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.)