Towards the late 90’s, the School Board of Oakland, California announced that Ebonics has become the official language of African American students in that area. They felt that this form of “language” should be recognized and many linguists feel that this is the right decision when educating African American youth when it comes to improving literacy skills. Many linguists believe that it could be used as a tool to help teach these students how to improve their Standard English. John Rickford, a linguist, once said, “The support of linguists for this approach may strike nonlinguists as unorthodox, but that is where our principles—and the evidence—lead us.” After reading Rickford’s article, I have to agree with him. There seems to be much evidence that accepting Ebonics as a form of the English language, and studying its similarities and difference to Standard English in the classroom, could lead to a higher rate of improving literacy skills amongst African –American students.
Any one can have an opinion, however when studies or experiments are performed that back up someone’s opinion, I tend to listen to them a little more closely and feel like their opinion has more credibility. Without evidence, who can really say that one idea is better than another? Fortunately for Linguist’s like John Rickford, there seems to be some evidence that strongly supports his view on Ebonics. In John Rickford’s article, Suite for Ebony and Phonics it explains that “there is experimental evidence both from the United States and Europe that mastering the standard language might be easier if the differences in the student vernacular and Standard English were made explicit rather than entirely ignored.”(p. 28) After reading this, it made me think about how I heard on the news once that another study showed that children who are truly bilingual often end scoring higher on many achievement tests when compared to monolingual peers. Could teaching both using Ebonics and Standard English in classrooms lead to higher performance down the line for African American students? One particular study mentioned in Rickford’s study might actually show that this could be true.
Outside of Chicago, at Aurora University, inner-city African-American students were taught English using a unique strategy. The style of teaching used with these students “contrasted Standard English and Ebonics features through explicit instruction and drills. After eleven weeks, this group showed a 59 percent reduction in their use of Ebonics features in their Standard English writing. But a control group taught by conventional methods showed an 8.5 percent in such features. “ (p.28) This study strongly supports the idea that the Oakland School Board suggested for the instruction of their students. Using Ebonics in the classroom can be a very useful tool. The students who worked on writing the traditional way actually showed an increase of the use of Ebonics in their writing. However, the group that used Ebonics as a tool to improve Standard English showed a huge decrease in their use of Ebonic features while writing. By focusing on using a language the African American students already knew very well, they were able to compare and contrast it with Standard English, which probably helped them wrap around the Standard English. They now knew what to avoid doing while trying to write in Standard English. By ignoring Ebonics, their familiar language, it seemed to stunt the other groups’ growth. I believe this simply happened because they did not know what Ebonic features they should avoid using while writing an academic paper.