The Ebonics Debate Essay, Research Paper
The Ebonics Debate
On December 18th, 1996, the Oakland Unified School District adopted Ebonics, a terms which is a combination of the words ebony and phonics used to describe the African-American vernacular, as a language. Since then it seems wether on talk shows, newspaper editorials or television news, everyone wants to offer their opinion. This paper will examine two very different points of view, and decide which arguments proves to be stronger. In Charles J. Fillmore=s article AA Linguist Looks at the Ebonics Debate@ the enthymeme states this resolution is necessary in A(b)uilding on the language the children have to help them acquire the language they need to learn in school@(2). He states that most people are misinformed about the intentions of the school district as well as the problem at hand. In Chuck Sambar=s article AEbonics@ a contrasting view is offered. The enthymeme of the article is as follows: AThe decision of the Oakland School District to put itself on the map of educational nonsense has been fast, broad based, and unrelenting@(1). He argues that everyone=s time and money could be much better spent on more important issues in today=s school system. The following three paragraph=s will examine the ethos, pathos, and logos elements of the two debates. I will then examine the two articles using Toulmin=s scheme, to decide which arguments is most sound by examining the claims, grounds, backing, warrant, and then the qualifier of each article.
Before examining the two articles in question, it is necessary to establish whether the two authors have the credibility needed to write the articles. Charles Fillmore, being a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, a master in the field of linguistics and language, holds a unique position to offer his views of the situation. Chuck Sambar, a newspaper columnist, may have the ability to capture a reader in emotional appeal and sensationalistic headlines, he is hardly in a position to offer an intellectual take on this issue. This only confuses facts for his audience just as the news media often jumps to grab the big headlines and hastily reports on only part of the story at hand.
Sambar relies purely on emotional appeal to convince his reader. He uses terms such as Ahair brained@ and Asingle-minded@ to describe the school board=s resolution and offers no cause to warrant his name calling(1). He tells about the amazing sense of accomplishment that students of English feel when they conquer the difficult concepts of the language and implies that with the resolution these children would be deprived of such feelings. Fillmore, believing the issue is strictly empirical, chooses not to evoke emotional appeal but relies on the common sense of the reader backing his views even further.
Upon initial scrutiny of the logical structure of each argument, the validity of Fillmore=s debate becomes evident. Alternately, from the beginning of Sambar=s argument his logic shows flaws that continue throughout the article. From Fillmore=s opening paragraph his logic is stated in a clear and up-front manner. He explains that the root of the debate lies in the confusion of the term=s dialect and language. He then goes on to explain the two in a manner that sets up the logical shell for the rest of the argument. His logic is grounded not only by the understanding of the terms in question but in his understanding of the Oakland school system=s resolution itself. It is unclear if Sambar has even read the resolution much less if he understands its objective. His logic is based on the idea that Ebonics should be kept in the home of the students and out of the schools. He states that A(t)his land of the free and home of the brave was built on the cultural richness and diversity of many people…(A)nd regardless where they went or what they did, they learned to talk to their neighbor in a language which is common and understandable. It happens to be English@(2). With this statement it becomes obvious that he missed the objective of the resolution entirely. As Fillmore explains, it is the understandability factor that yields the necessity of the resolution. When Children arrive into the school system, teachers must have a tool to bridge the gap between Ebonics and the standard English vernacular. This will provide many of the skills lacking in students needed to be successful in school and in the outside world. In an area where the average grade is a D something must be done to improve the situation. Fillmore believes this must Abe an empirical question, not an issue for tapping people=s opinion@(2). By the end of the article his structured logic has built a strong, solid argument.
Sambar=s claims state that the resolution is filled with underlying nonsense and only offers a big step backwards in language, being that Ebonics is only a collection of mistakes. He believes the resolution will only have negative repercussions for both sides involved. In contrast, Fillmore claims that the resolution only stands to improve conditions for both sides, making it easier for students to learn, and teachers to teach. The grounds for his argument rely on the necessity of the situation. Simply, something must be done and this school system has come up with not only the best, but the only solution. The only grounds for Sambar=s argument is the possibility that he will somehow have to pay for this program with extra tax dollars. Fillmore is quick to explain that this program would cost very little compared to Welfare and child care programs which are a direct result of poor schooling.
Although unstated, Sambar=s backing is clearly personal in nature. To offer his bold commentary would require sufficient evidence for validity, but he offers none, relying on the view of his parents who, when upon immigration, struggled with specific speech patterns. This can hardly compare with the problems occurring in most urban areas. Special programs and tax funds are already in place to assist students whose first language is not English. Fillmore offers more than sufficient backing for his claims. His experience and research have shown that some African-American student=s speech varies so much from standardized American English, that when entering the class room for the first time, teachers often do not understand the vernacular which in turn leads to poor grades and typically the students do not gain the ways of speech needed in order to succeed in the outside world. He uses statistics to back up this claim. Fillmore believes the solution of the problem lies in equipping teachers with the ability to teach the students that their language is a base to build on just as the other students possess and compare the way they speak with the way they will be required to speak in school. AThere is a common-sense core to the Oakland school board=s plans. All over the world children show up in school speaking a variety of language that differs in some great or small way from the variety they=re about to learn@(4). His claims are clearly grounded, giving educated reasons for each claim, as well as specific passages cited from the resolution itself. All this is further backed by his expertise in the field of linguistics as well as his experience in the classroom.
Fillmore=s warrant is quite simply that something must be done to solve the growing problem of the differing Ahome languages@ in the school system. Sambar=s warrant is that the basic idea of Ebonics is ignorant, and any school official recognizing this nonsense as a language is teaching ignorance. Neither author chose to limit the force of their claims.
Fillmore offers specific conditions of rebuttal to his argument. Using opposing views ranging from public figures such as Jesse Jackson to newspaper columnists and he responds to each separately. He attacks the grounds of each opposing opinion, explaining how in each instance the person is either misinformed or confused about the intent of the resolution, proving these opinions do not hold. He urges these claims need to be qualified to be valid, but states they offer none to do so. Sambar offers no conditions of rebuttal and assumes that any other opinion is unwarranted without providing any reasoning, which makes the whole in his argument stretch even further apart, seeming now almost preposterous.
Upon close examination of the two arguments it becomes evident Charles Fillmore=s article AA Linguistic Looks at the Ebonics Debate@ proves to be the stronger of the two by far. His logic is valid and his careful backing of each claim made, not to mention his credentials, present a clear unbiased view on the pro-ebonics side of the issue. He pays specific attention to any element of rebuttal, leaving any opposing views as merely a confusion of the facts, as is the case with Chuck Sambar=s editorial AEbonics.@ Sambar clearly has not taken an educated look at the resolution itself and is caught up in hot-headed emotion which blinds his ability to see the true problem at hand. Something must be done to stop these students falling through the cracks of the education system. As Fillmore points out, no one is suggesting that Ebonics be taught in the classroom, they only suggest that something must be done to give these students the tools necessary to bridge the gap from the African-American vernacular to the standard American English the students will be required to speak and write in the classroom and later on in life, giving them the same opportunities the school system should provide for every American.