A glance at the January 20 issue of "The New Republic": Ebonics

is worse than you think

When the school board in Oakland, Cal., declared black English a

formal language last month, it prompted a heated national debate

over Ebonics. But Ebonics, a combination of the words "ebony"

and "phonics," is nothing new in public schools, writes Jacob

Heilbrunn, an associate editor of the magazine. Since the late

1980s, school systems in Los Angeles, Pomona, San Diego, and

elsewhere in California have begun using Ebonics in an effort to

improve black students' grades and standard-English-test scores

by "translating" lessons into black English. Ebonics, he writes,

was created and promoted by several well-known linguists, who

trace its origin to African languages. But, writes Mr.

Heilbrunn, the school systems are using Ebonics "not merely as a

bridge to English, but teach it as a language in its own right."

Furthermore, there is no evidence that Ebonics has improved the

English of black students. In San Diego, he writes, the effects

of Ebonics on standardized-test scores have been "spotty," and

in Los Angeles, one elementary school's scores have dropped in

reading and language skills. "Ebonics is not just a bit of

amateur crackpotism," Mr. Heilbrunn writes. "It is professional

crackpotism, well within the pedagogical mainstream." (The

magazine may be found at your library or newsstand.)