July 18, 2005

Ebonics rears its head (again)

As the UC system drops the PSAT/NMSQT like a hot potato, due to the performance of minority students, the San Bernardino school district floats the idea that the self-esteem of black children is dependent not on their academic achievements, but on their cultural identity, which means schools should affirm Ebonics. You may remember this controversy from 1997; now, it's back.

Incorporating Ebonics into a new school policy that targets black students, the lowest-achieving group in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, may provide students a more well-rounded curriculum, said a local sociologist.

The goal of the district's policy is to improve black students' academic performance by keeping them interested in school. Compared with other racial groups in the district, black students go to college the least and have the most dropouts and suspensions...

Mary Texeira, a sociology professor at Cal State San Bernardino, commended the San Bernardino Board of Education for approving the policy in June. Texeira suggested that including Ebonics in the program would be beneficial for students. Ebonics, a dialect of American English that is spoken by many blacks throughout the country, was recognized as a separate language in 1996 by the Oakland school board.

If Ebonics is all that's keeping them interested, what's going to happen when they enter the real world, where Ebonics won't be the accepted form of communication?

Len Cooper, who is coordinating the pilot program at the two city schools, said San Bernardino district officials do not plan to incorporate Ebonics into the program. "Because Ebonics can have a negative stigma, we're not focusing on that,' Cooper said. "We are affirming and recognizing Ebonics through supplemental reading books (for students).'

Emphasis mine. Imagine, if you will, any other controversial program or movement, for which a coordinator can say that negative stigma can be "ignored," while the idea that generates such stigma still deserves to be "affirmed." Scientology, neo-Nazism, flat-earth "science" - all of those things have a negative stigma, too, and no reporter with half a brain would let a coordinator get away with a "but we're avoiding the stigma by bringing it in through the back door" attitude. They shouldn't be doing so here, either.

As for the sociologist quoted in the article, she reveals herself to be veritable font of lunacy:

Texeira urged people not be quick to judge the new program as socially exclusive. She said people need to be open to the program. "Everybody has prejudices, but we must all learn to control that behavior,' Texeira said. She said a child's self confidence is tied to his or her cultural identity.

She compared the low performance of black students to starvation. "How can you be angry when you feed a family of starving children?'

1. If my self-esteem is tied to my cultural identity, don't I have to immerse myself in that culture? Won't I be thinking highly of myself because of my culture? Wouldn't it necessarily follow that I don't think as highly of other cultures? And won't my self-esteem be threatened by people who are not of that culture, or don't value that culture? This is a recipe for prejudice.

2. Any sociologist who dares refer to the problem of underfed children in the US at the same time that she is defending Ebonics as a path to self-esteem and educational achievement for black children should be laughed out of town, if not tarred and feathered first.

If you think my response is rough, you should see some of the other posts out there. That one's a satire, but it's ugly nonetheless - and you know that others along the same lines won't be meant to be funny. Bear To The Right comments, while ReidBlog notes that this program's only chance of actually being useful is if it is teaching educators to help children switch from Ebonics to English, as though they are second language learners. I found other research online that defends the acceptance of Ebonics in schools, but the gist of it seems to be, "Well, teaching them English won't solve all their problems anyway." True, but it doesn't follow from this that insisting English be spoken in schools will hurt minority children. An attitude such as "Why worry about Ebonics when schools don't have enough textbooks?" is missing the point.

Regardless, while the optimism about Ebonics merely being considered a second language is nice, I think bloggers like Reidblog should reread all that hooha quoted above about self-esteem and cultural identity. That doesn't sound like motivation for immersing children into English classes and away from Ebonics as soon as possible. Joanne notes this as well:

Ebonics is back in San Bernardino County, which is trying to raise the achievement of black students by...Well, it's not clear from the story what they're doing, but it seems to come down to the same old esteem boosting that's done nothing to help students in the past...

You'd think that would mean teaching English to these foreign language speakers, but apparently not...

Instead, Students Accumulating New Knowledge Optimizing Future Accomplishment Initiative (sankofa is a Ghanaian word that means remembering the past) will celebrate students' racial identity. The role of Ebonics is murky...An example would come in handy.

Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, teachers will receive training on black culture and customs. District curriculum will now include information on the historical, cultural and social impact of blacks in society. Although the program is aimed at black students, other students can choose to participate.

So the role of blacks in American society is going to be taught as a separate course, not an integral part of American history.

Remembering the past is all very well. Why not remember the failure rate of race-conscious school programs?

A good question.

Update: LaShawn Barber is not impressed. Ramblings Journal sounds beside himself. Resurrection Song believes this is a way to make black students feel like they're not really part of America. And Michelle predicts a Bill Cosby meltdown.

Posted by kswygert at July 18, 2005 10:40 PM