Ebonics 3 Essay, Research Paper
This week s reading about race questioned the common idea of what race is. Most people would think of race as a physical, concrete identity stemming from ancestry. Superficial qualities, such as skin color, dominate the common views of race. Fields, however, throws out the idea of race being a concrete entity, and instead says that race is purely ideological. It is something brought about by social issues and concerns, and is entirely socially and historically constructed as an ideology in a way that class is not. Because people really do concretely own or not own land and workplaces, class has ‘objective’ dimensions. Though not at all valid, the objective dimension of race is what I said earlier skin color. Moreover, race is constructed differently across time by people in the same social class and differently at the same time by people whose class positions differ. Though it is crucial for us to recognize and appreciate the vast differences across our different cultural heritages, these differences should not be addressed in a way that will separate everyone into white , black , asian , et cetera. This is the root of racism, the fact that we are all different based on which box we check on a questionnaire.
This brings me to the matter of Ebonics — a word derived from the marriage of “ebony” with “phonics” — which members of the Oakland School Board first used in 1996 to describe the speech dialect of some Americans of African descent. The idea came up that if teachers were certified via special training in Ebonics (which was formerly called Black English), they would more easily be able to help the African-American students who were having problems mastering standard English.
On December 18, 1996, the Board of Education of Oakland, California, passed a resolution concerning Ebonics . I will go through a few of the interesting WHEREAS s of this resolution, each with a comment on its particulars .
WHEREAS, numerous validated scholarly studies demonstrate that African-American students as a part of their culture and history as African people possess and utilize a language described in various scholarly approaches as “Ebonics” (literally “Black sounds”) or “Pan-African Communication Behavior” or “African Language Systems”; and
** If a linguistic system of expression is called a “language,” a user of that system is given a certain amount of respect, whereas a user of a “dialect” will be scorned and pressured in many ways to conform to the dominant language. This makes a big difference in education and an even bigger difference in the economic world of marketing and employment. It also makes a big difference in terms of Federal law, where grant money is available to teach students whose native languages are “not English,” but NOT for students who speak a “dialect.”
WHEREAS, these studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems are genetically based and not a dialect of English; and
**Genetically based? We all know that since our parents are English-speaking, we are automatically predisposed to speak the same language. It is unarguable that a particular speech pattern or “language” is a learned behavior. Nobody is born already able to speak; we have to be taught. Children who are not taught to walk learn by themselves, and everybody walks pretty much the same way. Children who are not taught to speak develop languages of their own, which have no resemblance at all to the language of their biological parents. We know this from the experiences of feral children and from experiments done in earlier centuries where newborns were taken from their mothers and raised in environments where nobody spoke to them at all. Since these isolated children tended to develop some language, we can draw the conclusion that the tendency toward language is genetically based, but there is absolutely no evidence to show that African genes predispose a person to speak English in a particular way. In fact, the numerous people of African descent who can read, write and speak flawless Standard American English are living proof of the opposite.
WHEREAS, the interests of the Oakland Unified School District in providing equal opportunities for all of its students dictate limited English proficient educational programs recognizing the English language acquisition and improvement skills of African-American students are as fundamental as is application of bilingual education principles for others whose primary languages are other than English; and
**Like I said before, is it really a language that is completely non-English, or is it rather a dialect? Some would say it is simply an accent that originated with slave times. Sure there are different sounding word structures, but do we change the spelling of words for those with a thick southern accent?
**This one also goes along with the idea that Black English is its own separate
WHEREAS, the standardized tests and grade scores of African-American students in reading and language arts skills measuring their application of English skills are substantially below state and national norms and that such deficiencies will be remedied by application of a program featuring African Language Systems principles in instructing African-American children both in their primary language and in English; and
No matter how I’ve tried to understand the logic of declaring Ebonics a language, I can’t escape the view that the effort is demeaning to American children of African descent. It is one thing to “get down to it” with friends and with family members in the privacy of your own group and speak in the familial and folksy matter that allows you to identify with the cultural roots of a treasured historical past. It is quite another thing to try to elevate the folksy dialect to the level of a language because you think you are better able to reach and educate the children who use it or to justify getting federal money for doing it.
Because this isn t simply intended to be an anti-Ebonics rant, there are some points that I do think could be thought of as beneficial. Though not as evident here in Minnesota as it is in Oakland, I do realize that it is sometimes hard for teachers of standard English to understand everything their students say, whether they use Black English or a mixture of English and some other language. If you want to teach English to Russian-speaking students, surely you will acknowledge that you will have a tremendous advantage if you know some Russian. You will be able to compare and contrast much more effectively, whether you are working on phonetics or grammar. Why shouldn’t that same principle apply to those who try to teach English to speakers of Black English? I think it does, but because I don t consider Black English to be a language, per se, I don t feel it should be addressed by teaching teachers how to talk black . Supposedly there are over 100 languages being spoken in California. Can you imagine the difficulty of running an educational system that was founded on the principle that all children should be instructed in the language they learned from their parents in their first 5 years?
I think the move for Ebonics exaggerates the misunderstanding that many politically correct professional educators have learned regarding how children learn. The success of a child must be modeled after the best and the brightest this nation has produced. American education must get back to basics and stop experimenting with every educational fad that appears on the scene.
Ebonics is a very substantial means to separate blacks from quote-un-quote mainstream society . I m sure all of you have heard ebonics jokes, and most of us even find them rather amusing. It would be easy for an ignorant person to assume all black people speak in this separate language , generating yet another stereotype in this country of black versus white. I don t believe Fields would be a very big proponent of ebonics based on this very idea. As she thinks that race is socially-constructed, so are the inherent differences between whites and blacks. I m willing to bet that just like she said about race, she would also say that a language exclusive to those with dark skin is ‘a notion that is profoundly – and in its very essence ideological .