Thursday, June 09, 2011

Ebonics and the Betrayal of Black Children

By Nicholas Stix

Insight on the News
June 17,2002

See also: “Ebonics: The Language of Hate”; and the “most thorough” exposé of ebonics ever written, according to my Liberty editor:

“Ebonics: Bridge to Illiteracy.”

Remember "ebonics"? A national debate erupted over the Oakland, California, school board's decision, in December, 1996, to use slang to to teach schoolchildren standard English. For the past five years, with the connivance of the mainstream media, most Americans have been able to forget ebonics. Unfortunately, however, ebonics has not gone away.

Linguistics professors Walt Wolfram and Erik Thomas' new book, The Development of African American English, defends "ebonics" as the legitimate dialect of a dynamic minority. New York State regent Adelaide Sanford, recently insisted that her support of ebonics had been "misrepresented," and that ebonics is the language of great, black poets of the past, such as James Weldon Johnson. Last year, the Linguistics Society of America (LSA) reiterated its 1997 statement in support of ebonics. And in 1998, academics Lisa Delpit and Theresa Perry edited the anthology, The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, and the Education of African-American Children, none of whose thirty-odd contributions was even faintly critical of Ebonics.

"Experts" tell us that ebonics is: 1. An African language that is genetically passed on among blacks; 2. A creole, growing out of the encounter of African slaves with Irish immigrants; and 3. A wholly new dialect, created by young blacks since the 1960s, to separate themselves from white Americans.

You might expect someone to have pointed out that the above definitions are mutually incompatible. No such luck. Despite having a professional interest in rigorous, scholarly debate, most linguistics professors long ago abandoned any pretenses to objectivity.

The most common -- and correct -- understanding by blacks and whites alike, is that "ebonics" is broken English or street slang. However, any educator defining ebonics thusly is sure to be shouted down, or worse. As a result, those who know better have remained silent, as one well-meaning academic once advised me to do.

Although ebonics supporters such as Keith Gilyard have publicly claimed otherwise, children taught using "ebonics" readers did worse than peers taught with standard English readers. Consider an ebonics reader used by Profs. John and Angela Rickford:

"This here little Sister name Mae was most definitely untogether. I mean, like she didn't act together. She didn't look together. She was just an untogether Sister.

"Her teacher was always sounding on her 'bout day dreaming in class. I mean, like, just 'bout every day the teacher would be getting on her case. But it didn't seem to bother her none. She just kept on keeping on. Like, I guess daydreaming was her groove. And you know what they say: 'don't knock your Sister's groove.' But a whole lotta people did knock it. But like I say, she just kept on keeping on.

"One day Mae was taking [sic] to herself in the lunch room. She was having this righteous old conversation with herself. She say, 'I wanna be a princess with long golden hair.' Now can you get ready for that? Long golden hair!

"Well, anyway, Mae say, 'If I can't be a princess I'll settle for some long golden hair. If I could just have me some long golden hair, everything would be all right with me. Lord, if I could just have me some long golden hair.'"

Note that the foregoing lesson, which would be inappropriate for children of any age, was designed for seventh-graders!

"Ebonics" is a pillar of Afrocentrism, a movement which, using intimidation, violence, and pseudo-scholarship, has dumbed down the education of black children beyond recognition, illegally barred whites from teaching black children, and deliberately cut poor, black children off from the mainstream of American life.

Afrocentrists maintain that the pigment melanin makes blacks intellectually, morally, and culturally superior to whites. They teach black children that ancient, black Egyptians flew gliders, that whites who dispute such fairy tales are racists who seek to deny black greatness, and that all black educational failure is due to a racist, white conspiracy.

Afrocentrists such as George Washington University Prof. Robert Williams, who coined the term "ebonics" in 1973, maintain that it is an act of disrespect for a white teacher to correct a black child. Prof. Charles Coleman of the City University of New York's (CUNY) York College, has argued that remedial education is harmful to black students.

Afrocentrists are supported by "progressive" white educators, who also insist that it is wrong to correct students' usage and grammar. This approach has resulted in CUNY remedial students being given passing grades on writing proficiency examinations, and permitted to go on to take "college-level" classes, despite being at best semi-literate.

Many middle-class blacks like to sometimes "go ghetto," and use street slang. But these professionals can speak standard English -- in many cases, better than I can -- and can always go home. The poor and working-class blacks whom Afrocentric educators have refused to teach standard English, however, have nowhere to go.

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