Date: Tue, 14 Jan 97 17:35:12 CST
Subject: Oakland Ebonics proposal
)>Date: Fri, 10 Jan 1997 14:42:00 -0800
)>From: Michael Gerber <firstname.lastname@example.org>
)>Subject: Re: African American English
Oakland Ebonics proposal
By Mike Gerber
14 January 1997
We seem to have visited this general place before. Who can name
"... the failure to recognize and utilize existing cultural forms
obtaining within the lower-class black community in order to teach
new skills constitutes a form of institutional racism and dooms
programs ... to inevitable failure.
... A cultural difference model in which black children are
described in sociolinguistic terms as speaking a highly developed but
different variety of English from that which epitomizes the
presented as a viable alternative to existing genetic inferiority and
social pathology models which tends to view the black man as a kind of
You were correct if you identified Steven & Joan Baratz in the abstract
of their HER article published in 1970!
A year earlier:
"... there are 2 dialects involved in the educational complex of
black [students]... black [students] are generally not bi-dialectal;
...there is evidence of interference from their dialect when blacks
attempt to use standard English; and ...language assessment of
disadvantaged [African-Americans] must involve measures of their
knowledge of nonstandard English as well as additional
measures of their knowledge of standard English."
(from the Abstract, Baratz, J. C., 1969, Child Development, 40, pp. 889-902)
Want a second chance? OK, how about this:
"...english should be taught as a socially useful alternative
to the basic vernacular, not as the only correct way of speaking."
(Labov, W., 1972)
This is more than twenty-five years ago when I was teaching school in
Oakland, as it happens.
While I'm in sympathy with the plea of my colleagues for some outrage
and defense .... a defense of Oakland's school board is misplaced.
The local politics of this decision makes it look too suspiciously like
a move to expropriate bilingual education monies to supplement the
school system's budget. This maladept strategy failed, as it should
have, and the school district tried to reconstruct their actions into
something more praiseworthy. In these shennanigans, they invited
derision and, I agree, one of the unfortunate victims of the whole
sad affair will be public understanding of -- forget acceptance of
-- black urban dialect.
The ultimate losers here are the children of Oakland. The real issues
are not the legitimacy of 'ebonics.' The real issue is that 71% of
the students in special education in Oakland are African-American, much
more than one would expect based solely on demographics of the district.
The real issue is that dialects develop when subpopulations are
relatively isolated from the language root. It isn't the language
difficulties that Oakland's children encounter that's the problem.
The children were well aware that they speak differently compared even
to their black teachers. The problem is that, to the degree that
distance of dialect to root becomes greater, to that degree the
subpopulation in question is more socially isolated.
Make-work-for-professors training programs to "sensitize" teachers to
the validity of dialect will not solve these two very serious problems
nor their underlying causes. And, if you've never taught in a school
building built in 1936, you might not understand that the money
necessary for such a misguided effort could be better spent in any
number of ways that would create much more benefit to the children