Using “Ebonics” in American Schools
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Schools should use only standard English. Ebonics will only hinder students from succeeding in college and the professional workplace and achieving economic equality.
Language is a series of codes, conventions and protocols that have been developed to successfully transmit a message from the sender to the receiver. In order for communications to work, both the sender and the receiver must understand the code (or language). On a societal level, the entire population should know one dominant language in order to function. In the United States, that is English (American English, to be precise.)
It is tough enough to master one language, let alone all the dialects. Ebonics is a bastardised form of English (much like “Jouale” is a bastardised form of French in Québec), and should not be given academic attention except maybe as a research subject. By introducing Ebonics in the mix, you are diluting English to a certain degree, and you end up creating a language ghetto because Ebonics is associated largely with hip-hop and gang culture, which evoke negative feelings in much of the “hiring class.” In other words, if Ebonics comes out of your mouth instead of standard English, you’re less likely to get a good job. If you start with Ebonics, why not teach Spanglish, Cajun, Texan, surfer talk and Geek speak, each of which has its own cultural baggage and adds as much to the expanding English dictionary as hip-hop.
In order for language to work, it has to evolve (and that means introducing new words and new meanings to existing words), but the base code should remain as tight as possible. All this to say that I don’t think it’s a good idea to teach Ebonics.
To put it simply, the question of Ebonics in schools must be addressed appropriately: recognizing it and using contemporary knowledge pertaining to it is vital to altering the erroneous linguistic characteristics of most African Americans, yet teaching it is borderline ridiculous. Regardless of what one may say, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is merely a variation of Standard English, meaning, despite some noteworthy distinctions, the two dialects are not so impossibly different as to account for the underachieving results of the majority of African-Americans. The problem lies not necessarily in the way they speak per se, but rather in what is done to alter such language patterns. The main preoccupation has to be the alteration of study habits and the frequency and duration of dialogues taking place in AAVE, as, if not, one is reminded of an unfortunate reality: despite the two dialects being variations of the same language, the language one speaks at home is not necessarily, and in this particular situation, definitely not the one employed at school.
Furthermore, in a clearly informed nature, Senator Lauch Faircloth was one of many public figures to oppose Ebonics, arguing that, regardless of one’s cultural background, the fundamentals of basic education must be fulfilled in order for any student, regardless of their race or gender, to evolve academically – in his own words, “nobody should be passed from grade to grade unless they can master the basic three R’s of reading, writing, and arithmetic”. He adds, and quite rightfully so, that to teach the English language in a manner which belittles its true linguistic and grammatical characteristics is not the way to go, meaning “teaching down to people” is the “last thing” that should be done to address the diminutive education levels of African-American youth. Although aware that “teaching children in schools in the inner cities and in poor neighborhoods all over the country, rural or inner city, has never been easy, and that it never will be”, he argues that one shouldn’t try to “lower the academic standards” in the process of encountering strategies to address the issue at hand.
To be perfectly truthful, to utilize Ebonics is a choice, not a deeply symbolic cultural characteristic – African-American youth choose to converse in a non-academic dialect whilst being well aware their schooling will not be based on it, meaning they need not look far to encounter the culprit for their probable academic incapacity and failure. This opinion is backed by, among others, UCLA professor John McWhorter, who is a firm advocate of the notion that the “reason for black students’ failure” is often “misidentified” and wrongly attributed to the difference between the dialects; rather, McWhorter argues that African-American children fail because “inner city backgrounds do not prepare many children to be receptive to education in school”, because these schools are “under-funded and often awful”, and because “reading is not taught properly in many schools period”, thus compounding the ill effects of AAVE. Indeed, especially taking into consideration McWhorter is an African-American himself, several negative consequences are identified in the eventuality of Ebonics being taught, including: that “translation between these close dialects is not the problem” and that doing this would be “like trying to put out a house fire with an eyedropper”, and that “it would make black kids look stupid, as if they were incapable of making the two-inch jump between such close dialects while kids in Brooklyn, Appalachia and white Mississippi do it without comment”.
Finally, and in perhaps the most illustrative analogy of the implications of teaching Ebonics, provided by Armstrong Williams, a “teacher would not teach mathematics by trying to show that he or she could make mistakes in addition or subtraction. Must one’s senators have to smoke marijuana to be able to relate to teen-age drug addiction? Should they smoke marijuana in order to teach them a better way?” The answer to this question, to whether Ebonics should be taught at schools, or whether disallowing it is discrimination is “definitely not”, with the analogy clearly applicable for matters of a linguistic nature.
Teaching African-American english in schools is the worst possible move the US can do, since only 12.6% of the American population is African-American. By teaching ebonics the whole US education system would have to change, because one cannot have ebonics in some schools and not have it in others. This would implicate that every school in America would need to have a department specialized in ebonics, which cannot be done, just to satisfy all of the African-American population in the US. This dramatic change would impact everybody, not counting that teaching teachers to learn African-American idioms is wrong.
Teaching ebonics is like teaching down to people, because instead of teaching students the correct, colloquial english teachers would teach them a simpler, more basic english, thus students would not be taught fairly. Instead of teachers making African-American students lives easier they should make them learn the english that everybody in the US speaks, and instead of letting students pass through grades with an easier english teachers should teach them the correct English, because the vocabulary they know is no where close to the one they will need to use in the future. Also, Africa-Americans enter schools every year and end up learning nothing because what they are taught in math, sciences, and other subjects cannot relate to because the proper English language. Since standard english is the “lingua franca”, not African-American english, they cannot have a long-lasting future since they cannot communicate properly with other people, and since standard english is the language of commerce, business and industrial world they will not have a very good job. Hence the reason why African-Americans need to learn the standard english.