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Jackson Criticizes Oakland Schools' 'Ebonics' Decision

December 23, 1996|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson on Sunday blasted the Oakland school board's decision to recognize so-called black English, or Ebonics, as a primary language for many of its black students.

Jackson said the resolution would undermine black students' chances for success.

"I understand the attempt to reach out to these children, but this is an unacceptable surrender borderlining on disgrace. . . . It's teaching down to our children and it must never happen," Jackson said, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press."

He appealed to the school board to reverse its decision, saying black children would face much harder prospects finding jobs if they have not mastered standard English.

"As we fight to open the closed doors . . . we say, 'Open the door and give us the opportunity. We'll master the language, we'll master the science,' " Jackson said.

In a strong statement issued Saturday in Chicago, Jackson had said: "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.

"You don't have to go to school to learn to talk garbage."

The Oakland resolution calls on the district to provide teacher training in so-called Ebonics, recognize it as distinct from standard English, and help black students who use Ebonics to master standard English.

District educators hope the program--perhaps the first in the nation--will improve the performance of black students. About 53% of Oakland's nearly 52,000 students are African American, and officials said they have the lowest average grade-point averages in the district.

Jackson said Sunday that if anything, Spanish should be the second language taught in California. Students interested in strengthening their understanding of Africa could study French or Portuguese, he said.

The decision has provoked strong reaction across the country. Poet Maya Angelou called the decision a mistake.

"I'm incensed," Angelou told the Wichita Eagle. "The very idea that African American language is a language separate and apart is very threatening, because it can encourage young men and women not to learn standard English."

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