About The Reading Room Curriculum

foundationlogo      In 1999 Paul C. Mocombe developed The Mocombeian Strategy and Reading Room Curriculum for the Russell Life Skills and Reading Foundation, Inc., an after school reading and mentoring program located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  The latter, Reading Room Curriculum, is a reading curriculum of seven books, published as Mocombe’s Reading Room Series, developed by Mocombe based on the theoretical cognitive linguistic assumptions of Noam Chomsky.  Against the behaviorist approach to the acquisition of language, Noam Chomsky’s cognitive linguistics, “generative grammar,” suggests that language is an innate tool hardwired in the brain via its grammar that helps human beings experience the world and communicate with others.  By assuming, as William Labov, building on the theoretical linguistics of Chomsky, posits in his seminal work Language in the Inner-cities, Black/African American English Vernacular (BEV/AAEV) of inner-city black American students to be a distinct linguistic system with its own deep and surface structure, i.e., generative grammar, distinct from Standard American English, through which black Americans encounter, comprehend, and make sense of the world, Mocombe concluded that the initial black/white academic achievement gap is a result of two epiphenomenon of the American capitalist social structure of class inequality, a mismatch of linguistic structure and social class function between BEV/AAEV and Standard English (SE) and the social functions associated with them (Mocombe, 2005, 2008, 2010; Mocombe and Tomlin, 2010, 2012).  Hence, according to Mocombe the initial black/white academic achievement gap is a result of the language structure of many black American students of the inner-cities.  They grow up with the neocortex of their brains syntactically pre-programmed with the phonetic, syntactic, and semantic structure and processes of BEV/AAEV.  As a result, when they initial enter school and are tested they have trouble comprehending and analyzing data because of the mismatch between the phonetic, syntactic, and semantic structure and processes of BEV/AAEV and that of SE (See Table 1.3).  To offset this mismatch of linguistic structure and social class function, Mocombe suggests that African or black American students should be assessed and taught as though they are ESOL (English Speakers of other Languages) or minority language students when they initially enter school.  In other words, Mocombe posits, because young black Americans grow up in the inner-cities of America knowing and speaking a distinct linguistic system (BEV/AAEV) with its own syntax, lexicon, phonetics, semantics, etc., generative grammar in Chomskyian terms, which is distinct from that of Standard English (SE), when African American or black American students enter school, teachers should attempt to restructure their linguistic structure from BEV/AAEV to SE, by teaching them reading via phonics and language arts, the rules or syntax of Standard English/analytical phonetics, and using reading passages as practice so as to demonstrate their mastery of the new language system.  In other words, teach black American students the rules of Standard English with a heavy emphasis on phonics, language arts, and use reading passages as practice to demonstrate that they can comprehend in, and have acquired the mastery of the second language, in this case, Standard English, in order to restructure their syntactic structure from BEV/AAEV to SE.  Mocombe’s Reading Room Series books of the curriculum attempt to do just that restructure the deep and surface structure of speakers of BEV/AAEV to that of SE through the phonics, language arts, and reading activities of the workbooks so as to increase their comprehension levels on standardize tests.

ThepeopleCoupled with the reading room curriculum, Mocombe also offers the Mocombeian Strategy as a pedagogical tool to combat the black/white achievement gap. The Mocombeian Strategy (2005), published under the title of the same name, suggests that if the education and professionalization of black American students via education is the modus operandi of American society as opposed to the capitalist emphasis on class, status, economic gain, and upward social mobility, school systems should also invest, in conjunction with the Reading Room Curriculum, in a comprehensive mentoring program that pairs black American students (especially black boys), throughout their academic careers, with educated professionals in the fields of science, mathematics, medicine, teaching, and other professions that require an education.  In other words, by having Standard English speaking educated black American professionals as social role models for young black American students, especially black boys, throughout their academic careers, school systems will be able to combat the affects of the social roles associated with the social class functions of the black American underclass and BEV/AAEV in the society.  The logic behind this approach is grounded in Mocombe’s theoretical assumption that later on in their academic careers black American students academically underachieve because of what he refers to as a mismatch of linguistic social class function, which is tied to the aforementioned mismatch of linguistic structure construct.  This work explores the theoretical origins of, and basis for, Paul C. Mocombe’s (2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012) The Mocombeian Strategy (2005) and Reading Room Curriculum, published as Mocombe’s Reading Room Series (2007), as pedagogical tools available to educators and school administrators for closing the black/white test score gap in the United States.

Background of the Problem

readingroombookAdvanceK1The black-white test score gap is an empirical problematic that dates back to the 1940s.  On many standardize tests the mean scores of black students on average are typically at least 1 standard deviation below the mean scores of white students.  For the most part, the test scores indicate that on average black American students have more limited skills in processing information from articles, books, tables, charts, and graphs compared to their white and Asian counterparts.  In response to this achievement gap of black students’ vis-à-vis whites and Asians, Paul C. Mocombe developed his Mocombeian Strategy and Reading Room Curriculum, which posit a comprehensive mentoring program of educated black professionals and the restructuring of the linguistic structure of black American inner-city students via phonetic and language arts instructions, as the solutions to resolving the gap.  The two approaches are based on Mocombe’s hypothesis that the underachievement of black American students vis-à-vis their white and Asian counterparts is grounded in what he refers to as “a mismatch of linguistic structure and social class function” (Mocombe, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012), which is an epiphenomenon of class division and capitalist relations of production.  This work explores the theoretical, practical, and pedagogical relationships between Mocombe’s “mismatch of linguistic structure and social class function hypothesis,” The Mocombeian Strategy, and Reading Room Curriculum (published as Mocombe’s Reading Room Series) as it stands in relation to Postmodern and post-structural theories of intersectionality and John Ogbu’s burden of acting white hypothesis as the loci of causality for the black/white academic achievement gap.

Theory and Method

readingroombookAdvanceKAs previously mentioned, the black-white test score gap is an empirical problematic that dates back to the 1940s.  On many standardized tests the mean scores of black American students on average are typically at least 1 standard deviation below the mean scores of white and Asian students.  The test scores indicate that on average black American students have more limited skills in processing and analyzing information from articles, books, tables, charts, and graphs compared to their white and Asian counterparts.  As Roland G. Fryer Jr. and Steven D. Levitt (2004) point out, “a wide variety of possible explanations for the test-score gap have been put forth. These explanations include differences in genetic make-up, differences in family structure and poverty, differences in school quality, racial bias in testing or teachers’ perceptions, and differences in culture, socialization, or behavior. The appropriate public policy choice (if any) to address the test score gap depends critically on the underlying source of the gap” (447).  Contemporarily, the public policy choices of standardization of curriculum, multicultural education, mentoring, and after-school programs of school boards throughout the nation have been implemented in light of the predominance of postmodern and post-structural theories of intersectionality and John Ogbu’s cultural, socialization, or behavior explanation, “burden of acting white” hypothesis (Fryer and Levitt, 2004; Tyson et al, 2005; Mocombe and Tomlin, 2010, 2012; Wright, 2013).

Postmodern and post-structural theories on education highlight education as a “discursive space that involves asymmetrical relations of power where both dominant and subordinate groups are engaged in struggles over the production, legitimation, and circulation of particular forms of meaning and experience (Erevelles, 2000: 30).  As such, postmodern and post-structural theorists “examine the discursive practices by which student subjectivity (as intersectionally constructed by race, class, gender, and sexuality) is produced, regulated, and even resisted within the social context of schooling in postindustrial times” (Erevelles, 2000: 25).  Academic underachievement from this perspective is viewed as the by-product of marginalization, domination, and alienation based on identity and learning styles/multiple intelligences (Wright, 2013).   Pedagogically, the public policy choice of postmodern and post-structural theorists are for the most part multicultural education and multiple modes of learning and teaching, which addresses the intersection and diversity of subjective positions and multiple intelligences found among students in schools (Mocombe and Tomlin, 2012; Wright, 2013).

John Ogbu’s burden of acting white hypothesis suggests that African American students academically underachieve for fear of being labeled “acting white” by their black peers.  Academic success is viewed as the status marker of whites.  Therefore, many African American students conceal their academic prowess for fear of marginalization and alienation from their black peers.  To offset this burden of acting white, educators and school administrators throughout the nation devise mentoring programs that pair African American students with educated black professionals (Tyson et al, 2005).

Contemporarily, postmodern and post-structural logic of marginalization and alienation in school based on ability and subjective positions coupled with John Ogbu’s hypothesis which suggests that black Americans intentionally academically underachieve vis-à-vis their white and Asian counterparts for fear of being labeled “acting white” by their black peers who view academic achievement as the status marker of whites dominate how teachers, educators, and school administrators address the black/white academic achievement gap.  Teachers, educators, and school administrators throughout the nation prescribe multicultural education, multiple learning and teaching styles, standardization of curriculum, mentoring, and after-school programs to combat the marginalization, alienation, and affects of the burden of acting white on black adolescents.  The notion behind these policy prescriptions is based on the assumption that the representation of educated blacks in school curriculums through mentoring programs and multicultural curriculum materials coupled with kinesthetic pedagogical approaches to teaching black American students, the standardization of curricula, and added assistances, head-start and after-school programs, offered to blacks will increase their academic achievement vis-à-vis their white and Asian counterparts.

More than 40 years have passed since postmodernism and post-structuralism made identity politics fashionable, and Fordham and Ogbu initially gave credence to the “burden of Acting white” and the “oppositional peer culture” hypothesis in their essay “Black Students’ School Success: Coping with the “Burden of Acting White” (1986).  Although social scientists have produced very little empirical evidence to substantiate either the correlation between identity politics and academic achievement on standardize tests or the validity for a “burden of acting white,” there is still strong public support and belief in their assertions for explaining the academic underachievement of black students and the black/white achievement gap.  In fact, as Tyson et al further observed in their assessment of eight North Carolina secondary public schools, “the acting white theory significantly influences how schools address problems related to black underachievement, which, in turn, helps to determine whether these solutions ultimately can be effective” (2005, p. 582).  Schools and school boards have introduced multicultural education, head start programs, mentoring and counseling programs, and black achievement in education has been stressed above all things else in the school curriculum in order to combat the affects of the burden-of-acting-white.

Yet in spite of these efforts, blacks everywhere on average score disproportionally poorly on standardized tests compared to their white counterparts.  In the United States, for example, just 12% of African-American 4th graders have reached proficient or advanced reading levels, while 61% have yet to reach the basic level.  In a national assessment of student reading ability, black children scored 16% below white children.  Forty-six percent of black adults, compared with 14% of white adults, scored in the lowest category of the National Adult Literacy survey.  The results indicate that blacks have more limited skills in processing information from articles, books, tables, charts, and graphs compared with their white counterparts (Gordon, 2006, p. 32).  More perplexing, the students who lose the most ground are the higher-achieving black children.  “As black students move through elementary and middle school…the test-score gaps that separate them from their better-performing white counterparts grow fastest among the most able students and the most slowly for those who start out with below-average academic skills” (Viadero, 2008, p. 1).  The numbers among British Caribbean blacks are far worse in places like the United Kingdom (Mocombe and Tomlin, 2010, 2012).

Discussions and Conclusions

readingroombookAdvance1-2Given this continual reliance on either identity politics or a burden of acting white hypothesis to explain the academic underachievement of black students and the black-white achievement gap in the face of persistent black academic underachievement on standardize tests, further assessment of this hypothesis is critical to understanding and addressing the problem.  Against identity politics and Ogbu’s oppositional culture theory, Paul C. Mocombe (2005, 2007, 2010, 2012) has offered his “mismatch of linguistic structure and social class function” as to the origins of the black/white achievement gap.  According to Mocombe, the black/white achievement gap is an epiphenomenon of class division and the social relations of capitalist production in America.  Black American students academically underachieve vis-à-vis their white and Asian counterparts because of two factors, 1) comprehension, which is grounded in their linguistic structure, black/African American English Vernacular (BEV/AAEV), and 2) the social functions and roles associated with their linguistic structure in the American capitalist social structure of racial-class inequality as speakers of AAEV.

Mocombe (2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012) and his evaluation of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) data concludes that the reasons that black American students have more limited skills in processing information from articles, books, tables, charts, and graphs, and the students who lose the most ground vis-à-vis their white and Asian counterparts are the higher-achieving black children, because early on in their academic careers the poor black social class language game, “black American underclass,” who, contemporarily, have become the bearers of ideological and linguistic domination for black youth the world over, created by class division and the social relations of capitalism in the US, produces and perpetuates a sociolinguistic status group, what Mocombe refers to as a social class language game, that reinforces a linguistic structure (Black/African American English Vernacular—BEV or AAEV) among black American students in the inner-cities, which linguistically and functionally renders its young social actors impotent in classrooms where the structure of Standard English (SE) is taught.  Thus early on (k-5th grade) in their academic careers, many black American inner city youth struggle in the classroom and on standardize test because individually they are linguistically and grammatically having a problem with comprehension, i.e., “a mismatch of linguistic structure,” grounded in their (Black or African American English Vernacular) linguistic structure and speech patterns (Mocombe, 2007, 2009, 2010).  In other words, there is a phonological, morphosyntactical, and semantical mismatch between BEV/AAEV and the Standard English (SE) utilized in schools.  Given the segregation and poverty of blacks growing up in the inner-cities of America, they acquire the systemicity of Black or African American English and early on in their academic careers lack the linguistic flexibility to switch between BEV/AAEV and SE when they take standardize tests.  As a result, many black American youth have a problem decoding and understanding phrases and sentences on standardize tests, which explain their low test scores vis-à-vis their white and Asian counterparts, when they initially enter school (Kamhi, 1996; Johnson, 2005; Mocombe, 2010).

Later on in their academic careers as these youth become adolescents and acquire the linguistic flexibility (given their immersion in the middle class language and culture of school) to code switch between BEV/AAEV and SE, they are further disadvantaged by the social class functions (a mismatch of function of the language) this status group, black American underclass, reinforces against those of middle class black and white America.  That is, success or economic gain and upward mobility amongst this “black American underclass youth culture,” who speak BEV/AAEV, within the American capitalist social structure of racial-class inequality is not measured by status or professions obtained through education as in the case of black and white American bourgeois middle class standards; on the contrary, athletics, music, and other activities not “associated” with educational attainment serve as the means to success, economic gain, and upward economic mobility in the US’s postindustrial society.  Thus effort in school in general suffers, and as a result test scores and grades progressively get lower.  Grades and test scores are not only low for those who grow-up in poor-inner cities, it appears to have also increased as academic achievement and/ or social-economic status (SES) rises.  “In other words, higher academic achievement and higher social class status are not associated with smaller but rather greater differences in academic achievement” (Gordon, 2006: 25).

It is this epiphenomenon, “mismatch of linguistic social class function,” of the “mismatch of linguistic structure” many scholars (Ogbu, 1974, 1990, 1991; Coleman, 1988) inappropriately label “the burden of acting white” amongst black American adolescents in urban and suburban areas, who as they get older turn away from, or place less effort on, education, not because they feel it is for whites, but due to the fact that they, and the society, have rationalized other racialized (i.e., sports, music, pimping, selling drugs, etc.) means or professions, financed by the upper-class of owners and high-level executives, to economic gain for its own sake other than status obtained through education (Mocombe, 2005, 2007, 2011; Mocombe and Tomlin, 2010).  In America’s postindustrial economy, black American youth look to athletes, entertainers, players, gangsters, etc., many of whom are from the black American underclass and speak BEV, as role models over professionals in fields that require an education and speak SE.  Historically, Mocombe concludes, this is a result of racial segregation and black social relations to the capitalist mode of production in America (Mocombe, 2012).

readingroombookAdvance1According to Mocombe, historically speaking, ever since their arrival in America two dominant social class language games/groups, a black underclass and a black bourgeois class, created by the structural differentiation of capitalist processes and practices, have dominated black America.  In agricultural slavery beginning in the early eighteenth century, black America was constituted as a racial caste in class dominated by the social class language game of the black bourgeoisie (E. Franklin Frazier’s term), the best of the house servants, artisans, and free blacks from the North, which discriminated against the practical consciousness and linguistic system (social class language games) of field slaves and newly arrived Africans, working in agricultural production, who constituted the black underclass. Deagriculturalization and the industrialization of the northern states coupled with black American migration to the north from the mid-1800s to about the mid-1950s, gave rise to the continual racial-class separation between this urban, educated, and professional class of blacks and former house slaves whose practical consciousness and linguistic system mirrored that of middle class whites, and a black underclass of former agricultural workers seeking, like their black bourgeois counterparts, to be bourgeois, i.e., economic gain, status, and upward economic mobility, through education and industrial work in Northern cities.  However, racial discrimination coupled with suburbanization and the deindustrialization, or outsourcing of industrial work to Third World countries, of northern cities left the majority of blacks as part of the poor black underclass in poor urban communities with limited occupational and educational opportunities.  Consequently, contemporarily, America’s transition from an industrial base to a postindustrial, financialized service, economy beginning in the 1970s positioned black American underclass ideology and language, hip-hop culture, as a viable means for black American youth to achieve economic gain, status, and upward economic mobility in the society over education.  That is, finance capital in the US beginning in the 1970s began investing in entertainment and other service industries where the segregated inner-city language, entertainment, and athletic culture of black America became both a commodity and the means to economic gain for the black poor in America’s postindustrial economy, which subsequently outsourced its industrial work to semi-periphery nations thereby blighting the inner-city communities.

Blacks, many of whom migrated to the northern cities from the agricultural south looking for industrial work in the north, became concentrated in blighted communities where work began to disappear, schools were under funded, and poverty and crime increased due to deindustrialization and suburbanization of northern cities (Wilson, 1978 1993).  The black migrants, which migrated North with their BEV/AAEV from the agricultural South following the Civil War and later, became segregated sociolinguistic underclass communities, ghettoes, of unemployed laborers looking to illegal, athletic, and entertainment activities (running numbers, pimping, prostitution, drug dealing, robbing, participating in sports, music, etc.) for economic success, status, and upward mobility.  Educated in the poorly funded schools of the urban ghettoes, given the process of deindustrialization and the flight of capital to the suburbs and overseas, with no work prospects, many black American youth and their families became part of a permanent social class language game, AAEV speaking and poorly educated underclass looking to other activities for economic gain, status, and upward economic mobility.  Those who were educated became a part of the Standard-English-speaking black middle class of professionals, i.e., teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. (the black bourgeoisie), living in the suburbs, while the uneducated or poorly educated constituted the black underclass of the urban ghettoes.  Beginning in the late 1980s, finance capital, in order to avoid the oppositional culture to poverty, racism, and classism found among the black underclass in urban cities throughout America, began commodifying and distributing (via the media industrial complex) the underclass black youth culture for entertainment in the emerging postindustrial service economy of the US over the ideology and language of the black bourgeoisie.  Be that as it may, efforts to succeed academically among black Americans, which constituted the ideology and language of the black bourgeoisie, paled in comparison to their efforts to succeed as speakers of Black English, athletes, “gangstas”, “playas”, and entertainers, which became the ideology and language of the black underclass youth living in poor economically depressed inner-city communities of America.  Authentic black American identity became synonymous with black American underclass youth hip-hop ideology and language as financed by the upper-class of owners and high-level executives of the entertainment industry over the social class language game of the black educated middle class.

Hence, contemporarily, in America’s postindustrial service economy where multiculturalism, language, and communication skills, pedagogically taught through process approaches to learning, multicultural education, and cooperative group works in school, are keys to succeeding in the postindustrial service labor market, blacks, paradoxically, have an advantage and disadvantage.  On the one hand, their linguistic structure growing up in inner-cities are influenced by the black American underclass youth hip-hop culture who in conjunction with the upper-class of owners and high-level executives have positioned athletics and the entertainment industries as the social functions best served by their linguistic structure in the service economy of the US, which subsequently leads to economic gain, status, and upward social mobility for blacks in the society.  This is advantageous because it, black urban youth hip-hop culture, becomes an authentic black identity by which black American youth can participate in the fabric of the postindustrial social structure.  On the other hand, their linguistic structure inhibits them from succeeding academically given the mismatch between their linguistic structure and the function it serves in the postindustrial labor market of the US, and that of Standard English and the function of school as a medium to economic gain, status, and upward social mobility for blacks in the society.

School for many black Americans, in other words, is simply a place for honing their athletic and entertainment skills and hip-hop culture, which they can subsequently profit from in the American postindustrial service economy as their cultural contribution to the American multicultural melting pot.  Many blacks in America enter school speaking Black or African American English Vernacular.  Their linguistic structure in schooling in postindustrial education, which values the exchange of cultural facts as commodities for the postindustrial economy, is celebrated along with their music and athletics under the umbrella of multicultural education.  Therefore, no, or very few, remedial courses are offered to teach them Standard English, which initially leads to poor test scores on standardize tests because the phonology, morphology, and syntax, or the way its expressions are put together to form sentences, of BEV/AAEV juxtaposed against that of Standard English (SE) prevents many black Americans early on in their academic careers from grasping the meaning or semantics of phrases and contents of standardize tests, which are written in Standard English.  As blacks matriculate through the school system, with their emphasis of succeeding in music and athletics, those who acquire the systemicity of Standard English and succeed become part of the black professional class celebrating the underclass culture, from whence they came, of those who do not make it and therefore dropout of school constituting the black underclass youth culture of poorly educated and unemployed social actors looking to the entertainment industry (which celebrates their conditions as a commodity for the labor market) and the streets as their only viable means to economic gain, status, and upward social mobility in blighted inner-city communities.      

To correct this mismatch of linguistic structure and social class function and help close the achievement gap, in 1999 Mocombe developed The Mocombeian Strategy and Reading Room Curriculum for the Russell Life Skills and Reading Foundation, Inc., an after school reading and mentoring program located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  The latter, Reading Room Curriculum, is a reading curriculum of seven books, published as Mocombe’s Reading Room Series, developed by Paul C. Mocombe based on the theoretical cognitive linguistic assumptions of Noam Chomsky.  Against the behaviorist approach to the acquisition of language, Noam Chomsky’s cognitive linguistics, “generative grammar,” suggests that language is an innate tool hardwired in the brain that helps human beings experience the world and communicate with others.  The syntax of a language becomes the means of experiencing and being-in-the-world for human beings. By assuming, as William Labov building on the theoretical linguistics of Chomsky posits in his seminal work Language in the Inner-cities, BEV/AAEV of inner-city black American students to be a distinct linguistic system with its own deep and surface structure, i.e., generative grammar, through which black Americans encounter, experience, comprehend, and make sense of the world, Mocombe concluded that African or black American students should be assessed and taught as though they are ESOL (English Speakers of other Languages) students when they initially enter school.  In other words, Mocombe suggests, because young black Americans grow up knowing and speaking a distinct linguistic system (BEV/AAEV) with its own syntax, lexicon, phonetics, semantics, etc., generative grammar in Chomskyian terms, which is distinct from that of Standard English (SE), when African American or black American students enter school, teachers should attempt to restructure their linguistic structure from BEV/AAEV to SE, by teaching them reading via phonics and language arts, the rules/syntax of Standard English, and using reading passages as practice so as to demonstrate their mastery of the new language system.  In other words, teach them the rules of Standard English with a heavy emphasis on phonics, language arts, and use reading passages as practice to demonstrate that they can comprehend in, and have acquired the mastery of the second language, in this case, Standard English.  Mocombe’s Reading Room Series books of the curriculum attempt to do just that restructure the deep and surface structure of speakers of BEV/AAEV to that of SE through the phonics, language arts, and reading activities of the workbooks so as to increase their comprehension levels on standardize tests.

Essentially, Mocombe’s Reading Room Curriculum offers an analytical phonetic approach to teaching black American students reading, over a whole language approach, in order to match their linguistic structure with that of the Standard English utilized on Standardize tests to assess their academic abilities.  This analytical phonetic approach to teaching reading and comprehension diametrically opposes the whole language model of Ken Goodman (1967).  In the whole language approach to reading, which grew out of Ken Goodman’s (1967) attempt to apply Chomsky’s generative grammar hypothesis regarding language acquisition to reading, the assumption is that reading, like language, is an innate ability that can be improved upon without placing much effort on phonics, spelling, and learning the grammar rules of a language outside of its pragmatic usage.  As such, whole language approaches, i.e., culturally-diverse literature, integrating literacy into other areas of the curriculum (math, science, etc.), frequent reading, reading out loud, and embedded phonetic learning, to reading and understanding is usually juxtaposed against analytical phonetics, language arts, and spelling approaches to reading, writing, and understanding. That is, in teaching students how to read in the whole language model, the emphasis is on meaning and strategy instruction to develop knowledge of language including the graphophonic, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic aspects of it that the students bring with them to and in the learning process.  Language is viewed as an innate complete meaning-making system, which students improve upon in context beginning in their early socialization with their parents and other young people.  Be that as it may, reading involves the entire components of a language system, and students because they already know it innately rely more so on taught strategies, semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic cues that make it possible to understand a passage meaningfully.  Essentially, students when they read guess meaning and understanding based on their grasp of the phonetic, semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic cues of a language system, which they know innately, to comprehend.

Conversely, an analytical phonetic approach to reading, although based on behaviorist assumptions that view the brain as a blank slate, emphasizes learning the syntactical, grammatical, semantical, and phonetic parts of a language system in order to put them together to grasp meaning and understanding within a language system.  In other words,  whereas the latter, phonetic approach to reading, approaches reading through the building of a language system in the neocortex of the brain in order to teach students reading and language skills, whole language approaches reading and language holistically and attempts to understand its parts contextually and via cues taught and learned.  That is, whole language assumes that the syntax of a language is already pre-programmed in the neocortex of the brain, and contextual reading is simply a way of exercising and developing language skills and readability.  Mocombe’s Reading Room curriculum builds on the former, phonetics and language arts, and utilize some of the techniques and tools, reading aloud, culturally diverse reading passages, etc., of whole language to assess for mastery of the rules of the language system.  In other words, Mocombe suggests teaching reading to black American students through the building of the language system of Standard English, through its phonetic, semantic, and syntactic rules, in order to restructure the linguistic structure of inner-city black American youth from BEV to SE, as though they are foreign speakers of the language, in order to increase their comprehension when they take standardize tests.

readingroombookMocombe’s theoretical assumption behind the intent of the Reading Room curriculum workbooks is to combat the mismatch of linguistic structure hypothesis he views as the initial basis for the black/white achievement gap. That is, according to Mocombe, when black American inner-city students initially (K-5th grade) enter school many of them struggle in the classroom and on standardize test because individually they are linguistically and grammatically having a problem with comprehension, i.e., “a mismatch of linguistic structure,” grounded in their (Black or African American English Vernacular) linguistic structure and speech patterns (Mocombe, 2007, 2009, 2010).  In other words, there is a phonological, morphosyntactical, and semantical mismatch between BEV/AAEV and the Standard English (SE) utilized in schools to assess them.  Given the segregation and poverty of blacks growing up in the inner-cities of America, they acquire the systemicity of Black English which is preprogrammed in the neocortex of their brains, and early on in their academic careers lack the linguistic flexibility to switch between BEV/AAEV and SE when they take standardize tests.  As a result, many black American youth have a problem decoding and understanding phrases and sentences on standardize tests, which explains their poor test scores vis-à-vis their white and Asian counterparts (Kamhi, 1996; Johnson, 2005; Mocombe, 2010).  Teachers, for the most part, because they view the BEV/AAEV of black American students as broken English/slang as opposed to a distinct linguistic system, do not view them as speakers of another language, language minorities, and assume that they are English speakers.  As a result, in the contemporary education system in which multiculturalism and dialogical processes, cooperative group works, projects, etc., to learning are taught and emphasized, few emphasis is place on teaching African American students to learn, via rote memorization, the rules and grammar of SE so as to restructure their linguistic structure (BEV/AAEV), which is viewed as their multicultural contribution to the American melting pot.  The Reading Room Series books attempt to restructure the linguistic structure of black American students through a phonetic and syntactic approach to teaching reading in order to increase their comprehension levels when they take standardize tests written in Standard English.  To date, the curriculum has a ninety percent proficiency rate for black American students on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Reading Test (FCAT), which is the state of Florida’s comprehensive Test in reading, math, and science administered to all students from the third to tenth grade (Mocombe, 2005; Mocombe and Tomlin, 2010).  Since 2003 the state’s average proficiency rate for black students centers around thirty-six percent vis-à-vis an average proficiency rate of sixty to sixty-four percent for white students (See Tables 1.1, 1.2, and 1.4).

Coupled with the reading room curriculum, Mocombe also offers the Mocombeian Strategy as a pedagogical tool to combat the black/white achievement gap. The Mocombeian Strategy (2005), published under the title of the same name, suggests that if the education and professionalization of black American students via education is the modus operandi of American society as opposed to the capitalist emphasis on class, status, economic gain, and upward social mobility, school systems should also invest, in conjunction with the Reading Room Curriculum, in a comprehensive mentoring program that pairs black American students (especially black boys), throughout their academic careers, with educated professionals in the fields of science, mathematics, medicine, teaching, and other professions that require an education.  In other words, by having Standard English speaking educated black American professionals as social role models for young black American students throughout their academic careers, school systems will be able to combat the affects of the social roles associated with the social class functions of the black American underclass and BEV/AAEV in the society.  The logic behind this approach is grounded in Mocombe’s theoretical assumption that later on in their academic careers black American students academically underachieve because of what he refers to as a mismatch of linguistic social class function, which is tied to the aforementioned mismatch of linguistic structure construct.

mocombe-fistclenchedAs previously mentioned, for Mocombe two dominant black American social class language games, for the most part, dominate the American capitalist social landscape, a Standard English-speaking black middle class of educated professionals, and an African American English-speaking underclass of workers and unemployed blacks living in the inner-cities of America.  Whereas, status, economic gain, and upward social mobility for the Standard English-speaking black middle class are for the most part measured via their class, status, economic gain, and upward social mobility obtained through education and professions that require schooling.  Class, status, economic gain, and upward social mobility amongst the “black American underclass,” who speak BEV/AAEV, is not measured by status and professions obtained through education as in the case of black and white American bourgeois middle class standards; on the contrary, athletics, music, and other professional activities not “associated” with educational attainment serve as the means to social class, status, economic gain, and upward economic social mobility in the US’s postindustrial society.  Thus effort in school in general suffers, and as a result test scores and grades progressively get lower as black American adolescent youth place more effort in achieving economic gain, status, and upward social mobility via the social functions and roles, i.e., athletics, entertainment, and hip-hop culture, tied to the BEV/AAEV linguistic structure and social function of the black underclass, over ones tied to the Standard English linguistic structure and function of the black and white middle class.  Contemporarily, the former social class language game, the black underclass, has become the bearers of ideological and linguistic domination in black America and the world-over via their over-representation in the media industrial complex of corporate capital.  The Mocombeian Strategy suggests combating this impact of the linguistic structure and social class function of the black underclass through a comprehensive mentoring program that pairs educated professionals with young black American students (black boys in particular) who are more likely to look to young rappers, athletes, and entertainers as social role models over their more educated counterparts.  The Mocombeian Strategy and Reading Room Curriculum, published as Mocombe’s Reading Room Series, Mocombe suggests, together are two effective practical and pedagogical tools that can be implemented through after-school programs and school systems to help close the black/white academic achievement gap in the American capitalist social structure of racial-class inequality.  Future research must continue to explore this correlation between linguistic structure/syntax, black social roles in the American capitalist social structure of class inequality, and black American academic underachievement vis-à-vis their white and Asian counterparts.

 

Table 1.1Statewide Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) Reading Students at Achievement Level 3 and Above Grades 3-10 Disparity in Percent.

 

 

    Whites

African American

Hispanic

2001

59 percent

25 percent

35 percent

2002

60 percent

28 percent

38 percent

2003

63 percent

30 percent

40 percent

2004

63 percent

32 percent

42 percent

2005

65 percent

35 percent

46 percent

 Note.  Adapted From Florida Department of Education (2005).

 

Table 1.2Statewide Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) 2001-2005 Reading Results By Content.

 

 

     

 

Total Number of Points Possible

Mean Points Earned By Content 
Words/phrases Recognition                    Main idea/ Author’s purpose

7

24

Predominately white students

5

15

Predominately Black students

4

13

Note.  Adapted From Florida Department of Education (2005).

 

Table 1.3Morphological, Syntactical, and Phonological Differences between African American English and Standard American English. 

 

 

  

Difference

African American or

Black English (AAE) 

Standard American

English (SAE)

Absent Copula

The bridge out.

The bridge is out.

Absent possessive-s

He hit the man car.

He hit the man’s car.

Absent past tense-ed

His car crash

His car crashed…..

Absent present progressive-ing

The lady sleep.

The lady is sleeping.

Zero plural-s

Give me fifty cent.

Give me fifty cents.

Zero Copula/Auxiliary

This a dog.

This is a dog.

Invariant “be”

I be tired.

I am tired.

Indefinite article “a”

In a hour…

In an hour…

Third Person Irregular

He go to work.

He goes to work.

Use of double negation

I can’t wait no longer.

I can’t wait any longer.

d/th

Dis

this

f/th

Toof

tooth

Final consonant cluster reduction/metathesis

Aeks

asks

Ommission of /r/ sound

Sistah

sister

Pluralization

Desses

desks

Vowels i+ng=ang

Rang

ring

Coding imminent action

I’m bouta leave.

I am about to leave.

 Note.  Adapted From Thompson (2004).

 

Table 1.4Statewide Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) Reading Achievement Level 3 and above elementary, middle, and high school Disparity in Percent.

 

 

 

whites(grades3,4,5)

 

 

whites (grades 6,7,8)

 

 

whites (grades 9, 10)

2001

67

62

44

2002

68

62

43

2003

73

64

45

2004

76

64

44

2005

79

63

46

 

 

 

blacks (grades 3, 4, 5)

 

 

blacks (grades 6,7,8)

 

 

blacks (grades 9, 10)

2001

33

25

13

2002

36

28

13

2003

40

30

14

2004

47

30

14

2005

51

31

15

Note.  Adapted From Florida Department of Education (2007).

 

 

 

 

 

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