Funding Ebonics Isn't A New Idea, It's Just A Bad One

by C. Mason Weaver

(C. Mason Weaver, a member of the national Advisory Committee of the
African-American leadership group Project 21, is President of The
Committee to Restore America located in Oceanside, California.)

A New Visions Commentary paper published April 1997 by The National
Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C.
20002, 202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web
http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.


The "Ebonic Plague" has reached epidemic proportions. When school administrators in Oakland, California, proposed teaching "Ebonics" as a second language, many citizens did not know that "Black English" was already part of the education program. Indeed, the fight over "Ebonics" (or "Ghettoese" as I prefer to call it) is not about stopping its implementation but ending it.

Since 1981, the California State Department of Education has carried out a program called "Proficiency in Standard English for Speakers of Black Language." This program includes the distribution of Ebonic staff development and lesson plan materials to school districts. The material explicitly directs teachers to incorporate something called "Black Language" into assigned classwork. It also states that "Black Language" is an appropriate alternative to standard English in some situations.

The official Lesson Plan Handbook materials for the program include a "Kill these Myths" section. One myth, according to the Handbook, is that standard English is the correct way to speak at all times. This is nonsense. Standard English is English; everything else is slang. Slang should never be considered appropriate by educators. We should encourage our children to speak English in class and on the playground.

The lesson plan does the opposite. It encourages slang in some situations. The plan encourages teachers to brainstorm with children to decide the appropriate situations for "school language" and "playground language." The state of California plan actually requires that black children are taught to use "playground language when talking to their good friends" and "playing with their brothers."

The proper use of language is to use proper language always. The more proper language is used outside the classroom, the more proficient the person speaking it will be. From 1973 to 1975, I took Swahili as a second language. The Swahili students used the language during lunch, social events, parties and whenever we came into contact with each other. Swahili was spoken among new students into the program and older students whenever social contact was made. The out-of-school use of this language is the reason I still speak Swahili today, more than 22 years later. If I had spoken only Swahili in class, and English on the playground, I would be speaking only English today. These educators do not seem to understand this. Their teaching methods are dangerous to our children.

Fortunately, there is hope! California Assemblyman Stephen Baldwin has written the State Superintendent of Instruction and demanded to know how much money is being spent on Ebonics. State Senator Haynes has introduced a bill that prohibits the use of state taxpayer dollars to fund Ebonics. This bill eliminates the State Department of Education's "Proficiency in Standard English for Speakers of Black Language" program. It will also preempt school districts from applying for federal bilingual funding for Ebonics programs.

Senator Haynes is inspired by President Kennedy who once said that, "A child miseducated is a child lost." The argument over "Ebonics" is often presented as a "black issue," but Senator Haynes correctly sees it as a California issue. Senator Haynes has said, "Ebonics education has fast become a statewide concern because, if implemented, it has the potential to miseducate an entire generation of children by lowering academic standards and legitimizing incorrect English."

Haynes's legislation and existing law require that English be the basic language of instruction in all public schools. This bill, known as the "Equality in English Instruction Act," recognizes that English is the language of success, business and politics. Senator Haynes's bill may inoculate California against the "Ebonic Plague." But what about the other states? What will they do?

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Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not
necessarily those of Project 21.