20 Jul 2005 Project 21 Press Release: Black Activists Denounce Move Toward Ebonics in California Schools; San Bernardino Pilot Program Would Harm Students’ Professional Prospects
A pilot program injecting controversial “Ebonics” slang into the curriculum of two San Bernardino, California public schools would harm students more than help them, say members of the black leadership network Project 21.
The plan to introduce Ebonics into the classroom is part of the San Bernardino City Unified School District’s Students Accumulating New Knowledge Optimizing Future Accomplishment (SANKOFA) Initiative. The goal of the program is to improve the academic performance of black students by keeping them interested in their studies.
Sankofa, a word from the Akan language of present-day Ghana, is translated as “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.” But Project 21 members contend that Ebonics has nothing to do with African heritage and is simply the legitimization of modern urban American slang that will harm the professional development of black children if it is put on the same level as Standard English.
“Teaching Ebonics, which is nothing more than urban slang, will not provide a means for an individual to acquire a job,” notes Project 21 member Michael King. “It will not help someone maintain a living. It will not provide an individual with the skills necessary to compete in an academic setting, let alone a professional setting. It does absolutely nothing positive for those to whom it is taught. I don’t see professors trying to justify hacker geek-speak or online shorthand as their own separate language!”
San Bernardino School District official Len Cooper understands the “negative stigma” of Ebonics, but says the program is nonetheless “affirming and recognizing Ebonics” through additional reading materials. California State University sociology professor Mary Texeira does not believe the program goes far enough, and says Ebonics “should be considered a foreign language. These students should be taught like other students who speak a foreign language.”
“There are some who would prefer the San Bernardino school system and other schools throughout the United States take the easy way out by sending our children into the world without a grasp of basic English skills. This is a disservice to the black community that will severely limit our children’s skills in the job market,” said Project 21 member Kevin Martin. “This is a prime example of what people call ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations.'”
Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x11 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html. New Visions Commentaries can be found at https://nationalcenter.org/P21NewVisions.html.