The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, and the Education of African-American Children

The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, and the Education of African-American Children

The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, and the Education of African-American Children

The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, and the Education of African-American Children

Synopsis

When the Oakland school board issued a resolution calling for schools to acknowledge the reality of black English in the classroom, a huge national outcry and media frenzy arose. The debate about "Ebonics" made national headlines, quickly became politicized and divisive, opened wounds about ra ce, then faded from public consciousness. But in the classrooms of America, the question of how to engage the distinctive language of many African-American children remains urgent. In The Real Ebonics Debate, some of our most important progressive educators, linguists, and writers, as well as teachers and students reporting from the field, examine the lessons of the Ebonics controversy and unravel the complexities of the issue, covering realities never acknowledged by the media. They discuss the meaning of th e political debate; they think through the detailed dynamics of teacher-student interaction; and they give wonderfully precise linguistic insight into the structure and uses of African-American English-from colloquial speech to the literary voice of Toni Morrison. The Real Ebonics Debate cuts to the heart of how America educates African-American children. It will have immediate and enduring value for anyone thinking about race and schools.

Excerpt

For six months, the thirty-member African-American task force (school board members, community activists, and teachers) grappled with the underachievement of African-American students enrolled in the Oakland, California, public schools.

The average grade point average for all students in the district was 2.4; for white students it was 2.7; for Asian-American students, 2.4. The average grade point average for African-American students was 1.8. While African Americans made up 53 percent of the student population, they represented 80 percent of suspensions and 71 percent of students labeled as "special needs." Against the backdrop of this dismal picture of school failure, the above-average performance of African-American students at the Prescott Elementary School caught the attention of the task force members.

Prescott Elementary School was the only school in the Oakland school district where the majority of its teachers had voluntarily chosen to participate in the Standard English Proficiency program (SEP). This statewide initiative, begun in 1981, acknowledges the systematic, rule- governed nature of Black English and takes the position that this language should be used to help children learn to read and write in Standard English. On December 21, 1996, the school board unanimously passed the Ebonics resolution, requiring all schools in the district to participate in the Standard English Proficiency program (SEP). This resolution was but one element of a broad strategy developed by the African-American task . . .

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