Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Ebonics and Academic Achievement: The Role of the Counselor

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Ebonics and Academic Achievement: The Role of the Counselor

Article excerpt

A primary purpose of the school is to foster academic achievement, and a primary goal of the school counselor is to support the overall achievement of students by addressing problems and concerns that present impediments to their education. Regarding the language development of Ebonics-speaking African American youth, this article contends that school counselors must assume the role of consultants to and collaborators with teachers and students toward the fulfillment of two objectives: (a) increasing and improving students ' use of Standard English without depreciating their culturally based dialect, and (b) improving the teacher-student relationship in the language learning process.


Successful communication between counselor and client is the modus operandi of effective counseling and helping. Communication is even more important in cross-cultural counseling situations such as when the counselor and the client come from different cultural backgrounds that suggest language or dialect differences. Bankart (1997) highlights the historical importance of language and culture in the dyadic counseling relationship, concluding that it is important not only for counselors to understand their clients' cultural world view but also to understand the linguistic system clients use to communicate that world view.

Proficiency in Standard English is a legitimate and viable learning goal for African American school youth. However, these students' common engagement with and fluency in Ebonics, or that dialect of English peculiar but not limited to African Americans, suggests that Ebonics is a real and legitimate community-based language system that cannot be ignored or devalued. Thus, whereas African American school youth should be expected and required to learn Standard English, Ebonics should be allowed in certain school-based learning activities. Moreover, as affirmed by the resolutions of the Oakland (California) Unified School District's (OUSD) (1996,1997)1 and the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) (1997), African Americans' use of Ebonics should be incorporated into these and other school activities without demeaning, discrediting, or repudiating its users. This position applies equally to issues related to Ebonics and Ebonics-speaking students in the school counseling setting.

The present article focuses on the school counselor's role as it relates to two areas:

(a) effective counseling of African American students who speak Ebonics; and

(b) consulting and collaborating with teachers to facilitate the effective teaching of Standard English to Ebonics-speaking students while preserving the integrity of these students' indigenous language system. Although the primary focus of this discussion is urban African American youth from preschool through grade 12, there are important secondary implications for African American higher education and adult learners.


Contrary to the Oakland school board's controversial 1996 resolution, which stated that language use, specifically that of African American students in urban settings, was "genetically based," language is learned or culturally based. (The OUSD's amended January 15, 1997, resolution acknowledges this and omits references to language as having any genetic basis.) Black English-speaking persons from different parts of the world speak varieties of English that are peculiar to their cultures or nationalities. Thus, the English spoken by Blacks in Nigeria differs in rules, sounds, and meanings from that spoken by Blacks in Jamaica. Similar disparities are evident in the English of Black South Africans and Black South Carolinians. Correspondingly, the dialect of English spoken by Whites from the Appalachian Mountains region of the U.S. differs from that spoken by Whites in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Variations within English, or any other language for that matter, often result from a combination of social, political, historical, geographic, and socioeconomic factors (Beaman, 1994). …

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