The United States is filled with many different ethnicities, cultures, customs, languages, etc. Supposedly, our public schools are equipped with classes, teachers, curriculums and materials in order to educate that part of the student population whose first language is something other than the English language. Bilingual classes, transitional classes, ESL classes are just a few of the programs that have been developed to instruct non-English speaking students in order for them to acquire the English language.
However, there has been a “language” use among African American students; “language” that has not been examined closely nor acknowledged until recently. Ebonics is classified as “Black English” or “Black sounds”, or “Pan African Communication Behavior” or “African Language systems” which originates from the West African languages such as Ibo, Yoruba, and Hausa (Amended Resolution of the Board of Education, 1997. P. 1).”During the times of slavery, ebonics was also spoken as Gullah, which is a combination of West African languages, and English. Ebonics is a term coined by psychologist Robert Williams, resulting from the combination of two words, “ebony” and “phonics” in order to describe its dialect (The Daily O’Collegian Editorial Board. 1997. P. 1). The controversy behind ebonics is whether or not it is actually a language or and should it be instructed as a foreign language.
Language is defined as a “system of words formed from such combinations and patterns, used by the people of a particular country or by a group of people with a shared history or set of traditions (Microsoft Bookshelf. 1996-1997 edition).” Ebonics is a form of communication of feelings, thoughts, opinions and ideas at is being used by our students in the classroom who feel very comfortable using ebonics because they are accustomed to express themselves in that way.
As a result of many students using ebonics in a school setting, it has been recognized in our educational system and it is believed that the “understanding, the application, the principles, the laws and the structure of ebonics would help African American students (Amended Resolution of the Board of Education, 1997. P. 1).” Ebonics would be used to help learn Standard English.Therefore, ebonics has been studied for the last 15 years due to the State of California recognizing the “unique language stature of descendants of Africans (Amended Resolution of the Board of Education, 1997. P. 1).” As a result, the State of California is trying to mandate an education program that is in the “interest of vindicating their equal protection of the law rights under the 14 Amendment (Amended Resolution of the Board of Education, 1997. P. 2).” The 14 Amendment states:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject
to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of
the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any
law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of
the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life,
liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to
any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws
The Oakland school district is trying to pass a program based on ebonics because it is considered that it will benefit African American students in their first language. In addition, the Oakland school district believes that if ebonics is these students first language that would make them bilingual and must receive some form of bilingual education. Under the Bilingual Education Act (1968),
confirmed by a Supreme Court decision (1974) and mandating help for
students with limited English proficiency, requires instruction in the
native languages of students. (Microsoft Bookshelf. 1996-1997).
Oakland’s concern is based on the outcome of the standardized test of reading and language skills among many African American students, according to the Amended Resolution of the Board of Education (1997), the scores on the standardized test were below state and national levels. In addition to the low standardized test scores, Wasserman (1997) argues that the grade point average among African American students is D+. The program they envisioned “featured African American system principles to move students from the language patterns they bring to school to English proficiency (Amended Resolution of the Board of Education, 1997. P.2).”
According to The Daily O’Collegian Editorial Board (1997), the Oakland school district believes that in order to teach their African American students to be proficient in English language, the teachers must first understand how ebonics is spoken through learning the way it is spoken, used, written and the actual meaning of the material. In addition, teachers will become more effective instructors if they “understand the cognitive constructions associated with Black Vernacular English (Oubr?. 1997, P. 5).” According to Oubr?, the teachers who have the experience to relate to this dialect is better equipped to communicate, and teach this population. Furthermore, by learning the dialect, teachers are bridging the gap between themselves and African American ebonics speaking students. They are also helping overcome the “constraints of ethnic prejudice, value judgement and social condemnation in the classroom (Oubr?. 1997. P. 5).”
According to Faull (1997), who is a child development and behavior specialist, she places ebonics into the bilingual category. Faull’s (1997) views are that students who speak ebonics are similar to bilingual students who switch from his or her native language to American English and back again, and a student who speaks ebonics should be able to follow the same pattern as the bilinguals . Therefore, Faull (1997) states that a teacher must have a understanding of ebonics and understand that children are learning languages; “the language used in the classroom and the language used in the home (Faull. 1997. P. 2).”
In the Oakland area, Black students make up 71% percent of those in special education.According to Miloy, misplacing African American students in classes because of language differences is occurring all over the United States. According to Love (1997), Robert William who coined the term ebonics, implies that 70 to 90 percent of the African American children speak ebonics and it should be taught as a linguistic heritage as opposed to placing these students in remedial classes. Studies done by researchers at Stanford University show “that black children who have been taught using the ebonics program which recognized so-called black English as distinct from standard English – have improved their ability to read and write standard English (Miloy. 1997. P.1).” This shows that there isn’t a need to place African American students in remedial classes just because they speak ebonics. It is not a question of intelligence. Most of those African American students who speaks ebonics have a high IQ and remedial classes for them is not the answer. Miloy (1997) points out that these studies have shown that by using the ebonics method improves reading, writing, and speaking among the African American students. As a result of instituting this program, “students taught with ebonics have moved up two grade levels in one year (Miloy. 1997. P 2).”
But, many people feel that just because ebonics is used frequently, it is not a language, although many feel that it falls in the definition of language. According to Wasserman (1997), ebonics is not considered a language nor is it seen as a nonstandard of English.Wasserman (1997) stated that ebonics is a language pattern rather than a language based on grammar, punctuation and word, therefore, it should not be seen as an actual language.
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However, The American Speech, Language and Hearing Association classifies ebonics as a dialect of English and this includes all the grammatical variations that go with it. For example, “he ain’t here or he on up in that car” is now part of the English language (Zeis. 1997. P1). Now, ebonics or the African-American Language System is sees as the “primary language of blacks of many inner city, urban, rural and suburbs. (Cuckler. 1997. P. 1).” However, there are those who laugh at the idea of ebonics even being a dialect much less a language. According to Zeis (1997), American English and British English are two different dialects but they both have grammar structures that is correct. Since, ebonics lack this structure, it cannot be considered a dialect but it can be considered a form of improper English, slang or jive. According to Zeis (1997), when high school students who speak ebonics go to college, they will have to take English 101 because they are classified as foreign speaking students whose first language is something other than English.
Black English is a representation of the culture of many African American students and teachers must recognize this use of language and in doing so, they also acknowledge the rich culture of the students that has been marginalized for years. Educators in California believe that these students can only learn through their roots and that the only way they can get African American students to learn Standard English is by using Ebonics as bridge. According to Wasserman (1997), this concept is ludicrous. It seems like educators are turning to desperate measures to improve the “chronic gap in academic achievement between black and white students (Sanchez. 1997. P. A1).” In addition, Wasserman (1997), believes that such an act will only shortchange the students in the long run. According to Woodall (1997), if these students want to work in the future, they will have to learn Standard English. The United States is a competitive world and many businesses require certain tools and skills, among them is a strong command of the written and spoken Standard English, to obtain a job.
By teaching and encouraging African American students to speak ebonics, educators are allowing these students to believe that this manner of speaking is acceptable and will give them an entry to society and the workforce. However, “ebonics does them no favor at all (Woodall. 1997. P.1).”Some educators believe that by instituting ebonics in the school system will result in the further erosion of our educational system. In order to graduate for high school, there are some prerequisites that must be completed which are the “necessary standards of mathematics, science, and English, for the purpose of producing successful citizens of our country (Cuckler. 1997. P.1).”According to the article Ebonics and Education (Internet), Standard English is the language of economics and it would cause problems within the economy and society if students assume that learning ebonics will help them progress.
Throughout this paper, there are various views on the use of ebonics in the schools and in society. These ideas are all put in a way, which softens the blow on this sensitive manner. However, there are those who feel very strongly about the issue at hand. According to Banks (1997), racist educators have used the education of Black English speaking students as a weapon to sabotage their learning for centuries. To many educators, the ebonics system has been a “handy tool used to label them retarded, warehouse them into special education curriculum, and set them upon the fast track to lifetimes of academic failure (Banks. 1997. P.1).” As stated before, there are many African words that which have been incorporated in American English such as “uh-uh, uh-huh, goober and okra.” Banks (1997) supports his ideas by stating that African contributions are ignored because society has labeled Black English as slang. Banks sees this society as a racist one where everything black is bad “i.e. blackmail, blacklisted and blackball (Banks. 1997. P. 2).” Banks fails to take mention that not all words associated with “black” are bad. For example, when someone in an economic situation is in the black that is a positive and good factor.
There are many other languages in use by students that are considered to be good. Students read Shakespeare in the classroom but Shakespearean English is not portrayed to be slang but theatrical, scholarly and great works to read. Languages such as French, Spanish and Japanese, according to Banks (1997), are viewed as “profitable and chic.” However, Banks suggests that “Black English is not being rejected for its difference, but for its blackness (Banks. 1997. P. 2).”
By declaring ebonics as a separate language from English, the Oakland school district has pole-vaulted ebonics from what some have considered a slang language and improper English language to a bilingual issue. Since the school district sees this population as bilingual they feel that courses, curriculums, classes and teachers should be made available to instruct the Black English speaking students. In doing so, the Oakland school district will become eligible for federal funding. According to the Applebome (1997), Oakland school districts are asking for $2 million to be spent over a five-year period on the ebonics program. Many criticize the Oakland school district for exploiting the bilingual program to get federal funding.
The formation of one’s ideas is very complex and at times it is also related to one’s own language capacity and/or dialect ability. However, I agree with may of the educators and people who have voiced their opinion on the matter of ebonics. Students will need to know and use Standard English in order to function well economically, socially and professionally in society. In addition to the outward form of Standard English, students must also have the written ability of English, which means the proper use of spelling of words, appropriate use of grammar, punctuation, etc. Many of the African American students are unable to pass tests or receive low IQ scores because of the fact that they do not have a grasp on Standard English. By constantly correcting of ebonics and promulgating the correct forms of Standard English in the classroom, will help the students in the long run. After repeated corrections and developments of lessons to encourage the use of Standard English, eventually students will begin to speak as it is being taught in the classroom by the teacher..
In order for teachers to help the African American students, they should have a grasp of what is being considered ebonics. This is recommended so that the teachers can understand the students and what they are trying to express in order to correct the incorrect speech patterns. However, even though I am suggesting that teachers should know basic ebonics to understand the students, I am not suggesting that ebonics should be implemented or use it as a bridge because it will eventually lead to the downfall of many schools and students. If our school systems were to incorporate an ebonics program, I believe that this would be highly damaging to the African American students. In a way, it is as if we are agreeing and encouraging for this type of English to be spoken. By doing so, we disillusion these students into believing that they are prepared for the future job market.
The total abolishment of someone’s culture is not the answer to the growing concern of the growing use of ebonics. The ultimate goals is to improve the communication between the teachers and the students in order to aid our future lawyers, doctors, politicians, teachers, etc. in reaching and achieving their maximum potential in school and in future references. Ebonics is seen as away to help African American students learn Standard English. Children to do not learn the same way so as teachers, we have to use any technique necessary to help our students.
By instituting the ebonics programs, we will have a great number of students who are not prepared for the workforce. I hate to speculate what will happen to them but it must be done. If these students are unable to find a job, most likely they will end up on public assistance, selling drugs on the corner or receiving minimum wage for the rest of their lives. This will lead to an even greater destruction of our economy, society, morals and in life in general.
Two questions that arises are “when is enough, enough?” and “what is next?” First we pass ebonics as a language and get funding for bilingual courses. As a result, the whole secondary and university level of curriculum and coursework must be changed in order to accommodate this new program. After implementing ebonics for African Americans, maybe a new proposal should be made to have the way Hispanics speak English in many “barrios” as a language and not a form of slang. We can call it “Spanglish”, which is a formation of some Spanish words and English words by combining to make a new word such as trocas, la yarda, el rufo, la marketa, etc. This sound ridiculous and that is the point I am trying to make. Spanglish like ebonics is not a language but a form of improper English or Spanish. Stop the insanity.
Applebome, Peter. ‘Ebonics’ Omitted in Oakland report on Teaching English. New York
Time: May 6, 1997.
Banks, Alicia. 1997. Ebonics: Black English/White Weapon. Internet Address:
Cuckler, Steve. 1997. The Problem with Ebonics.Internet Address:
Ebonics and Education. 1997. Internet Address:
Faull, Jan. 1997. Should Children Speak Ebonics at School? Internet Address:
Love, Alice Ann. 1997. Ebonics Lesson at Black Psychologists’ Convention Internet
Miloy, Courtland. 1997. Nothing Funny About Ebonics. Internet Address:
Oubr?, Alondra. 1997. Internet Address: http://www.aaw.com/toc.htlm
Sanchez, Rene. Ebonics: A Way to Close the Learning Gap?; Schools Have Been
Experimenting for Years with Using Black English as a ‘Bridge” to Better
Skills. New York Tines: January 6, 1997.
Wasserman, Tracey. 1997. Language Shortcuts Do Not Benefit Students. Internet
Woodall, Bert. 1997. Training for Failure. Internet Address:
Zeis, Robert. 1997. Ebonics is a silly concept; they ain’t got no sense: It’s jive.
Applebome, Peter. Dispute Over Ebonics Reflects a Vouatile Mix That Roils Urban
Education. New York Tines: March 1, 1997, A, 10:1
Dorsett, Charles. ( 1997). 21st Century Racism. Internet Address:
Kalb, Deborah. Ebonics Issue Goes Before Panelthat Controls School Aid. USA Today:
January 24, 1997, A, 3:2
Loveless, Tom. The Academic Fad That Gives Us Ebonics. Wall Street Journal: January
22, 1997, A, 14:3.
Schorr, Jonathan. Give Oakland’s School a Break New York Times: January 2, 1997, A,
Turns of Phrase:Ebonics. Internet Address: http://crever.net/quimon/words/turnsophrase/up.htlm