Ebonics is the name given to what linguists refer to as BE Black Engli
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Ebonics is the name given to what linguists refer to as BE (Black English) or African American
Vernacular English1. Black English has been around since the time of slavery and the slave trade in the
United States. It is a mixture of West African languages (such as Ibo, Yoruba, and Hausa) and English
which has been passed down from generation to generation of African Americans . The use of ebonics has
revitalized in popularity among many African American students in California schools. This has brought
on a heated debate over the teaching use of ebonics in our school system.
On December 18, 1996 the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education approved a
policy affirming "Standard American English language development " for all students. Language
development for African American students, who comprise 53% of the students in the Oakland schools,
"will be enhanced with the recognition and understanding of the language structures unique to African
American students,2". The Oakland School District's implementation of this policy created a plethora of
criticism and support from many.
In response to Oakland's Ebonics policy, California State Senator Ray Haynes of Riverside
introduced a bill that would penalize schools that support the instruction of ebonics. The "Equality in
English Insrtuction Act" (SB 205), would prohibit the state "from expending state funds or resources, or
applying for federal funding, for the purpose of, or support for, Ebonics instruction ." This bill would
"any funding that already has been obtained for the purpose of, or support for, Ebonics instruction be
instead used for the classroom teaching of linguistic or communication skills in the English language. The
bill would require the State Department of Education to submit written recommendations, within 90 days of
the operative date of the bill, to the Legislature regarding the structure and implementation of a program
that would provide financial incentives to school districts that improve linguistic or communication skills
of students in low-income areas of the state and financial penalties for school districts where the skills have
deteriorated, as measured by objective testing data, as specified.3"
I chose to analyze the topic of ebonics and the debate to over Senate bill SB 205 because of the
reaction "ebonics" sparked in communities all over the United States. California legislation has a great
impact on the people of California as well as the rest of the United States. In this paper, I will examine the
debate of implementing ebonics instruction in California's educational system.
The conception that some African-American children have difficulty learning to read and write
because they're accustomed to a language other than English is true. A proven study shows that African-
Americans score lower than any other group on the verbal portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) .
The use of a system of education that can incorporate language used at home will benefit a student by
helping them achieve a proficient stage of standard English. This is what the Oakland School Board was
trying to achieve. By educating and understanding students in their own dialect, a teacher can help ease the
transition from ebonics to standard English. The policy the Oakland Unified School District proposed
would accommodate this transition by setting up task forces and an academic agenda that would
incorporate ebonics into its curriculum.
Many believe hearing standard English in school will not give African-American students who use
ebonics in everyday language, a fair and equal education. "Hearing standard English isn't enough,
otherwise, television would have flattened various dialects. " If a student cannot recognize the manner in
which they speak, how will they ever learn to speak in standard English? Another ebonics advocate states
that a fair education with use of ebonics will empower the African-American student. "You will see a
sudden and drastic increase in Black honors students and graduates. You will see far less Black students
being labeled as retarded or suspended, and dropping out. " Other opinions from linguists and school
teachers support the use of ebonics to enhance the learning process of African-American students.
Senator Ray Haynes, author of the "Equality in English Instruction Act," points out that a special
education involving ebonics will harm African-American students by separating their education from their
peers. "The justification for "Ebonics" instruction is the same as that used to justify prohibiting
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African American Vernacular English, Ebonics, Oakland Ebonics resolution, Oakland Unified School District, English as a second or foreign language, Oakland, California, Bilingual education
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