Editorial: EbonicsJan. 22, 1997
(editor's note: In place of the the usual editorial, today's page will feature pro and con columns on the issue of ebonics.)
Ebonics can be used as a tool to teach standard English.
Lariat News Editor
The English language has been changed by the American people over time. Depending on where you are in the country, different accents and even word usage can be heard. From the Southern drawl to the nasal Eastern accent, Americans in all regions speak the same language but with noticeably different sounds.
One such form of speech does not seem to be regionally inspired. In many dominant African-American communities across America, a common tongue is spoken. The Oakland school district is calling it 'Ebonics' and wants it recognized as a second language and taught within the school system. In the resolution written by the Oakland Board of Education, it states that 'studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems (Ebonics) are genetically based and not a dialect of English.' They argue that if they recognized Ebonics as a language, they could better teach the children standard English.
The school board does have a point. Currently, the children in the Oakland system are not learning as they should. The special education programs in the Oakland schools are made up of 71 percent African-American students. The group grade point average for the schools is a 1.8 out of 4.0. There is obviously a serious communication problem occurring between the students and teachers. It is very plausible these students are not equipped to understand standard English after having been raised speaking black English the home. The language that our parents pass on to us is usually what we understand best.
Whether or not Ebonics should be recognized as a language is not the most important issue in this situation. Instead of being concerned with the validity of Ebonics as a genetically based language, the school board and the public should be more concerned with the African-American students across the nation who are not learning standard English due to communication problems.
To survive and become successful in today's society, school children must grasp and be able to use standard English. If it takes a teacher speaking Ebonics to teach a child standard English, I think it should be done. Instead of teaching Ebonics as a second language, it should be used as a tool to communicate with these children while they are young, so that eventually they can speak and read standard English.
Each summer I teach at a literacy program in the dominantly African-American community of South Phoenix, Ariz. My first year teaching, I was assigned to work with the five and six year old students. Within my first week I realized that the students did not respond to requests such as 'please sit down' or 'please be quiet.' In order to get the attention of the class I had to speak to them differently.
My program director, a wonderful African-American woman, showed me how to get their attention. She told me that they were used to following orders that were more forceful than 'please sit down.' She recommended 'sit yo' butt down now!' In the future, I took her advice and the students listened to me. I don't know if I was speaking Ebonics, but I definitely was not using standard English.
For this reason, I support the use of Ebonics in the classroom with young children. I don't know if it is the best method to use, but something needs to be done to help these children. If used as a tool to teach standard English, the students might benefit and lines of communication might open.
As Ron Emmons, an African-American reporter for the Arizona Tribune put it, 'I was taught...speaking black English would lower me in the eyes of society, and would deprive me of ever getting a good education or a good job. But in the hallways and on the basketball court of my Chicago high school or with my Mississippi-born grandparents, if I didn't speak and understand black English, I never would have been heard.'
Using Ebonics will not help the current problems in teaching the English
With school being out for the last month, there's a whole host of material I could have picked for my first article in 1997. There's one thing that was so upsetting, so sickening, so pathetic I just had to bring it up: Ebonics.
This has got to be the stupidest idea in the history of education since introducing new math.
Ebonics, for those of you who have not yet heard, is a contraction of two words: ebony, whose color is black, and phonics, the sound certain combinations of letters make. Translation: pronouncing the English language in an urban black style, also known as slang.
This all began in the Oakland school district, which hopes to get increased funding by declaring itself a bilingual system. The district originally stated that this so called 'black English' was due to a genetic predisposition. So in their infinite wisdom, these kids, American kids, are genetically predisposed to speaking slang.
If that's not bad enough, every school district in a major urban setting from New York to LA is looking to do the same thing.
Here's the fun part. Everybody has gotten fired up about this, but no one is addressing what is truly at stake. A New York Times editorial last week from a black writer screamed 'Hey, White America, we didn't know you cared!' Jesse Jackson, who originally opposed this obscenity, is now a supporter of it after being convinced of its political impact.
You know, last year in these very pages, I stated that English should be the official language of the U.S. It should be taught in schools as a primary language, and it should be mastered by anyone earning a high school diploma. But this. . . who could have conceived this? Teaching in slang? What's next? Are they going to start teaching hispanic kids in Spanglish (the slang of hispanic neighborhoods)? This whole issue comes back to one very basic point.
Colin Powell said it best when he was here at Baylor last year. He claimed that he was not a good student, but the one thing he did learn that helped him throughout his entire life was to speak, read and write proper English.
All of you in the education department pay attention. This must be fixed, and it can be, but toes will be stepped on, and sacred cows will be sacrificed. If not, you'll start hearing about how they're using 'trailer talk' over in Vidor.
More money isn't the answer. If there is anything we can prove, it is the more money we've put into education, the lower the results. The SAT has been redone so as to make it more politically correct and not as culturally biased, and scores are still lower than they were twenty years ago. And funding has increased 800% according to the Department of Education. How in the world can anyone justify that?
Ebonics is being called a Band-Aid on a lethal wound. I think a more accurate description would be an attempt at plugging a hole in a dike. Pretty soon, all the plugs in the world aren't going to help until you get to the root cause and fix that. What is the cause?
The collapse in the family structure for one. You cannot deny that areas where the illegitimacy rate can be as high as 85%, you are going to have social problems that go beyond asking Washington for more money.
Churches, civic organizations and the local schools are all going to have to join together to right this terrible wrong. As a group, many problems can be resolved, but when a system as important as the education establishment is going to surrender itself under the guise of 'well, nothing else is working,' this can never happen. Hopefully this trend doesn't go any further than California, but it's already starting to spread like a disease.
It's not the end of the world, though. Not yet at least. All you education majors, I hope you're still paying attention. Because it's you who are going to be most deeply involved in this issue. Do not fail the future of our nation.
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