Ebonics lite

Ebonics is back in San Bernardino County, which is trying to raise the achievement of black students by . . . Well, it’s not clear from the story what they’re doing, but it seems to come down to the same old esteem boosting that’s done nothing to help students in the past.

The district is advised by Mary Texeira, a sociology professor at San Bernardino State, who says Ebonics is a separate language from English, not just slang.

“For many of these students Ebonics is their language, and it should be considered a foreign language. These students should be taught like other students who speak a foreign language.”

You’d think that would mean teaching English to these foreign language speakers, but apparently not. Instead, Students Accumulating New Knowledge Optimizing Future Accomplishment Initiative (sankofa is a Ghanaian word that means remembering the past) will celebrate students’ racial identity. The role of Ebonics is murky.

“Because Ebonics can have a negative stigma, we’re not focusing on that,’ (coordinator Len) Cooper said. “We are affirming and recognizing Ebonics through supplemental reading books (for students).”

An example would come in handy.

Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, teachers will receive training on black culture and customs. District curriculum will now include information on the historical, cultural and social impact of blacks in society. Although the program is aimed at black students, other students can choose to participate.

So the role of blacks in American society is going to be taught as a separate course, not an integral part of American history.

Remembering the past is all very well. Why not remember the failure rate of race-conscious school programs?

About Joanne


  1. 1) I am a graduate of Cal State San Bernardino (CSUSB) and I got my teaching credential from CSUSB. This type of thinking is typical of the Sociology and Education professors there. I was once forced to pay for and attend an Anti Defamation League conference on multiculturalism in order to pass an Education class there. I currently live in San Bernardino, and will certainly remember this program when the School board elections come around again.

    2) I teach 7th Grade Social Studies in a neighboring school district. The curriculum for 7th grade Social studies is comparative cultures. I have had parents complain that I do not teach Black History. When I inform them that I do not teach U.S. History, but do teach about West Africa as part of my curriculum, they are unsatisfied. Because I do not tolerate misbehavior, and fail students for not doing their homework, I am constantly accused of being racist. (Despite the fact that my two closest friends, both fellow teachers, are Black men married to White women) I dread the day my district tries to force me to teach a similar curriculum as the one in San Bernardino.

  2. Mike in Texas says:

    Not to mention the additional federal funds they could get if Ebonics were identified as a seperate language.

  3. Independent George says:

    Ebonics is not a language, but I think it is legitimately a dialect (like pidgin). Of course, that does nothing to diminish the importance of teaching proper English; indeed, if they took their own arguments seriously, immediate English immersion would seem to be the proper course of action.

    (On the other hand, can you imagine an ebonics course for white teachers so they could communicate with black students? I keep thinking of that scene from Airplane!: “Excuse me – I’m fluent in Jive.” If I were to suddenly start speaking to my black co-workers in like that, do you think that I’d be (a) lauded for my attempts at cross-cultural understanding, or (b) fired on the spot?)

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    All day rap records?

  5. It seems to me that one reporter was looking to make a story out of nothing because it sounds like “ebonics” isn’t a critical component of this program.

    Looks like it worked.

  6. How can embracing Ebonics as a foreign language possibly increase the number of black students going to college? Is standard English not spoken on the majority of college campuses? We already hear college professors complain that incoming freshmen have many problems when it comes to basic English, math, comprehension skills. Won’t this lead to more remedial classes? Won’t this just be setting up more black students for failure/ridicule? I’m sorry, but it’s hard to take anyone who believes this crap seriously.

  7. ragnarok says:

    “Because Ebonics can have a negative stigma, we’re not focusing on that,” (coordinator Len) Cooper said.

    Hmm, rather laboured English, don’t you think? Stigma is negative, see the definition (or did he use a double negative to indicate that it’s good?):

    “A mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach”

  8. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

    If you went to Japan, wouldn’t you try to learn Japanese from someone who spoke both English and Japanese? Seems a bit more productive than going and sitting a class where nothing is spoken but Japanese, and you really really hope to magically start understanding, speaking, and writing it.

    Ebonics _is_ another language, not just bad English. It’s based in African pidgin. “I be jammin'” isn’t terrible English – “be” is an African word, and is used literally correctly. Sentence structures are different. Slave masters didn’t exactly give free English lessons, did they? Ebonics is the best mix that came out of all that.

    Families speak it. Role models speak it. Martin Luther King was an excellent code-switcher, which us why both White and Black people respect him – he spoke both our langauges.

    They want to use Ebonics to teach proper English. They’re not threatening our grand American language, and it’s not a hostile takeover, so calm down. For those who grow up with Ebonics, learning English via Ebonics will be much easier than getting thrown in a class where you’re just supposed to magically pick up on English.

    “This is America, so learn English.” That’s what they’re trying to do. It’s not a class in learning Ebonics, it’s an English class which uses Ebonics as a teaching aide. It _is_ an effective teaching method, unlike what I’ve read from one of these other blogs.

    This is America. The melting pot. Where we _all_ have God-given freedoms, and a right to a decent easy-to-understand education.

    There is no threat to you. This will only help out those who need it. I know none of you are racsists, so don’t act like it.

  9. LOL, yay, brevp! You got it. And if AAVE is “just bad English,” try learning how to speak it properly. The grammar rules are quite complex. It is not a matter of throwing that invariant be around. The copula deletion is particularly hard for non-native AAVE speakers to master.

    It’s unfortunate this issue gets politicized. The idea is really to teach the children to code switch; in order to do so, you have to scaffold the new material with what they’re switching from.

  10. Kimberly says:

    Brevp –

    1. None of the students currently in the San Bernardino schools grew up in slavery. Most likely none of them spent any time growing up in Africa. Why should they be expected to speak as though they did? (Once the tax dollars have been paid, they HAVE had free English lessons all their lives.)

    2. Nothing in the linked article suggests that Ebonics is being treated merely as another language, which should be recognized in order to help the student learn English. It is explicitly stated that children’s self-esteems are linked to their cultural identity. This is rarely a part of learning a second language, and more likely a part of, as Joanne says, a race-conscious lesson plan. Not something I expect to be helpful for black students when they have to live in the English-speaking world.

    I’m not ashamed of my comments. Feel free to correct me and tell me I’m wrong – especially if you have research to back it up – but don’t tell me to be ashamed of believing that this sort of separatist garbage will actually be good for young black students who are struggling with English.

  11. ragnarok says:

    Good for you, Kimberly!

    IMHO, this is just plain rubbish. Take a look at India, with some 22-odd national languages and over 700 dialects. Nobody tries to dilute the English lessons, nobody tries to teach the kids in pidgin. The aim is to learn English as well as possible. And before you dump the slave experience all over me, take a look at the Indian caste system for what the outcastes endured; the Manu Shastra (the Law Book of Manu) is the definitive source, but you can find fragments in Nietzsche, probably in “Beyond Good And Evil”.

    These are people who in less than 50 years have penetrated all levels of Indian society – and all without I-bonics.

  12. greeneyeshade says:

    ‘Day by Day’ has a constructive suggestion.

  13. SuperSub says:


    As for ebonics, it is simply a corrupted form of English. It is close enough to English, though, to cause problems with learning English (anyone tried to learn two romance languages at the same time…major confusion ensues). I remember reading studies after the end of the Ebonics push a few years ago that showed little or no benefit in acquiring English among students, in fact, in schools that heavily pushed ebonics, progress made in English dropped.
    Ebonics is not a recognized language anywhere in the US outside our educational system (wonder why that is), hence knowing it is impractical. Finally, and ANY language teacher will tell you this, that immersion in a language, especially when you have prior knowledge of it, is the most efficient way to learn a language.
    Ebonics is a useless distraction from valuable learning, and only serves to slow the pace of students’ learning.

  14. Ebonics or AAVE is not another language. It is a dialect. The problem with the “full immersion” and “foriegn language” argument is precisely that AAVE is NOT another language. Let’s be logical. Our schools and society are already full immersion. If that were working, would we be discussing the problem?

    The slavery aspect of AAVE is a red herring. It is not slave language, and it is most likely a pastiche of African langauges, 16th and 17th c. English, and American Southern English. It is, however, a language of social/racial identity among African Americans, which is where the “pride” problem comes in. There is nothing wrong with AAVE as a dialect. Language is langauge and correctness of one over the other is a pure social construct. HOWEVER, in our society it is desirable for everyone to be able to speak SE (including all those white people who use the simple past for the past perfect…argh!!!). Many black students simply pick up code switching naturally, but others need explicit instruction. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t teach with whatever works (and there are a number of studies showing how to make it work and increase reading scores by doing so).

    SuperSub: you’re a biologist. Stick to what you know. There’s no such thing as “corrupted English.” Language evolves. White people have dialects, too. Git-R-Done!

  15. Steve LaBonne says:

    I know this just isn’t done in NIH-syndrome-prone US education circles… but maybe, just maybe, we should take a look at how OTHER countries handle the situation of dialect-speaking students who need to be taught the standard national language. Somehow I suspect this may not be a category of information in which Prof. Texeira is well-versed.

  16. SuperSub says:

    RCC –
    Dialects are fine and dandy, but textbook English is still the basis for higher education and business. Teaching students in a dialect simply reinforces the behavior and prevents opportunities for them to improve their use of English. Ebonics is often close enough to English to put standard English within their Zone of Proximal Development, and with remedial classes the differences between the dialect and standard English can be taught. Allowing Ebonics in regular classes removes the emphasis on learning standard English.
    Yes, I am one of those people who makes students speak correctly in class.

  17. ragnarok says:


    I thought your comment to SuperSub (“SuperSub: you’re a biologist. Stick to what you know.”) was quite patronising.

    Surely you don’t believe that biologists cannot know enough about language to comment? Most scientists have a much deeper understanding of the “arts” than you might think, but the reverse isn’t true. Take a look at Snow’s “Two Cultures”, for example.

  18. SuperSub says:

    You’d be surprised how much research has been done by biologists into the learning of language (among other topics). In the end, speaking a language is the product of brain functions just like eating and sleeping.

  19. superdestroyer says:

    I wonder if they will teach the AAVE that is laced is profanity and with place holder phrases (i.e.know what I mean, know what I’m saying). I also wonder if they will review the problem that AAVE with pace, tense, pronouns, and conjugation.

    Somehow I doubt that AAVE with be discuss in these terms.

  20. I’m not saying you teach in AAVE. Exactly where did I say that? I said you use it as a scaffold to teach SE (scaffolding being a part of the theory of the zone of proximal development). If I want my students to not delete their copulas, first I have to explain to them what they are doing — here is the AAVE rule you are following, ie. the knowledge you already have — OK, now here is how you change that — the new knowledge that I build on the old. Of course, I had to first learn the grammatical rules of AAVE, something I doubt most are willing to do. (I recommend it, though, because grammar is just plain fun on that level.)

    Linguistics isn’t the arts.

    AAVE doesn’t have “problems” with grammar; it has a unique grammar (thus the reason it is classified as a dialect and not simply slang). Profanity is not an integral feature of AAVE (although some vocabulary and pronunciation features are).

    On an interesting note, I was reading Horse & Rider today, a British magazine for the horsie set, and the title of one article was “How to Put Bling in your Bridle.”

  21. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Just as ‘bilingual’ education retarded the progress of generationS of Latino students in California (until Prop. 227), ‘Ebonics’ hurts African-American students. Only total immersion in English (or in whatever country immigrants plan to live and succeed) works and is the right thing to do. Maintaining the home language and culture is the FAMILY’S responsibility, not Uncle Sam’s. Of course studying a foreign language is desirable and should not be confused with English as the instructional language of all other subjects. E PLURIBUS UNUM.