Date: Mon, 08 Jan 1996 14:41:04 -0500 From: Mark Allen Peterson Sender: To: Linganth MIME-version: 1.0 Precedence: bulk X-Msmail-Priority: Normal X-Proc-type: 3

Just a quick reply re: Mike Agar's anecdotes. Working as a journalist in DC, I've been engaged in a lot of discussions about this issue, and I've used many of the same examples Mike did (by the way, Mike, I use your book Language Shock in my Intro Anthro course at George Mason. Good job).

I have a very personal comment on the last point he makes, that part on the motive was to get money. Many people I discuss the Oakland incident with find this apalling, arguing that they are turning "slang" into a language for profit.

Instead of getting into the hazy issue of what is or isn't a language, I tell them about my two years teaching in inner city Los Angeles. I taught Middle School at Berendo Junior High School which is located right where the Barrio meets Koreatown. Counting Native American tongues, the school administration claimed we had sixty languages spoken in our school.

As a result of our language diversity, federal money flowed in. We had all the amenities schoolteachers expect: overhead projectors, construction paper, transparencies, mimeograph machines, computers (Apple 2es--this was a while ago). The school paid for full-time teaching assistants who spoke Spanish and every Friday a group of Asian language students came from UCLA to help us communicate with students.

Once a week I had to go to a special training session in the evening to learn about Los Angeles street gangs, special disciplines issues and so forth. During the break, I learned from other teachers that my school was almost unique in the inner city in terms of its funding. Most of these other teachers lacked the most basic teaching tools. They were grotesquely underfunded. I was not the only teacher at berendo who smuggled supplies to some of my friends at other schools (I can admit this now, because the statute of limitations is up).

There are, I was told, two major ways for underfunded inner city schools to get federal funding. One is by identifying large numbers of students as learning disabled and applying through the Equal Opportunity For All Handicapped programs. The other is to demonstrate a "high level" of language diversity. This was done in tricky ways. For example, students who wrote and spoke fluent standard English (for their ages) were put into classes labelled "Advanced ESL" and recorded as non-English speakers on the basis of the language spoken in the home by their parents. As far as I could tell (and I taught one) advanced ESL differed little from "English" except in the labels applied to the students. Schools in very poor parts of Los Angeles who had a large number of AAVE-speaking blacks were unable to do this because AAVE was "English." Yet many of my Asian and Hispanic advanced ESL students wrote SAE far better than their AAVE counterparts.

The whole thing was a Byzantine bureaucratic game to take advantages of social assumptions about race and language and use these to fit students into the categories recognized by the bureaucratic mechanisms that control the purse strings. What happened in Oakland, it seems to me, was that school administrators discovered the literature on Ebonics, and hoped it would be not only a tool for teaching SAE but also way to relabel their students so as to obtain additional funds desperately needed by the school system.

If Oakland's school district is anything like LA's, I don't blame them a bit. I'm only sorry it didn't work.
Mark Allen Peterson