Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Should ebonics be allowed in school?

By honoring our students' home languages, we invite them into the classroom community.

In 1996 the Oakland School decided to recognize Ebonics as a dialect of their students. As part of this recognition, teachers would be educated about the grammar of Ebonics, and how to incorporate Ebonics into the classroom.

The controversy surrounding this debate is much deeper rooted than it may seem. With language rests culture. To sever the language from the mouth is to sever the ties to homes and relatives, family gatherings, foods prepared and eaten, relationships to friends and neighhors. Cultural identity is utterly akin to linguistic identity.

Many people confuse Ebonics for slang. Ebonics is a framework of speaking that has grammatical rules, while slang refers to the vocabulary within a grammatical framework.

As educators, we have the power to determine whether students feel included or excluded in our schools. By bringing students' languages from their homes into the classroom, we validate their culture and their history as topics worthy of study. These days, most of our schools and school boards fashion mission statements about "embracing diversity." In school hallways, mullilingual banners welcome students and visitors in Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese. But in the classroom, the job of the teacher often appears to be to whitewash students of color or students who are linguistically diverse, especially when punctuation and grammar are double weighted on the state writing test. If we hope to create positive communities in which students from diverse backgrounds can thrive academically, we need to examine how our approach to students' linguistic diversity either includes or pushes out our most vulnerable learners.

I am not arguing that Ebonics should be explicitly taught in schools, but rather should be embraced as a dialect, and used as a jumping off point for helping students grow as writers and learn how to code switch between Ebonics and Standard English. It is important for students to embrace their own dialects.

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