Oakland: `Ebonics' Policy Has Been Misunderstood

Article excerpt

LESS THAN TWO weeks after their embrace of "ebonics" as a distinct black language brought them international derision, Oakland school officials tried Monday to redefine the issue - to whether they had been misinterpreted.

After a meeting with one of the harshest critics of the policy, Jesse Jackson, local school officials insisted that they merely were trying to boost the academic achievement of black students - and help them learn to speak standard English - by declaring Dec. 18 that the dialect spoken by many black students is a bona fide language, one requiring special status.

Jackson, in turn, said he now largely agreed with the board's action - and blamed the news media for focusing on "the absurd and that which is divisive." But Oakland school board members said they will not reconsider the wording of the resolution that was lambasted by everyone from poet Maya Angelou and novelist Ishmael Reed to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. Critics said the wording of the resolution, had it come from another source, would have been branded blatantly racist. The Oakland resolution declared that the dialect spoken by many blacks is "genetically based" and that teachers should be trained to teach such students "both in their primary language and in English" and should be given more pay for doing so. Although refusing to withdraw the resolution, Oakland school officials have tried to qualify the "genetically based" reference, saying they merely meant that certain speech patterns had their genesis in Africa. Oakland schools Superintendent Carolyn Getridge, in a letter published on the front page of the Oakland Tribune Sunday, said the furor over the issue was "based almost entirely on very basic misinterpretations of the meaning and intent of the policy. …