Ebonics in Schools

From: Elizabeth Kuntz
Email: 89471@udel.edu
Course: EDST390:Instructional Strategies and Reflectional Practice
College: University of Delaware
Instructor: Eugene Matusov
ClassWeb: http://www.ematusov.com/EDST390.98S
ChildrenObservations: No
Date: 5/24/98
Time: 12:53:44 PM
Remote Name:


As future educators, one of the biggest issues we deal with is how to treat children the same when they are different in so many ways. From their socio-economic status to their abilities in school, we face difficulties everyday in judging between what is right and what is wrong. A controversial issue among educators today deals with ebonics in schools. I will discuss some pros and cons of allowing ebonics in schools as well as some background information and statistics.


“She be walking.” Suppose this is written on a student’s paper; what should be done to correct it? Many black Americans, especially those from inner cities, speak using a language that Standard American English speakers tend to label ‘slang’. Literally ebony phonics, or ebonics, is Black English which is a mixture of African languages and standard English. A recent and extremely controversial issue among educators in the United States is whether or not ebonics should be brought into schools as a separate language. The purpose of incorporating ebonics into the curriculum is to give Black English speakers equal opportunity to excel in school because, as of now, the performance of these children continues to lag behind that of whites. Those who have studied education find it hard to comprehend that anything positive would come out of bringing ebonics into the classroom; in fact, the following will prove it to have a negative outcome. Poor performance of Black English speakers in schools, divisions between races, and lack of ability to communicate are just a few of the negative aspects of ebonics.

The first and most obvious problem is the performance of Black English speakers as opposed to that of Standard American English speakers in school. Ebonics whose origins can be traced back to the time of slavery, is a dialect made up of an African structure/grammar. The morphology and phonology of ebonics causes many African-American children to have reading problems. Ebonics is not just a dialect of English, it is a whole different speech, a separate formal language (Winters, 1). African-American students make up 53% of the student district in Oakland, California, and 71% of those enrolled in special education. The average grade of black students in this particular district is D+ (Sawicky, 24). When it comes to Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, the average score of Black students is 274 on reading, and 206 on writing, which are considered only basic level. While students, on average, scored 295 on reading, and 225 on writing which ranges from intermediate to adept level. The racial gap in standardized test scores is so wide and the rate at which the gap is closing is so small that Blacks will not catch up to Whites until the middle or latter part of the next century (Cross, 49).

The federal government does not seem to believe that ebonics has value in the schools. The Oakland School Board was turned down for any funding to be used for ebonics in December, 1996. U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley argues, “Elevating ebonics to the status of a language is not the best way to raise standards of achievement in our schools and for our students.” Many educators and officials feel the same way as Riley, for example, the Clinton Administration policy is that ebonics is a “nonstandard form of English and not a foreign language” (Sawicky, 25). Incoming Oakland School Board Chair, Jean Quan, explains, “We recognize the reality that our kids are coming into school with language that isn’t standard English, transitional steps are needed, and we’re trying to be culturally sensitive” (Sawicky, 25).

Up until now, teachers simply corrected Black English as incorrect grammar, but the problem may lie with insufficient teacher instruction. African-American students fall behind because the language they use at home and on the streets is different from the standard English that is used in class. Perhaps if teachers have a better understanding of Black English, they will be able to do a better job of teaching standard English (Sawicky, 25). The more educated teachers are, the more supportive they can be to their students in need o help rather than coming across as critical.

Poor performance of Black English speakers is not the only disadvantage of ebonics, it also promotes the increasing division between the races. Alicia Banks is a columnist from Oakland, California, who views ebonics as more of a racial issue than and educational issue. She argues that “everything African is VERY black and VERY bad” and that Black English is not being rejected for its differences, but rather for its blackness (Banks, 2). She continues by saying, “ebonics can not possibly increase segregation because we are already more segregated than ever before” (2). Educators need to enforce unity, not segregation. Black English is a separate dialect and as such deserves respect, but it is not standard, and should not be brought into the schools. All children should be taught to speak Standard American English so that they will fully be able to understand one another.

The importance of children being able to communicate and being able to understand each other brings us to a third negative effect of ebonics. If all children do not learn Standard American English, United States high school graduates will not have the same opportunities when they move into the real world. Black English speakers will sound uneducated and therefore will miss many opportunities such as getting a good job, simply because no one will understand them.

In reality, Standard English dominates in practically every arena of American society, and without mastering this language, one will not get very far. Trained educators find it difficult to see the benefits that ebonics will bring to students. It is vital for teachers to be educated in Black English because they will better be able to understand and correct their students. Not only is it vital for teachers to enforce Standard American English, but parents also must be educated so they too can enforce it in the home. If children are not properly equipped with the knowledge of standard American English, they will be at a severe disadvantage compared to students who are. The more children are surrounded with Standard American English, the more they will use and understand it, and performance in schools will greatly increase.


1. Banks, Alicia. “Ebonics: Black English/White Weapon.” http://www.afronet.com/column/Archives/122396banks.html. (30 March 1997).

2. Brasch, Walter, M. Black English and the Mass Media. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981.

3. Cross, Theodore. “Suppose There was no Affirmative Action at the Most Prestigious Colleges and Graduate Schools,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 3 (Spring, 1994): 44-51.

4. Lewis, Brian. “Black English: Its History and its Role in the Education of Our Children.” http://www.princeton.edu/blacktalk.html. (30 March 1997).

5. Oakland Unified School District. “Synopsis of the Adopted Policy on Standard American English Language Development.” http://www.west.net/joyland/oakland.htm. (22 April 1997).

6. Sawicky, Max, B. “Ebonics: Rush to Judgment?” The Education Digest (April 1997): 24-28.

7. Winters, Lisa. “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other Peoples Children.” Harvard Education Review. Volume 58, no.3 1988.

Last modified August 06, 2015