Whatever Happened to Ebonics?

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Ebonics was the short-lived Oakland (CA) School Board’s approved program (1996) to teach  black students to parse the way they naturally spoke and wrote at home, in the neighborhood, and with friends just as Standard English had to be acquired. The School Board resolution recognized Ebonics–a combination of “ebony” and “phonics”– as the “primary language of African American students,” not a dialect of English. Decades earlier, such speech had been labeled “Black English.” Renamed, the School Board set policy to teach Ebonics to African American students to improve their reading and increase their academic achievement.

And linguists agreed with the concept of Ebonics.

At their 1997 meeting, the Linguistic Society of America [LSA] approved a resolution describing Ebonics as “systematic and rule-governed like all natural speech varieties,” saying that the Oakland School Board’s action was  “linguistically and pedagogically sound.”

The policy-driven program commenced in 1997 to an uproar across African…

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