Re: Ebonics and the Classics, anyone?

From: Lisa A Auanger (
Date: Tue Jan 21 1997 - 23:47:06 EST

  There was a good dicussion about the issue on *Talk of the Nation* today.
It featured Dr. Richard Wright, Professor of Linguistics at Howard
University. The transcript is not posted, but at some point you
may be able to listen to the program if you have audio capabilities.
The URL is
  I found Professor Wright's comments in support and explanation of the
issue convincing. The "genetic" aspect apparently, if I am remembering
correctly, was brought in by a member of the school board. There were some
phone-in responses that also further clarified the problem and
approach. The `repetition approach' that DM advocates was brought up
by a caller who told of learning not to drop "h"s. Yet with regard to
DM's view, a "read, read, read" approach is hard to implement if the
materials to be read are not of interest to the students. And this is where
the "black/white" of historical figures, characters in fiction, etc. seems
to come into play. I assert that a good, solid, diverse children's literature
would be helpful, even though I have memories of pouring over biographies of
Harriet Tubman and Oliver Wendell Holmes as a child, and even included
Harriet Tubman in my "pretend life." Related there is a story on the
Malcolm X school in Milwaukee in the news where a clear Afro-centric
approach is advocated and compared to the long-time education through
the western European heritage.

At the risk of sounding too relativistic, I think that remembering
that a standard is developed, evolving, and fluid is necessary. Part
of the problem may be teachers/sellers of text books who are convinced
that their own way is the aeternal standard which must be perpetuated.

How much could the paradigms in use be part of the problem? Someone
on the show gave an example equating "We be happy." with "We are happy."
Does this really mean the same thing to the children? In my understanding,
"We be happy" means something like "We could be happy" or "If we must be
happy, we be happy, but really we be not quite happy...we are..." To
what extent are values and use of language taken into consideration?

Lisa Auanger

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