Ebonics & Education, A Dystopian Fantasy?
Although African American students have been identified by educators as non-standard English speakers, and their inability to succeed academically has been documented, very little has been done to ameliorate the situation on a large scale. That is, with the exception of the Oakland Unified School District task-force composed of educators concerned with the poor academic performance of African American students, particularly in language arts. They arrived at the conclusion that African American students were speaking African American English (a variation of English influenced by African languages) and thus, like most other non-standard English speakers, having difficulty understanding content taught in standard English.
Over a decade ago, these well-intentioned educators created the Oakland Resolution in attempt to address this dialectical issue. They felt that if students had trouble understanding the material in standard English, then the school should attempt to educate them in other ways that they could understand. One of these alternative ways included the incorporation of African American English in the classroom, in a similar fashion to the way English Second Language/ Bilingual courses are conducted. Unfortunately, because there weren’t any linguists involved in the creation of the original Oakland Resolution, the document made controversial statements about the native language of African American students. It incorrectly claimed Ebonics was an African language, as opposed to one influenced by African languages. Needless to say, chaos exacerbated by the media ensued, stigmatizing the African American English dialect and any hopes of its implementation in the education system. By the time linguists were able to ammend the Oakland Resolution, it was too late.
Had the media not created a “freak-show” of the situation, but rather allowed linguists to address the public, African American students might have received much-needed academic services in the public school system.
To see whether or not the Oakland Resolution’s proposed programming might have been successful, we need only look at similar (though small-scaled) programs that preceded it, such as the California Standard English Proficiency program which had already been incorporating Ebonics into teaching since 1981.
More soon on African American English programs, such as the California Standard English Proficiency program, and their successes.