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English as gatekeeper: linguistic capital and American schools

Elena Tosky King (Department of Middle, Secondary and K-12 Education, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA)
Lakia M. Scott (Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA)

Journal for Multicultural Education

ISSN: 2053-535X

Article publication date: 4 November 2014




This paper aims to progress the dialogue on language rights in the urban classroom. Research has evidenced how language can serve as a powerful tool in mainstream ideologies; more specifically, the preferred and dominant use of Standard Written English in the American classroom has demonstrated how language serves as a gatekeeper for student success. This paper calls for a more democratic notion of language usage that denies the “gatekeeper” of English into specific educational tracks.


By framing the issue of linguistic diversity through a theoretical analysis of cultural reproduction theory, this paper demonstrates how language serves as a bridge in building and negotiating cultural identities for students. In addition, an examination of how language serves as a stratification tool in educational contexts provides credence for reform initiatives.


In the field of linguistics, the shift in verbal and language repertoires has provided a new paradigm for rethinking what constitutes as an acceptable and innovative language use. However, structures such as schools have remained static in their vision of linguistic success in the classroom, assessing students’ language abilities in the specifics of standard written English.


This analysis encourages recommendations for examining current curriculum with regards to the promotion of language diversity, encouragement for teachers to reexamine their individual perceptions about language difference and the realignment of assessment and academic measurement tools to better accommodate students with linguistically diverse backgrounds.



Tosky King, E. and M. Scott, L. (2014), "English as gatekeeper: linguistic capital and American schools", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 226-236.



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