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Oakland Schools Recognize 'Ebonics'

December 25, 1996

Re "Oakland School District Recognizes Black English," Dec. 20:

Separate but equal? Who would have thought, over 40 years after the doctrine of separate but equal educational facilities for black children was struck down by Brown vs. Board of Education, that in this day and age we would see a school board actually advocate this position. "Black English" or "Ebonics" is simply improper English and for a school board to elevate it to standard English's equivalent is to doom the black students who speak it to wear a mantle of presumed ignorance.

Under the guise of legitimizing and celebrating the black culture, the school board of Oakland perpetuates the ridiculous idea that to speak properly is "white" and therefore one cannot be "authentically black" if one speaks standard English. School board president Lucella Harrison states, "What we have been doing is not working ... We must do something different," and so her answer is to recognize improper English as another language.

While slang adds flavor to American English as in the "dems" and "does" of Brooklynese or the "y'alls" and "ain'ts" of the South, people who speak this way are made aware that it is incorrect. To the Oakland school board I have just one comment: "You crazy!"

AMANDA LAVI

Agoura Hills

* Let's make bilingual education of Ebonics-speaking children one of many possible attempts to find solutions for the dreary statistics cited in this article. It is a credible action-point at which known bilingual educational theory, useful academic methods of inquiry, avowed local policy flexibility and the need for creative solutions can come together to determine practical merit.

Come on, Delaine Eastin. This is a chance to be innovative. You are in a good position to actually find out something here.

LIZA WHITE

Calabasas

* Throughout the world, wherever English is the official language, slang dialects are often used. From the patois of Jamaica, the cockney of England or the Krio of Sierra Leone, these slang forms of English often add a relaxed, lyrical quality to speech.

However, whether English is being taught in the classrooms of Kingston, London or Freetown, the standard form is followed. There is no patronizing pretense that the native slang versions of English constitute a second language, and the children appear to learn the standard form with little difficulty. It is taught in this manner because the education departments of those countries recognize that when children reach adulthood, they will use standard English most often in academics, commerce and formal communications. How sad that Oakland's "educators" do not recognize these same facts.

SHANNON CREAM

Chino Hills

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