Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (WPEL)




A two-year, ethnographic study of the use of the term code switch within an alternative high school community reveals that it has taken on a distinct, institutional meaning. Observed primarily as a reprimand, teachers nonetheless downplayed the significance of the disciplinary term in interviews. However, Black students expressed a sense of being asked to switch between two versions of themselves, only one of which is professional enough to belong in school. Students generally accepted that this was what teachers implied by the term, but some rejected the idea that code switching is a fundamental change, or that the change should only go in one direction at school. These findings indicate that what the school may intend to be a socially progressive term has been taken up in a way that reinforces negative self-perception among students. This paper concludes with suggestions for educators seeking to foster discourse that supports students from marginalized communities, without deferring to respectability politics.