Free-Range Kids

Education Officials: Mispronouncing Students' Names Is a Microaggression

'Truly negates his or her identity...'


Dreamstime / Monkey Business Images

Mispronouncing a student's name constitutes a "microaggression" in many schools today, including those in Santa Clara County, California.

Mispronunciation is taken as a diss to the child and the child's heritage.

With a name like Skenazy, I guess I get dissed all the time. I'll bet Mr. Soave does, too. (Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, not so much.)

Anyway, Associated Press's Amy Furr (pronounced fur?) reports that the Santa Clara Office of Education along with the National Association for Bilingual Education launched a campaign called "My Name, My Identity: A Declaration of Self," in which it says that hearing a mispronunciation by a teacher may cause the student "anxiety and resentment," which in turn can "hinder academic progress."

Writes Furr:

"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."

So far, 528 school districts have taken the pledge to try to get names right—which you'd think most teachers would do without a pledge.

But if they never quite get the accent right? Is that really a diss or simply the fact that with a melting pot like America, some names are going to be (am I microaggressing?) harder to pronounce? My family and I hosted an exchange student here for a year and I don't think we ever pronounced "Giovanni" like an Italian. We said it with our American accents. This did not seem to stymie him in any way.

But Furr quotes a former teacher writing in the Cult of Pedagogy (what a perfect name!):

"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."

Agreed: You should try to pronounce everyone's name right. The "Pedagogy" piece suggests asking the student how it's pronounced, which I think most teachers probably do. But there are many ways to show respect, and if those are present, mispronunciation shouldn't negate them. Singing off key doesn't mean you hate a song.