developing critical readers

Richard wright, Ph.D.

March 25, 2009


“Activism fuels good teaching,” says Dr. Richard Wright, Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Communication & Culture at Howard University.   According to Dr. Wright, activist teachers give students the sense of agency and critical consciousness that students need to become critical readers.   Throughout his life, he has been such a teacher.

It was in 1964, during the heyday of the civil rights movement and student activism, that Dr. Wright earned a B.A. in Romance Languages from Howard.  Upon completing his studies,  he traveled to Guatemala on a Fulbright grant to lecture and pursue advanced study.  However, the following year, he returned to the U.S. to enroll in the University of Texas, Austin, where he earned an M.A. in Latin American Studies and a Ph.D. in Linguistics.  In 1976, he joined the faculty at Howard.

For 33 years, Dr. Wright has served Howard as a scholar, teacher, and activist.   In his publications and his courses, he has explored topics such as Sociolinguistics, Early Language Socialization, Language Issues in Early Education, Language in the Black Community, African American Vernacular Communication Dynamics, Language and Culture, Language and Ideology, and Critical Discourse Analysis.   In addition, he has mentored more than 50 students through the dissertation process.  Consequently, he has garnered awards for exemplary teaching and received recognition for advising the largest number of Ph.D. recipients (6) in a single year.   However, in spite of his busy schedule, he has always remained a faculty-activist:  He proposed and, later, as the founding Director, launched the Annenberg Honors Program in the School of Communications.  He also served as Vice-Chair and Chair of the Faculty Senate.  After completing his terms, in 2007, he authored the Faculty Senate’s Faculty Manifesto (“Reclaiming the Academy”), which demands “shared governance” by the Faculty and Administration.  This year he was elected as a faculty representative to the Board of Trustees.  Reflecting upon his years of “servant-leadership,” he observes, “It’s amazing how much we can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

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