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Ebonics is the name given to what linguists refer to as Black English or African American Vernacular EnglisH2. Black English has been around since the time of slavery and the slave trade in the United States. It is a mixture of West African languages and English which has been passed down from generation to generation of African Americans. The use of ebonics has revitalized in popularity among many African American students in California schools. This has brought on a heated debate over the teaching use of ebonics in our school system. On December 18, 1996 the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education approved a policy affirming “Standard American English language development ” for all students. Language development for African American students, who comprise 53% of the students in the Oakland schools, “will be enhanced with the recognition and understanding of the language structures unique to African American students,2″. The Oakland School District’s implementation of this policy created a plethora of criticism and support from many. In response to Oakland’s Ebonics policy, California State Senator Ray Haynes of Riverside introduced a bill that would penalize schools that support the instruction of ebonics. The “Equality in English Instruction Act” (SB 205), would prohibit the state “from expending state funds or resources, or applying for federal funding, for the purpose of, or support for, Ebonics instruction .” This bill would require “any funding that already has been obtained for the purpose of, or support for, Ebonics instruction be instead used for the classroom teaching of linguistic or communication skills in the English language. The bill would require the State Department of Education to submit written recommendations, within 90 days of the operative date of the bill, to the Legislature regarding the structure and implementation of a program that would provide financial incentives to school districts that improve linguistic or communication skills of students in low-income areas of the state and financial penalties for school districts where the skills have deteriorated, as measured by objective testing data, as specified.3″ I chose to analyze the topic of ebonics and the debate to over Senate bill SB 205 because of the reaction “ebonics” sparked in communities all over the United States. California legislation has a great impact on the people of California as well as the rest of the United States. In this paper, I will examine the debate of implementing ebonics instruction in California’s educational system. The conception that some African-American children have difficulty learning to read and write because they’re accustomed to a language other than English is true. A proven study shows that African-Americans score lower than any other group on the verbal portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) . The use of a system of education that can incorporate language used at home will benefit a student by helping them achieve a proficient stage of standard English. This is what the Oakland School Board was trying to achieve. By educating and understanding students in their own dialect, a teacher can help ease the transition from ebonics to standard English. The policy the Oakland Unified School District proposed would accommodate this transition by setting up task forces and an academic agenda that would incorporate ebonics into its curriculum. Many believe hearing standard English in school will not give African-American students who use ebonics in everyday language, a fair and equal education. “Hearing standard English isn’t enough, otherwise, television would have flattened various dialects. ” If a student cannot recognize the manner in which they speak, how will they ever learn to speak in standard English? Another ebonics advocate states that a fair education with use of ebonics will empower the African-American student. “You will see a sudden and drastic increase in Black honors students and graduates. You will see far less Black students being labeled as retarded or suspended, and dropping out. ” Other opinions from linguists and school teachers support the use of ebonics to enhance the learning process of African-American students. Senator Ray Haynes, author of the “Equality in English Instruction Act,” points out that a special education involving ebonics will harm African-American students by separating their education from their peers. “The justification for “Ebonics” instruction is the same as that used to justify prohibiting language instruction to slaves, and to justify separate educational institutions for African-Americans prior to the case of Brown v. Board of Education. It is the perpetuation of the “separate but equal” philosophy that has harmed race relations in this country for far too many years. ” This philosophy is echoed by many anti-ebonics advocates. “Militant black extremists in Oakland and elsewhere would encourage street-land talk inside our classrooms and separate and unequal education for a slice of the bilingual education pie, ” quoted Richard Delgado, president of the Legal Affairs Council. The anti-separation justification against ebonics paves the way for others to criticize Oakland’s proposal.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume recently called the Oakland’s decision “a cruel joke,” and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown commented to the San Francisco Chronicle this week: “I had dinner last night with the mayor of Oakland and had to bring a translator along.4″ Civil Rights activist Jesse Jackson stated “while we are fighting in California trying to extend affirmative action and fighting to teach our children so they become more qualified for jobs, in Oakland some madness has erupted over making slang talk a second language.4″ These statements can be summarized by stating that the ebonics program puts African-American students at a disadvantage. Oakland has raised an issue which seems outrageous and impractical to many. Senator Haynes’ bill prohibits any California state agency to receive funds for implementing and ebonics program. This bill would not allow the Oakland School District proposal to allocate bilingual education program funds for ebonics programs. Under the current policy of the Oakland school district, federal funds are used to fund the ebonics program. President Clinton as well as Governor Pete Wilson are opposed to using federal funds for ebonics programs. If SB 205 passes, no district or agency could receive money for such a program. Many groups are in opposition of funding ebonics programs. “This is selling out the black children and their future for the almighty federal dollar, ” stated an activist from Project 21, a national alliance of anti discrimination organizations. Latino Activists from Los Angeles county “fear that the nations second largest district would dip into bilingual education funds for ebonics.9″ These groups express concerns about the funding for ebonics, especially Latino Activists which do not want their bilingual education funds decreased. To help diminish the problem of language barriers that persists within the African American community, Senator Haynes’ bill will provide incentives to school districts that improve linguistic communication skills of low income students. This will be funded from reading and phonics funds appropriated to increase reading skills in the Sate of California. SB 205 tries to improve education without ignoring the problem language and reading deficiency. If Senate bill SB 205 passes, it will ensure equal representation of federal and state funds for the purpose of enhancing reading and English skills to all groups. It will not focus on a particular minority for education enhancement. It will punish school districts that try to go beyond the control of the state. It will appease many top governmental officials and powerful interest groups as well as people who do not support the idea of ebonics education as a school practice. If you neglect the issue of ebonics in the school systems, you may be neglecting a situation that could grow out of control. Ebonics is communicated within the homes of some African-American families. If this same type of communication is not carried out into the schools, a student may not understand the course material. The student that speaks and lives ebonics has a handicap if they cannot learn standard English. They have to compete against advantaged students in a world where English may the key to success. By neglecting a students needs, we are doing them an injustice in education. I feel that ebonics should not have to be an issue in the California state schools. We live in a competitive society that has standards. If we deviate from these standards, we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage. BibliographyBanks, Alicia. “Ebonics: Black English/White Weapon.”Afronet Columnists. http://www.afronet.com/column/archives/.Branson, Amy. “Beltway Crowd Weighs In On Oakland School Board’s Talk Of `Black English.’”12/26/96. LEGI-SLATE News Service. http://www.legislate.com/n/news/961226.htm.Globe Saff. “The Ebonics Lesson.”The Boston Globe. 1/27/97. P. a18.Gunnison, Robert B. “GOP Senator Seeks to Punish State’s Ebonics Schools Bill would bar use of fundsfor teaching.” The San Francisco Chronicle. 1/29/97. P. A11.Haynes, Ray. “Equality in English Instruction Act.” January 28, 1997.http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/bill/sen/sb_0201-0250/sb_205_bill_970128_introduced.Haynes, Ray. “Equality in English Instruction Act.” January 28, 1997.http://www.sen.ca.gov/htbin/cahtml?GOPHER_ROOT2:[BILL.CURRENT.SB.FROM0200.SB0205]CURRVER.TXT;1/bill/SB205.Lewis, Brian C.. “Black English: Its History and Its Role in the Education of Our Children.” 1996. http://www.princeton.edu/ bclewis/blacktalk.html.Pyle, Amy. “L.A. Board Delays Debate on Ebonics.”Los Angeles Times. 1/14/97. P.B3.Rakestraw, Edgar Jr.. “Resolution of the Board Of Education.” January 15, 1997.http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us/AmendRes9697-006.html.

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