Ebonics Debate Is a Side Issue

By Clarence Page Copyright Chicago Tribune | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Ebonics Debate Is a Side Issue


Clarence Page Copyright Chicago Tribune, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Ebonics is the story that won't go away, no matter how much I wish it would.

To help black children learn standard English, the Oakland (Calif.) School Board adopted a resolution that called for teachers and students to be instructed in Ebonics, which they defined as a distinct "genetically based" language and not a cultural dialect.

Unfortunately, the resolution was not written in standard English. It was written in the language of government grant proposals, a dialect I call "grant-onics." The Rev. Jesse Jackson quickly condemned the school board's move as a surrender to substandard English. Students should be encouraged to aspire to excellence, he said - quite correctly. But after Jackson flew to Oakland and talked with officials, he softened his opposition, partly because the School Board softened its language. The board has since adopted a new resolution calling only for teachers to learn Ebonics to help students who speak it bridge the gap to standard English. You might call this new resolution "skinback-onics," or the language of backpedaling. Oakland officials insisted they had no intention to apply for federal bilingual education funds. Education Secretary Richard Riley since has said Ebonics programs wouldn't qualify anyway.v However, Oakland and other school boards may still channel money from other programs for poor children into programs that incorporate recognition of black English. Some districts already do that or are considering starting Ebonics programs. They won't succeed if some members of Congress have their way. Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., has introduced a bill to ban federal funds from being spent on programs that teach Ebonics as a language. Sen. Arlen Spector, R-Pa., held education subcommittee hearings last week in part to consider whether the use of African-American dialects can help black children learn standard English. It didn't take long for the fur to fly. Conservative Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., for example, denounced Ebonics as "absurd" and "political correctness gone out of control." Is Faircloth an education expert? …

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