Audio Version (January 2022):
As you probably know, writing according to the conventions of standard professional or academic English will help you maintain credibility with readers in academic or professional settings. That doesn’t mean that you need to write perfectly without a single error; no one does. But as you can imagine, being able to write mostly correct Standard English will be a major advantage in your working life. A résumé, an email inquiring about a job, a nurse’s notes on a patient, a police report, a complaint--all need to be in Standard English. Being able to write Standard English will also allow you to have more of a voice in our democracy when you write to a politician or post on social media to express your opinion.
Let’s not deny that there is inherent unfairness built into this expectation. Learning the grammar of Standard English is more work if we grew up speaking African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Spanglish or another of the rich and beautiful dialects of English spoken in working-class communities and communities of color across America. Those who grew up speaking another language entirely will of course have to work yet harder. Meanwhile, those whose families who speak something similar to standard English will be able to write it with much less effort. None of that is fair, and the unfairness aligns with historical patterns of who has it easy and who has it harder in America.
Let’s be clear, though. College does not demand that we give up speaking our own language or dialect. Most English teachers no longer assert that Standard English is superior. The National Council of Teachers of English made a public declaration of "Students’ Right to Their Own Language" in 1974. They wrote that “A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects...The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another.” They write, “We affirm the students' right to their own patterns and varieties of language -- the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style.”
Still, even if much of the time we choose not to speak or write Standard English, it remains a crucial tool. Mainstream audiences will probably not consider our arguments credible in professional or academic settings unless we write in Standard English. Once we feel comfortable writing in this way, we can take pride in being able to code-switch at will. Ideally, we can enjoy our flexibility and heightened awareness of language. And we can choose to maintain a sense of pride and identity in relation to our home way of speaking.