Date: Wed, 8 Jan 1997 10:06:39 -0500 From: Allan Metcalf Subject: Ebonics as "professional crackpotism" At our WOTY session, we unanimously agreed that "Ebonics" was the most controversial word of 1996. In fact, we found ourselves disagreeing about the definition. Here, from the Chronicle of Higher Education's 1/7/97 daily report, is further evidence of disagreement. - Allan Metcalf ------------------------------------------------- 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.)