beatle by far, should lay off of Ringo.  RJ’s responses are outstanding, original, and extremely thought provoking. Keep in mind as you listen, we’d consumed 3+ big beers each by this point…so we were skating around this sophisticated rink in full-on drunken revelry.

Things you’ll learn today:

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is close to a perfect album…except for that stupid fucking George Harrison song. (Within You, Without You)
  2. The Beatles sound…is Ringo.
  3. The Beatles didn’t groove until Abbey Road, and that’s because Ringo, like Stella, got his groove back. Listen to the song, “Sun King.”
  4. Ringo is to the Beatles as Nick Mason is to Pink Floyd. Or Flink Poyd. (Remember, beer.)
  5. How the fuck do you say the name: Neil Peart? (“Pert” or “Peert”)
  6. Nirvana’s “Breed,” from Nevermind, is, from every technical perspective (i.e. lyrics, composition, arrangement, musicality, mix), complete and utter shit. However, R.J. simply can’t get enough of it, and neither could most of us in our late 30’s to early 40’s.

Also, a question for you, loyal listener and reader: What album before “Nevermind” was as culturally and historically significant? And have there been any after?

We end on a good RJ rant.

A very good one.

But then again, every RJ rant is better than average.

Have fun with this!

(Oh hey…the music.  Here’s the list, in order of appearance: The Beatles, “One After 909.” The Beatles, “Sun King.” Nirvana, “Breed.”  I know I’m missing a couple RJ played in the body of the recording.  For now, let’s just assume I intend all credit where due and required, take none, earn no money from the use of unsaid credited music [oxymoron much, Del Duca?], and will remove it if someone legitimately threatens to sue me.)


sgt. pepper
We hope you have enjoyed the show!

Me, You, and RJ Down by the Schoolyard (RJ, pt.1)

It is appropriate that episode 69 (…and 69.34 as well as 69.69…) of the Driven to Drink podcast introduces my friend R.J. to the world.  He’s amazing.  He’s funny, deep, passionate, talented, and creative.

We’re taking D2D on the road and bringing you several amazing guests.  These folks are here because they are interesting, enthusiastic, bright, and sonogenic.  (Not sure if that’s a word…but if a person who always looks good in a picture is “photogenic,” then a person who always sounds good on a podcast is, “sonogenic.”)

I’ll share with you here the structure of these upcoming episodes:

  1. Introductions and making the connection between guest and Greg.  (This will be most important when a guest is on for the first time. [duh])
  2. What’s the booze that we’re drinking? (We always talk about what we’re drinking, and also other aspects of the booze. [e.g. What’s the abv and ibu of the beer?  What’s the brand of whiskey?  Proof?  What’s the grape? Etc.])
  3. What drives you to drink, in general and/or tonight? (The entire D2D endeavor is this: There are things that drive us to drink. Rather than just allowing these things to fester in us or cause us to become pessimistic or cranky, it’s my preference to have a few drinks, talk it out, laugh, and find the glimmers of light.  Ultimately, this endeavor is a way to let go of defeatism and apathy and bring humor, optimism, community, and constructive energy to the very things that drive us to drink.)
  4. Expertise Area. (With any guest, I like to ask questions related to what I perceive to be one or several of their expertise areas. We all have many.  It isn’t necessarily your job, but perhaps a hobby or even just some piece of esoterica that I think will be interesting and fun to record.)
  5. Wildcard. (What would you do for a Klondike bar?)
  6. Wildcard follow-up. (This could go in any direction.  Theoretically, we’ll be quite inebriated at this point, so that should make it maximally wild.)
  7. Farewells

So, there you go.

In terms of R.J., we move through #1, #2, and #3 in this first of three episodes.

Regarding beer, I move us through an array of big beers (i.e. all over 7% abv), sweet&malty to bitter&hoppy, starting with my favorite belgian style quad (Ommegang Three Philosophers), then an Imperial Stout (Samuel Smiths), an Imperial Pilsner (Lagunitas), an American Strong Ale (Arrogant Bastard), and finally an imperial IPA (Hop Stoopid).

And music.  Lots of it over the next three weeks.  Today, you get a healthy dose of Paul Simon and Steve Gadd.  At the beginning, the them song from Louis C.K.’s brilliant piece of cinematic/theater art, “Horace and Pete.”  In the middle, “Late in the Evening” from Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park. (Listen for Gadd’s Mozambique beat over a conga rhythm.)  And to end, the baddest ass drum lick in the history of popular music, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”

Have fun.  We sure did.




How Do You Make Reading Fun?

To read fluently is to be truly free.

To read fluently is to have access to all dimensions of our history, our present, our future.

Without the ability to read (and write) that which one desires to learn and express, one cannot become a fully self-actualized human.  Therefore, to be literate is to become more fully human.

None of that is hyperbole.  I believe it all to be true.

Too many people are functionally illiterate…cannot read for pleasure, professional development, or greater understanding.

Too many people roam the earth unmotivated, frustrated, and repelled by the written word.

It’s a f*cking outrage.

There are two critical features of any learning endeavor.  First, one must be fluent with the mechanics of the endeavor.  And also, one must have fun with it.  “Fun” is a simplification and consolidation of constructs including motivation, attention, enjoyment, and enthusiasm.  And this “fun” aspect is just as important as, if not more important than the actual core abilities, or mechanics, to complete any task.

Considering literacy education in the United States, we seem to be spending approximately 100% of our time on part one, mechanics.  And so we’re pumping out generations of young people who believe reading and writing are a massive drag.  That’s bad.

So, how do you make reading fun?

I don’t mean acting out books for preschool children, which increases motivation around literacy and stories and is, in essence, a critical “early intervention” endeavor. (We should do this, though, and a lot of it.)  I mean, how do you make reading fun for an older child or adult? How do you ensure that s/he will seek out literacy, engage in literate endeavors, and experience authentic motivation for reading and/or writing?

I’m not entirely sure there’s any valid, generalizable way to do it once a human has matured beyond the traditional “learning to read” phase, birth through third or fourth grade, and enters the “reading to learn” phase, which encompasses most of a lifetime.  (I will repeat, however, how critical it is to engage in “early intervention” for all students.  ALL students.  Particularly as our entire society shifts towards a corporatized, politicized standardized test-driven system.  We do need to show enthusiasm around wonderful picture books and early readers.  We do need to act out book like, “Caps for Sale” or “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” or the Dr. Seuss canon.  We need to make sure our infants and toddlers and preschoolers love books, love drawing, love the alphabet, love stories and jokes and narrative.)

How do you make a person care about comprehending a word, a phrase, or a paragraph that doesn’t immediately make sense?

I think there comes a point where one is either going to like reading or generally abandon it.  Furthermore, I don’t believe that, after that critical point, most people shift in the opposite direction.  Unmotivated readers read out of necessity.  Motivated readers read out of desire.

So the next question is: can we intervene earlier than the apparent point of no return so that the person who might become an unmotivated or non-reader becomes a motivated reader?  (Mind you, I am not yet considering intellectual or reading disability.  However, the same questions and thoughts apply, I think, to these sub-populations.)  If “yes,” what specifically should we be doing to better ensure a motivated, independent reader? It can’t be spending a majority of time on phonics/decoding and phonological awareness.  That sh*t is boring.  However, these are the only things that seem to make a difference when intervening with at-risk children.  If we take all pressure off of phonics and focus, instead, on experience, on seeking literacy within self-chosen and inherently motivating contexts, on more authentic and experiential methods of becoming more verbally literate…well, that doesn’t nab actual reading comprehension and compositional ability.

Being able to express oneself through written words is powerful.  Becoming more connected, well-informed, and ultimately human through read words is powerful.  That, and extremely empowering.

So…how do you make reading fun?

How do you make reading for pleasure even possible, let alone probable, or even inevitable?

I’m entirely open to your thoughts, ideas, and experiences.



Do Dogs Have Areola?

Jen made what she believes, and I can’t argue, the most perfect drunk purchase she’s ever made.  She made it because simply couldn’t handle my shoe-wearing around the house combined with a confusing refusal to get slippers.  So, she ordered Keen slipper shoes for me.  They are wonderful and, indeed, perfect.  I don’t know how I walked around my house without them for so many years.

Oh, and then there’s Bob’s old clothes.  My gym-friend, Bob, who also works for Nordstrom and has been in sales for many years, gave me a load of designer clothes that no longer fit him as well as 3 new scents.  I’d apparently been running around the house like a fashion-show model, changing outfits regularly.  During this podcast, I settled on a new jersey-knit hoodie, a suede shirt/jacket, cargo shorts, patterned socks, and the Keens.  Jen claims I’m Dapper AND comfy.  Domfy.

Bob is my fragrance pimp, and I am his cologne ho.  I’m his ride or die bitch for life.  You feel me?  Know’m’sayin’, homie?

But I digress.

We began the evening with our old-faithfuls, Lagunitas Hop Stoopid (Jen) and Imperial Pils (Greg), and then continued forward with Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA (Jen, 9% abv) and Troegs Le Grave (Greg 8% abv).

Topically, we span the following:

  • We love the new season of the Walking Dead.
  • We lament the learning of negative shit about iconic people who we’ve generally loved and held in high esteem.  (e.g. Jen learned more about Ghandi than she ever wanted to know.  I found out about Bob Marley’s parenting and husbanding challenges.)
  • Do dogs have areola?  (No, but the definition of areola is broader than perhaps you’d imagine.)
  • When will we have our animal communication session with Karen Anderson?

Fun, huh?


Anyway, we present to you, “Do Dogs Have Areola?”

The closing music should bring you great joy.  Winter is coming.


odor by hodor

(Source: PandaWhale)

Are Yinz Driven to Drink?

Dear D2Dreeps,

Life, for the most part, is lovely.  Thanks for asking.  I hope the same is true for you.  If you’ve been with  us over the past 15 months or so, you’ve moved through our many moods, musings, memories, and the roller coaster that is, for each of us really, life.

There is a lyric from The Indigo Girls’ song “Fugitive,” which, among many other Indigo Girls’ lyrics, captures aspects of undeniable, human truth.

“Well the curse and the blessing, they’re one and the same.”


All of this is, perhaps, unnecessary preamble (…which is my middle name, doncha know…) to communicate the following exciting news.

We’re ready to record with you.

Yeah, you.

You’ve traveled with Jen and me (Greg) for these 15 months, have occasionally heard a solo rant, and met our friend Tricia once.  Jen will be taking a break from weekly inebriation-fests, though will not be gone entirely.  Oh no, never that.  She really is the thing that keeps this thing fun, funny, and interesting…as she’s the one who helps me to recognize when I’ve taken things too personally, seriously, or universally.

I can often use a good dose of, “Get out of your fucking head, Del Duca.”  So feel free to use these words if you notice I’m too deep in.  This is also why drinking alone isn’t a great option!

So, who wants to get a little tipsy, organize just enough to keep the conversational train on, or at least near, the tracks, and record a 30 – 40 minute podcast with me?  Hell, I might even be able to figure out how to do this over the phone.  (A recent mobile upgrade allowed me to “upgrade the facilities” without additional resources, and I think I know how to cobble together a phoner with stuff I already have.)

So again, who wants to record?

Lemme know.



(Source: Sketcheslovakia)

What Is Most Important?

What is more important: teaching an individual or motivating an individual to learn?

Illuminating predetermined content for a learner, or encouraging him to ask questions and providing her the tools necessary to independently seek, obtain, and process answers?

Information, or motivation?

The questions may be unnecessarily simplified, made binary when, in fact, context and nuance are necessary.

Perhaps you believe these things to be equally important.  Or, differently important.  Even differently important depending on the learner’s age, cognitive functioning, emotional development, community, culture, or context, among other potentially important variables.

However, consider the following:

  1. If I am unmotivated to complete a task, even though the information to complete it is accurate, accessible, and understandable, said task will rarely, if ever, be well completed.
  2. If I have insufficient or distorted information, but am fully motivated to complete a task which is dependent upon that information, the eventual result will often, if not always, be excellent.

So, in any endeavor we must consider efficiency, or the ability to complete a task speedily; and efficacy, or the ability to produce a desired and intended result.  Obviously, being both efficient and effective is ideal.  However, if one must suffer, which would you choose?

Said another way, would you rather have undesirable work done quickly, or plodding work done right?

Furthermore, if our goal, call it “point B,” is an excellent product completed with maximum efficiency (i.e. “expert” or “craftsman” quality), and if at “point A” we have neither (i.e. “novice” or “amateur” quality) how might we best move from A to B?  Would we focus on cramming information for speed of completion?  Or…motivation and engagement for desirableness of completion?

I would argue that we want the second before the first…that motivation, enthusiasm, and desire are, indeed, MORE important than skill.

I would also argue that, in the presence of neither, skill is considerably easier to provide than internal drive.  So much easier, in fact, that it would be tempting to convince ourselves that the latter, promoting motivation, is simply impossible.  So much easier that it would be tempting to say we should not…nay… CANNOT tackle the task and strive for human excellence.  So much easier…that we seem to have done just that.

But with good reason?

Is it possible to boost motivation for an individual, for a group, for a population where there is little motivation?  Regardless of background, upbringing, or history?

While I realize that human behavior cannot be separated from its context, I am also pragmatic enough to recognize that we often cannot control these essential aspects of the human endeavor.  Additionally, what can I do about *all* that has delivered an individual to me?  The answer is this: Very little beyond acknowledgement and validation of that individualized and historic *all*.

But…what can I offer the person in front of me, regardless of all that has delivered him/her to me?

Here’s what I can offer: me.  I can provide deference; confirm value; engage from a place of human interest and equity; assume competence and mutual respect; promote transparency, trust, and dialogue; and interact, always, with love.

And beyond the thesis initiating this post…that motivation is more important than skill, particularly if we strive toward excellence…it seems, given the current political, economic, and social climates in which all of us must live (…not just exist, not only get by, not slog through like complacent lemmings, but really live…), that we need more of this kind of humane, spiritually elevated, emotionally sacrificial, self-reflective love.

So…what is more important?

What is most important?


you plus me


We’re back!

This podcast was recorded a few weeks before the Oscars (in the midst of a diversity controversy that, just like any valid, nuanced controversy, became grist from the media-driven “culture war” mill rather than a topic for authentic dialogue and reconciliation) and immediately after having watched, “Fruitvale Station.”

So…it’s kind of heavy.

I really like this conversation.  It’s real, it’s gritty, it gets mildly heated, passions run…well my passions ran a bit high, and there’s plenty of humor and levity to balance the rest.

We had a lovely “half and half” cocktail of sorts using Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout, Lindemans Kriek, and Wigle Pomander Orange Bitters.  Uh…so much yum.

Your musical selection for today?  “Bonita Applebaum” by the incomparable Tribe Called Quest.

We present to you, “Fruitvale.”



Be a Glimmer of Light

My wish is to communicate an open letter to administrators, educators, clinicians, as well as mental health, medical and human behavioral professionals who work with unique, exceptional, or neurologically atypical children and who regularly communicate with their families.

However, the letter requires a bit of a preamble:

Last week, I sent this note to a Mom of a four-year-old who recently transitioned to his first preschool experience and who contends, at least, with a significant communication disorder and sensory processing uniqueness and who I’m fairly certain is heading towards additional mental health diagnosis. I’ve changed all names for privacy purposes.

“I spend most of my time actively engaged with Jason and focused on those aspects of communication and relationship that are challenging for him…and that’s perfectly intentional because it’s the very reason we engage with each other in the first place. However, I wanted, today, to stand back and really observe Jason and the things that are not challenging for him.

The first thing that struck me, as I watched the class at circle time, Ms. Sarah reading “The Rainbow Fish” and then explaining an art activity in which the class would engage post circle and recess, was that Jason was completely independently sitting in the circle with minimal to negligible support…and certainly no more support than would be expected from his age and class.

He independently made the transitions from circle to cubby, cubby to line, and then line to outside. Once on the playground, I saw a few wonderful things that I haven’t consistently observed in the past.

He attached to a grouping including Ishmail, Laura, Don, and Ella, and they all played tag/chase. Initially, Jason was following…not taking the lead, and this was perfectly fine. He was happy and engaged. They were happy and engaged. All was well with the world. Within a few minutes, both Ishmail and Don had initiated with Jason and included him in tangential play. Jason began to gain confidence and ultimate guided several interactions across the group. He led, and they followed.

At this point I inserted myself and really played-up Jason’s participation, but not in a way that was clinical…rather more authentic, silly, and fun. I want him and his peers to attach joy and success to…well, joy and success!”

Several hours later, I received this from Jason’s Mom:

“Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. It is a glimmer of light in an otherwise dismal experience. I was under the impression that Jason has an inability to sit on the circle all the time. It is good to hear that sometimes he actually exhibits age appropriate behavior. I’m glad to know that he sometimes leads activity as well. Thanks for sharing.”

I was immediately deflated and frustrated. I contemplated the school, the class, the educators. I reflected on Jason’s experiences and behaviors. And ultimately, I spent time considering my tendency to react, critique, inflame, and stand confidently upon a soapbox of my own emotional construction lobbing judgement grenades recklessly about.

And so, I recite this letter  in front of a mirror as an act of contrition even as I offer it to you…


Dear professionals who interact with neurologically atypical children and their families,

Please be aware that your attitudes, behaviors, and words have an immediate and indelible impact. You are a powerful person, and your choices matter to the people you serve and influence. It is possible, I would argue imperative to be honest, direct, and realistic while simultaneously remaining kind, optimistic, and sensitive to the needs of your families.

The children in our care and the families who entrust us with their most precious commodities are competent and actively contending with the challenges of life. These are not families “in denial.” Rather, they are caregivers and team members acutely aware of the obstacles facing their children as well as the expectations, judgments, and intolerance of surrounding social circles, systems, schools, and a society that doesn’t do “different” particularly well.

Do (…speak, and wish…) unto others as you would have them do (…speak, and wish…) unto you.

If a particular child does not respond to your language, behavior support techniques, classroom management strategies, structure, or expectations…consider the following. Rather than immediately concluding that the child is incapable, that the family is not supporting or facilitating your efforts, that it must be something “they” are doing…perhaps explore the possibility that your input is contributing to a child’s worry, anxiety, self-doubt, sensory-overload, frustration, and/or experience with failure.

We can work with and seek help from families, colleagues, related service providers, administrators, and experts. We can remain professional, in-control, respected, and confident even while walking into the unknown…because any of us can learn, grow, and achieve success within any situation.

But mostly, we can love and care about the children in front of us. We can communicate positively and professionally. We can actively listen and we can respond mindfully.

I was fortunate to spend several months helping to establish a KIPP charter school in Atlanta. The KIPP movement, and my point in this letter, can be annotated by a very simple phrase associated with KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levine.

Work hard. Be nice.

I appreciate you. I acknowledge the struggles within a profession in which educators are not generally trained, treated, or compensated professionally and I will do whatever I can to support, bolster, and serve you.

Be a glimmer of light in an otherwise dismal experience.

Respectfully yours,




This Too Shall Pass

Here I sit, emotions, energy, health, and self-image at the bottom of a ravine after a precipitous fall from the most recent peak.  I realize that I will never avoid the lows and I accept that my lows will include a healthy dose of self-doubt and existential crisis.  However, I refuse to allow my neuro-chemical makeup and cycles to dictate how I respond, react, interact, and move forward.  Languishing is not an option.  Giving up the battle is not an option.

Here’s an old chestnut: This too shall pass.

A phrase uttered almost exclusively when people have hit lows, experienced loss or pain, encountered despair.  However, by applying a cosmic and biological fact to only certain behaviors and experiences we ignore the deeper, revelatory meaning of the phrase.

This.  Right now.  Whatever it is you’re thinking, doing, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling, experiencing.  Right now.  This.

TooRemember just then?  Yeah…that, too. And before that?  Yeah, those as well.  And every second of your human existence?  Yes, that too.

Shall. There is inevitability in this word.  Unstoppable, unending, perpetual inevitability.  Rest assured.  Or panic assured.  Do whatever you will in response, but whatever is coming is assured.

PassEnd. Conclude. Finish. Recede into forgotten non-existence.

This too shall pass.

It is true of all tangible things, all emotions, all experiences.

But it is not true of our spirit.  The unknowable.  The interconnectedness of all that surrounds us.  Call it God.  Or Buddha.  Or quantum physics. Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Call it whatever you want, but there is an ultimate Truth that is beyond human comprehension.

Snap your fingers.

Or try.

Really.  Snap your fingers.

Yes, right now.


That movement can be traced back through the nervous system, which connects to the muscular and skeletal systems.

We can trace the snap back through the spinal cord and up to the brain.  We can trace the snap across individual neurons.  We can trace until this very point…

…What causes the first neuron in that chain to fire?


That…is unknowable.

That, alone, shall not pass.

But everything else?  Dust in the wind.

And so while I sit here, feeling down and alone and sorrowful to a depth that causes perceivable aching…there is yet another moment.  And another.  Another word.  And another.  And each passes.

And with each additional moment, the anger dissipates, the sadness fades, the self-doubt…doubts.

This too shall pass.

But I know that occasionally, and often particularly within these seemingly unbearable moments, I’ll receive a glimpse.  An insight. A vision.  A fleeting grok (…look that word up if you don’t know what it means.  Then read the book from which it originates.  A fleeting grok…) that permits momentary access to the blissful abyss of interconnected reality.

Really, people.  I encourage you to sit with your despair.  Pour a glass of smoky red wine.  Enjoy whatever might allow you to relax and avoid anxiety beyond the facts of your feelings.

And let the Truth occur.

It will happen.

Then pass.



Dialect Diversity & Social Perceptions: African American Vernacular English

Recently, I heard an interview with writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and writer Aaron Covington (Creed) on the Podcast, “Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period,” which is hosted by W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery, both of whom are comedians, writers, brilliant, funny, and Black.

Across these four professional, creative, confident, compelling Black men, I heard a diversity of English dialectal differences that prompted me to think deeply about the social, political, and historical ramifications of dialect, and African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in particular.

Last week, I explored the very non-standard dialect into which I was born and raised, Western Pennsylvania Dialect…or Pittsburghese.  I did this because of my experience and familiarity, and to set up the critical premise that any dialect of a language, be it the defined “standard” variation or any number of other non-standard derivatives, is legitimate and complete.  From a cognitive-linguistic perspective, no variation of a language is anything but different.

But we’re humans.  We’re social and tribal.  We’re judgmental.  We don’t like to feel uncomfortable and, for the most part, we naturally gravitate to systems, hierarchies, and sub-group delineations.

So…African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as: African American English (AAE), Black English Vernacular (BEV), Black Vernacular English (BVE), Black Vernacular (BV), or the now culturally-dated and connotatively divisive, Ebonics.

AAVE differs from Standard American English across all aspects of language: Phonology (the sounds of speech), morphology (forming words), semantics (vocabulary), syntax (creating sentences and stories), and prosody (the melody, intonation, rhythm, and other non-verbal aspects of communication).  Additionally, there are historical and social conventions associated with AAVE and the Black community.

A person can have a very “thick” AAVE accent, meaning that s/he is using many of the features, or a very “mild” AAVE accent, meaning that s/he is using relatively few aspects.  Furthermore, one person might code-switch from listener to listener.  That is, a young person might use Standard American English with a principal, a mild AAVE dialect with acquaintances or school friends, and a very heavy AAVE dialect with grandparents or close friends.  So, dialect usage depends upon person AND context, and different people make more or less conscious decisions to code-switch depending upon context.

This shit ain’t easy to grasp, but stick with me.

The origins of AAVE are a matter of debate.  I can’t find a consistent, definitive lineage or theory.  However, there is no question that AAVE has its origins in the African slaves who became involuntary immigrants to the West Indies, Caribbean, and United States.  And, as with all languages, AAVE is not static.  It is a dynamic, living language that grows, diversifies, and changes across history and generations.  The AAVE used today throughout many urban environments is assuredly informed by the civil rights and black power movements as well as more recent trends and events.

Now, if I haven’t yet convinced you, through last week’s post and the paragraphs thus far, that: a. You don’t generally speak Standard American English, b. Very few people generally speak Standard American English, c. The language of our public and most private schools as well as the crux of admissions, employment, and high-stakes standardized testing is, in fact, Standard American English, and d. No variation of English is linguistically any better or worse than another…then I’m not sure if I can.  However, there is a problem if the language of the very tests with which schools, employers, and society makes decisions regarding a person’s intelligence, potential, worth, and acceptance is NOT the primary dialect of most people taking them.  It is also true that poverty and the limited resources and experiences that come with poverty generally ensures that an impoverished individuals speak only the native dialect of their families and communities.  That is, poorer people generally don’t code-switch because they have little to no experience with anything BUT the non-standard dialect of their environment.  Furthermore, these people will be at a greater disadvantage in a world of high-stakes testing based solely on fluency with Standard American English.

But I’ve traveled down a tangent here.

Back to that podcast.

The four men speaking moved effortlessly across the continuum of Standard American English and AAVE.  But Coogler.  He intrigued me the most.  He generally leaned most consistently and most heavily AAVE.  And…his language was also most consistently and most heavily poetic, deep, introspective, complex, and intelligent.

Now, if you’ve made it this far and if you’re reading me in the first place, it likely comes as no surprise to you that a man can communicate using thick “Ebonics” and be the most linguistically profound among a group of intelligent, creative people.

The following might not come as a surprise either.  I’m quoting here from a textbook, “Communication Disorders in the Classroom: An Introduction for Professionals in School Settings,” by William O. Haynes, Michael J. Moran, and Rebeka H. Pindzola, in a chapter illuminating dialectal continua,

“Cazden (1970) examined African-American children and found that they used a street register, which is a relaxed manner of talking to their peers at school and on the street.  They also used a school register when addressing authority figures in the school environment.  Interestingly, speakers of school register used shorter sentences, were less syntactically complex, were more disfluent, and had quite different content as compared to speakers of the street register.” (p. 203) 

We can assume that “street register” equates to heavier African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and thus lighter Standard American English (SAE), and “school register” indicates lighter AAVE and purer SAE.

Each of us are more complex, creative, profound, and able to communicate the depth and completeness of our thoughts in our mother tongue.  There are certainly people who are multi-lingual, multi-dialectal, or even unilingual who achieve native or near-native fluency with a second language or dialect.  However, our mother tongue allows us most freedom with least cognitive effort.  Makes sense right?  When you’re communicating in your first language and first dialect, it’s reflexive…you don’t need to think about anything but the actual thoughts.  But when you’re communicating in a second language or dialect, you need to make mental transformations and interpretations, vocabulary choices and lexical decisions before you even speak, then consider motor-speech modifications both before AND while communicating.

So what’s my point?

Here’s my point.  Never judge a book by its cover.

No, here’s really my point.  No judgement can be made about a Black wo/man or child using Black English except that s/he is using Black English.  Well, it can…and it generally is.  But it should not.

Furthermore, we need to really think about all these standardized tests.  Hell, if I were king of the world I’d just banish them all and make everyone start from scratch with sound, equitable, valid, and reliable research.

But I’m not.  So I’ll just pound my chest from this little soapbox I call Driven to Drink.

Speaking of…I need a drink.


Nina Simone
I’ve got life. I’ve got freedom. I’ve got the life.