Thursday, January 2, 1997 © 1996 San Francisco Chronicle
EBONICS - THE OAKLAND RESOLUTION
` GENETICALLY BASED AND NOT A DIALECT'
The Oakland School Board says its resolution on ebonics has been widely misunderstood, especially on whether it calls for teaching classes in ebonics. Critics said the school board members are muddying the debate by not standing behind the resolution they passed.
Here is the text of the resolution passed on December 18:
Go to Original Oakland Resolution
Thursday, January 2, 1997 San Francisco Chronicle
EDITORIAL -- THE EBONICS RESOLUTION NEEDS A MAJOR OVERHAUL
THE OAKLAND School Board should rewrite its resolution on ebonics. By stubbornly retaining the document in its original form, the board is fueling a controversy that need never have occurred. If the latest clarifications are to be believed, the district is simply trying to adopt an instructional method that will help black students who come to school speaking ebonics -- or black English -- to learn standard English. But what officials say the resolution means and what the resolution says are not the same.
Superintendent Carolyn Getridge said the intention was never to teach children ebonics, yet the resolution states that children will be taught ``both in their primary language(ebonics) and in English.''
School officials denied that the resolution says that black children speak ebonics due to their biology, yet the resolution says black English is ``genetically based.''
They also denied the resolution would help qualify them for federal bilingual funds, yet it calls ebonics a language and links it with the Federal Bilingual Education Act.
After a meeting in Oakland, Jesse Jackson said the educators just want more resources and equipment to make youngsters English-proficient. But he should not have to interpret for them. If educators want more money to improve skills, they should say so, and not try to fit ebonics into a tortured definition of bilingualism.
No one can quarrel with the need to find the best methods to teach low achievers. If teachers need to alter their methods to move students from a home dialect to proper English,fine. If they need a strong reminder that no child should ever be insulted for the way he talks, give it to them. But the resolution goes far beyond what Oakland school officials now insist they intended, and they need to clear up the matter -- including backing off ebonics as a language -- in a rewritten resolution.
School board member Carole Lee Tolvert said the board has not amended the resolution because ``we do not want to appear that we are confused or that we are changing ourmind.'' Too late. And inaction will only compound the unflattering portrait of a board that apparently places little value on clarity and rectitude.
Sunday, January 5, 1997 Los Angeles Times
THE STATE OF EBONICS AND THE RELEVANCE OF A SCHOOL'S CURRICULUM
By Kevin Weston
SAN FRANCISCO--It's called "ebonics" now.
The blues then.
It's really pain. I remember coming home from kindergarten, afro blowin' in the Oakland wind, talkin' about: "I'm fixin' to go outside. "What did you say, boy?" My mother was always wary of those fools in the streets," and when I came home talking like somebody she was afraid of, or afraid of me becoming, she put me right in check. "Fixin" is not a word. 'I am about to go outside.' Say it." "I am about to go outside."
Standard English was drummed into my head until I decided to speak it exclusively around white people, bougie Negroes and the elders in my family. I would speak to my homies as I pleased.
I already knew the majority of teachers would not understand a word I said (they were mostly old and white and looked at me with a smirk that I couldn't understand). I knew I'd have to struggle to learn in a hostile environment; that the culture of my neighborhood streets was considered worthless at home as well as at school.
Later, I came to know how that culture developed, what it meant. The transatlantic slave trade robbed Africans in America of our land, culture, and language; the experience of chattel slavery further dehumanized and divided us. We've had to turn English upside down to survive this North American madness.
Bad became good to us. Spirituals dedicated to a strange and foreign god became freedom songs with hidden messages, letting the people know when it was time to break north, or burn the fields and kill the massa. The rhythm of working in the sugar cane fields from "can't see in de morning to can't see at night" became the rhythm of funk and blues.
Hip hop music--the latest modification in the art of Black language--transmits ideas and culture among the descendants of a stolen people, across continents and waters. Hip hop's lexicon chances month by month and region by region. A word may mean one thing in Oakland, another in Atlanta. A term we use today is old by next week. The youth drive the changes as a new generation adds on to the language of a people that need to be able to speak to each other without the master culture all in our mix.
The way black people communicate is always a magnet for controversy. This season's furor is over the Oakland Unified School District's resolution recognizing ebonics as a language, and its practitioners as bilingual. The initial frenzy was based on a misconception: that the school board was advocating that ebonics be taught in the classroom. The district hired a PR firm to swear that's not what they meant.
Maybe they should have meant it. We need ebonics.
What we don't need is the Oakland Unified School District, the very same institution that inspired Point Five of the Black Panther Party's Ten Point Program:
We want an education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches our true history and our role in present day society.
The hubbub over ebonics obscures a deeper issue: The Oakland schools are falling apart. Take Castlemont High, serving black and Latino East Oakland. Major renovations were halted mid-way because community groups were upset over the lack of minority contractors on the worksite. Cost overruns and administrative red tape have only made things worse. The side of the building facing MacArthur Boulevard is "to' up from the flo' up." An entire class, graduating this year, has never taken a class in the main building.
Students and teachers are so frustrated that everyday learning has been replaced by socializing, weed smoking and general pandemonium. Students know they are receiving an inferior education that is preparing them for a shrinking welfare system or a booming penitentiary industry. But they feel powerless to change the way their education is administered.
Ebonics opponents say black children must learn standard English to make them employable, to prepare them for a role in mainstream society. But as affirmative action is gutted and top-level discrimination revealed, where are the jobs that standard English is supposed to win us? Does corporate America have a new plan for us "black jellybeans" that we haven't been told about?
Until that plan is revealed, why stop with resolutions legitimizing black English. If Castlemont is to' up, why not rebuild it from the flo' up? At the legendary Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington had student build their college from the ground up. Why can't the students of Castlemont be instructed on how to make that happen for themselves and their community?
In a post-welfare black America, something as basic as education of the children should be under the control of the community. Then, ebonics would make sense. Children would be trained to serve the community, not corporations that have little use for them anyway. Teachers would be from the community, well-versed--not "trained"--in the students' home vernacular.
Worn-out children's rhymes would be replaced by hip hop music, which would transmit complex ideas while retaining ghetto rhyme and rhythm. Standard English would be taught, along with Spanish and any other language spoken by people the students might need to communicate with.
Today, ebonics is the issue that has everyone up in arms. Tomorrow, it just might be the takeover of the district by a people in need of a relevant education.
Los Angeles Times, Friday, January 3, 1997
EDUCATORS DEFEND USE OF EBONICS
[Schools: Political leaders and parents say it should be used to teach mainstream English. L.A. and Compton board members say they plan to avoid mistakes made in Oakland.]
By AMY PYLE, Times Education Writer
African American leaders, educators and parents gathered in Los Angeles on Thursday to angrily defend the Oakland Unified School District's recent decision to declare black English a separate language--and two local school board members pledged to propose similar resolutions in their districts.
But after a three-hour discussion, representatives of the Los Angeles Unified and Compton Unified school boards said they hoped to avoid the criticism directed at Oakland by making their goal clear: to attack the poor academic performance of black students by improving their grasp of mainstream English.
"People took [the Oakland resolution] out of context. . . . The ultimate focus is standard English fluency," said Los Angeles Board of Education member Barbara Boudreaux, who called the meeting at her Lafayette Square home, drawing more than 60 people.
Boudreaux and others supported the Oakland board's assertion that Ebonics--a mesh of "ebony" and "phonics" used to describe speech patterns of some African Americans--is a bona fide language. While blaming critics and the media for distorting the issues, a majority parted ways in two key areas with the resolution adopted by the Oakland Board of Education on Dec. 18.
They disagreed with the description of Ebonics as genetically based. "That one-liner was a mistake," Boudreaux said. All language, she said, "comes from your environment."
And most of those who stood to speak in Boudreaux's living room were firm that classes should not be conducted in Ebonics the way bilingual classes are taught in Spanish. Instead, the Los Angeles leaders said, teachers should be taught the structure of Ebonics so that they can better understand their students and accept their backgrounds.
"We want students to know that what they learned at home is not bad, but there is a better way," said Saul E. Lankster, president of the Compton Board of Education.
Oakland's resolution touched off a furious backlash, which continued Thursday in some quarters. During a news conference at a Long Beach elementary school library, Gov. Pete Wilson was asked whether he thought the Oakland school board had been misunderstood.
"I think, to be charitable, that they erred," he said. "And I think the outrage you have seen from students, parents, not to mention outsiders, indicates that it was not a very good idea."
Initially, the resolution even drew fire from some civil rights leaders, including Jesse Jackson, for being potentially damaging to black youths. After a hurriedly organized closed-door meeting with Oakland school officials on Monday, however, Jackson said he largely agreed with the board's action and blamed the press for focusing on "the absurd, and that which is divisive." * * *
Jackson was castigated for his about-face during Thursday's debate in Los Angeles, with one grandmother shouting that the civil rights leader uses Ebonics in his speeches.
Assemblyman Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles) told the gathering: "What I hope people will get from this controversy is you cannot respond to the media before you've read the actual document."
While Ebonics dominated the discussion, Boudreaux's meeting also included a broad-reaching debate on why African American students are not succeeding. Opinions varied widely--from poor teacher attitudes to spotty parent involvement, societal racism and inadequate educational funding--but the solution was the same: teach children to speak mainstream English using whatever techniques work.
Frequent comparisons were made with bilingual education, which some African American parents complain takes money away from their children.
"For every [bilingual program] child in the district, there is a program to move them into English," said Daniel Larson, administrator of the cluster of campuses that feed into Crenshaw and Dorsey high schools. Los Angeles Unified schools "have 92,000 African American students, but fewer than half of them are in a [language] program."
Boudreaux vowed to push, beginning at the Jan. 13 school board meeting, for expanding the district's language classes for African American students, which include a language development program in 31 inner-city schools.
The only other Los Angeles board member present at the meeting, David Tokofsky, said the proposal may meet with opposition from other trustees because there is no student test data to prove that the program is working. Cost, he said, would be another obstacle.
According to district chief financial analyst Henry Jones, L.A. Unified spends about $10 million a year on the language programs for African Americans. Expanding them districtwide would cost at least $24 million more, he said.
Times staff writer David Ferrell contributed to this story.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 8, 1997
SLIGHT REWRITING OF EBONICS POLICY SOUGHT IN OAKLAND
Lori Olszewski, Chronicle Staff Writer
A new Oakland School Board member plans to suggest that the school district rewrite the ebonics policy that caused a national uproar in order to change its more controversial language.
Oakland School Board member Kenneth Rice, the architectural photographer who took office Monday, said yesterday that any modifications would affect only the language and not the intent of the policy, which was adopted unanimously without debate on December 18.
``I am all behind the intent of the resolution passed by the School Board. I agree we need to find ways to reach our kids and that the system is failing them,'' said Rice, alluding to findings about poor African American student performance that prompted the new ebonics policy.
``That said, there are about three sentences that caused all this brouhaha, and we need to change them,'' said Rice, who replaced Carol Lee Tolbert as North Oakland's representative for District One, which includes Temescal and Rockridge.
Rice's call for a rewrite surfaced as the new school board prepares to hold a televised town forum devoted to ebonics at 7 tonight in the Harper Building, 314 East 10th St. Rice's proposal to revisit the policy will not be addressed at the meeting because it is not on the agenda, but the matter is expected to be discussed at an up-coming session.
The heart of the Oakland Unified School District's policy calls for teachers to recognize that many of their African American students come to school speaking ebonics or black English. The teachers are to be trained to help those students decode or translate those speech patterns into the standard English needed to succeed at school and at work.
The policy also recognizes ebonics as a separate language -- not as a dialect or slang -- to be treated with respect, which has some people up in arms who believe students should be taught such speech is ``wrong.''
``I don't think it's the board's role to determine if it is a language or not. It's certainly a language pattern,'' said Rice.
School Board President Jean Quan said tonight's forum will give people a chance to discuss the policy further.
``I look at this as a chance for us to address the miscommunication that's been out there,'' she said.
Quan acknowledges that some of the miscommunication was created by the sloppy language in the resolution, which she passed, along with the other six board members.
One of the sentences causing most of the hoopla recognizes ebonics as ``genetically based and not a dialect of English.'' That is also one of the sentences Rice proposes the board change, along with a sentence that says students will be taught in ebonics and in English.
The former board said it did not mean either of those sentences in the way people read them. Children were not going to be taught ebonics, they said. The board also said it did not mean biology makes children speak ebonics. Board member Toni Cook, who proposed the resolution, said she meant genetics in the sense of ``has its origins in.''
Quan said an earlier draft of the resolution did not include the genetics statement and she did not notice its inclusion in the actual resolution she voted on late in the December meeting.
The board did not get to the resolution until after 11 p.m. -- following two hours of tributes to outgoing board members Tolbert and Sylvester Hodges. Tolbert was defeated by Rice in November, and Hodges chose not to seek re-election in order to make an unsuccessful bid for City Council. Hodges is being replaced by Jason Hodge, a student at the University of California at Berkeley, who was unavailable yesterday for comment on his views about the ebonics policy.
``The resolution did not go through our usual committee structure, where it would be read more carefully and the language cleaned up before it was brought to the full board,'' Quan said. ``That's one explanation for how the language got in.''
Quan said she plans to introduce a bylaws change that would mandate all resolutions go through a board committee for review before reaching the full board.
Cook wanted the ebonics resolution considered that night because it was the last regular meeting of the year for her colleague Hodges, who had served more than a decade on the School Board.
Board members said Cook wanted Hodges, a fellow African American, to be a part of the vote on the historic policy. However, the votes of outgoing board members Tolbert and Hodges were not needed to pass the resolution because there was still a majority in favor of it without them. The change in board members Monday also changed the racial makeup of the panel. The board no longer has a black voting majority in a district where 53 percent of its students are African American. The new board consists of two whites, Rice and board Vice President Robert Spencer; three blacks, Cook, Lucella Harrison and new board member Hodge; a Latino, Noel Gallo; and an Asian American, Quan.
San Francisco Chronicle January 11, 1997
TEACHER'S UNION TO ADDRESS EBONICS
STRIKE LEADER SKEPTICAL OF OAKLAND PLAN
Lori Olszewski, Chronicle East Bay Bureau
A union leader in last year's Oakland teacher strike said he will ask his fellow teachers on Monday to petition the school board to change the language in its ebonics policy that spurred a national uproar.
Ben Visnick, the former president of the Oakland teachers union, the 3,500-member Oakland Education Association, said yesterday that he plans to bring the matter to the union's 100-member representative council when it meets on Monday.
Fearful that entering the language fight could polarize the city and the teachers along racial lines, other union leaders are calling for a more conciliatory approach with the school board. Most of Oakland's teachers are white while most of its students are black.
``I think the union has been handling this like a hot potato because they are afraid of the race baiting that went on during the teacher strike,'' said Visnick, who is white and who teaches world history at Oakland High.
Mike Bradley, the teacher who defeated Visnick for for the union presidency, said union reps already are scheduled to discuss a response to the ebonics resolution Monday.
``I think the union has to take a position, but I have a different idea of democracy than Ben has,'' Bradley said. ``We have a large group from the union who has been working on this, and I want our members to hash it out among themselves.''
Visnick is calling for changes in the section of the board resolution passed December 18 that says genetics is a reason some African American students speak in ebonics. He also wants to delete the language that says teachers will instruct students in ebonics, which the board said will not happen. His voice is joining a growing movement in Oakland, led by new school board member Kenneth Rice, who also want those sections of the resolution changed.
Like most of those lobbying for the changes, Visnick also said he supports the school board's intent -- to help failing African American students to learn to speak standard English.
``But we can't let a written resolution stand that contradicts what the board claims it meant to say,'' Visnick said. ``We wouldn't accept such an explanation from a student if he or she turned in an unclear written essay.''
Union First Vice President Luella Harris said she thinks it is more effective for union leaders to work one-on-one with the school board. Harris and others see Visnick's plan as grandstanding. ``I think the worst thing that can happen is if we let this become a race issue and we lose sight of the fact that we all want to do what is best for children,'' said Harris, an African American teacher in Oakland for the last 25 years.
San Francisco Chronicle January 12, 1997
UNFAMILIAR CADENCES FROM A FAMILIAR VOICE
Miles from the college campus where they met, the door
to her friend's home opened on an unexpected world
``Turn here,'' my friend Anne said, pointing to a white dusty road on our left.
My car jostled over the bumps and pits, past small square houses balanced on concrete blocks. The rains flood the road in the summer, Anne explained, and the water will wash right through the front door if you build on the ground. Bony old men sat on front steps and lawn chairs, reaching out now and then to tickle the toddlers in disposable diapers waddling around them like orbiting moons.
Anne was my roommate at the University of Florida, the only black student on our dormitory floor. She was a sophomore majoring in engineering. I was dropping her off in Jacksonville for spring break before heading down to south Florida to see my family.
``Here,'' she said. I could see the figure of a woman behind the screen door, which flew open when my car turned into the dirt driveway. I heard the woman holler excitedly into the house.
``Oh God,'' Anne groaned, but she was smiling.
The woman, Anne's mother, bounded down the steps and took Anne in her arms. ``Mom, mom, mom,'' Anne said. She embarrassed easily. Anne had been reluctant at first to accept my offer of a ride. She usually took the bus, or her older brother drove in to pick her up. But I wanted to meet her family. I felt I already knew them from Anne's stories and descriptions: how her mother cleaned rooms in a Jacksonville hotel, her brother worked construction and had two children, her sister sewed wedding dresses for all the brides at church.
Anne had been the great student, the only child in the family to go to college. She had pieced together an elaborate patchwork of grants and scholarships to pay for it, though every month in the mail she'd open an envelope from home and $50 or $60 fell out. ``I wish she wouldn't do this,'' Anne always said.
Anne introduced me to her mother and sister, and I followed them inside to the living room. They began talking, seemingly all at once. I barely recognized Anne's voice. The quiet student at the dorm was speaking with an animation and loudness I had never heard from her before. I listened, fascinated by the sudden transformation.
It took me a few minutes to realize I had no idea what they were talking about. They spoke a language I didn't know. I recognized words here and there, but I could no more tell you the content of their conversation than I could the dialogue in a French movie. I could see the delight on Anne's face as she spoke and listened. She was a different person here.
I wondered, as I sat in ignorance on Anne's couch, how she balanced her two lives, here and at college. I wondered if her reluctance to accept a ride was a reluctance to show me this life, to let me hear the way she and her family spoke.
I thought of Anne when Oakland school officials classified ``ebonics'' as a distinct language, sparking heated debates across the country. Some interpreted the move as a lowering of standards and expectations for black children. Two weeks after ebonics landed in the news, a group called Education Trust found that minority students, primarily black students, were slipping farther behind whites in educational achievement, based on national test scores. Obvious question: Why aren't minority students achieving?
Oakland decided language was at least part of the answer. Education, at its most basic, is about communicating knowledge and ideas from one person to another. Communication requires a common language. Logic dictates that children brought up speaking differently at home and in their neighborhoods would have a more difficult time writing and reading standard English than those who speak standard English at home.
It also seems logical that the teacher who understands the student's ``home'' language is more likely to unravel problems in the student's grasp of standard reading and writing than a teacher with no understanding of the home language. This doesn't mean the teacher is endorsing the home language, but she is not dismissing or demeaning it, either. I wouldn't want black children to be ashamed of how they speak at home any more than I'd want my Bronx-reared parents to be ashamed of saying ``tro'' instead of throw and ``Jints'' instead of Giants and adding r's to end of words (such as grandmar) and turning oil into ``erl.'' Like Anne, I love listening to my parents and relatives talk, though I didn't speak that way myself in school.
Americans ought to understand better than most the split personality of bilingualism. Our immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents learned early on there was a language for home and a language for school and business. Bilingual children live two lives, as my friend Anne did. What Oakland seems to be doing is recognizing and reconciling those lives in order to raise the students' mastery of standard English.
The ebonics debate should not be over whether ``black English'' is or isn't a separate language. The debate should center on one question: Does understanding ebonics help the teachers to teach more effectively and the students to learn more effectively? If the answer turns out to be yes, nothing else matters.
Doing what it takes to communicate
By Ellen Warren and Janita Poe CHICAGO TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS Web-posted: Tuesday, January 14, 1997
Every day, the kids in teacher Judy Murphy's classroom spend a little time talking about current events, the news stories that are the buzz on TV and in the school hallways.
It might be the Bulls, the snow or--one day recently--the blazing controversy over black English.
"Let's pretend you're on the playground," said Murphy, and a room full of 3rd graders blast their hands in the air to volunteer.
Two girls in the second row shyly came up front to chatter:
"Wahchu doin'?" asked one.
"I go wif you," the other said.
As the national debate over black English, or Ebonics, continues, the use of such "home talk" has long been a fact of life at Young Elementary School on the West Side and other classrooms across the city.
The Oakland school system's proposal to identify such street vernacular as a separate language has been presented as a new and radical notion. Yet in Chicago, using black English as a part of classroom instruction is history: More than two decades ago, the idea was experimented with, debated and rejected.
But that doesn't mean black English is a dead issue. Many schoolchildren are aware that they speak differently at home, but at Young School, there's little evidence that they have trouble shifting between the two.
And even in the handful of classrooms where a more relaxed view of black English is unofficially tolerated, teaching seems almost mainstream compared with what Oakland envisions.
Teachers in Chicago schools are careful not to put down African-American children for their black English--also known as home English, street slang or ghettoese. But students are firmly taught that there is a "standard English" and that they must learn to speak, read and write it if they are to prosper in the world outside the playground, the neighborhood and their families.
"When you're outside with your friends, your words are relaxed. In the classroom, Ms. Murphy wants to hear the correct way," she tells them.
"Standard English is the language of the land, so we must learn it," said Murphy who, like her pupils, is black and grew up in a home where black English was spoken.
When a girl in glasses and ponytails told Murphy, "I ain't got no book," Murphy shot back, "Excuuuse me?"
"I don't have any book," the 8-year-old corrects herself. She knows exactly where she misspoke and how to put it in standard English.
For Chicago public schools, the official solution to the Ebonics question, unlike the controversial proposal in Oakland, is to use only standard English in the classroom.
Using Ebonics in the classroom "is not even a consideration for the Chicago public schools. . . . We are not reopening this issue. . . . We're not considering it," declared Blondean Davis, deputy chief education officer for the public schools, who said the school system officially abandoned black English in the classroom in the mid-1970s.
"Legitimizing those differences (between standard and black English) and incorporating them in the curriculum . . . is just something that is going to be disruptive in the long run," said Paul Vallas, chief executive officer of the school system. "By not correcting (black English), you begin to legitimize. It just slows down their learning, and we should not be throwing more roadblocks into the advancement of children."
This is not to say that you will not hear Ebonics each day in classrooms in black neighborhoods, especially in the poorer sections of the city where children are seldom exposed to standard English before they enter school.
But teachers in Chicago such as Murphy and others make it clear that home talk is not the way to pass a school test, get a job or get into college.
It would be impractical, impossible and undesirable for teachers to stop kids and correct them every time they use black English, Chicago teachers say.
"You can't stop every minute. You come in naturally, correcting as we go," said Murphy, an effervescent teacher, the fifth of 16 children, the first high school graduate in the family and the only one to graduate from college.
Ebonics is characterized by dropping letters off words such as "pu" for "put" and use of the habitual "be" ("I be hungry"). Also, using the "f" sound instead of "th" ("birfday" for "birthday") and "sk" sometimes becomes "x" ("ax" instead of "ask").
"If one of my kids says, `I be hungry,' I'd ask the help of the other children," said Boggs, describing her teaching method. "When they get it from a peer, it means so much more."
There is, of course, another point of view. Oakland school board members now contend (and they hastily hired a public-relations person to make the case) that they were misunderstood when a week before Christmas they passed a resolution that reverberated across the country.
The resolution called Ebonics a "genetically based" separate language that is derived from "West and Niger-Congo African languages." The Oakland resolution said that children should be taught in black English to maintain "the legitimacy and richness of Ebonics" as well as to help them learn standard English.
Some board members said that by identifying Ebonics as a separate language, the hope was to secure federal bilingual education funds.
Oakland school officials backed off the federal money gambit, and the Clinton administration promptly weighed in by saying that black English is not a distinct language and not eligible for bilingual-education money.
On Monday in Chicago, a five-member panel of African-American activists and educators blasted Chicago schooL officials for refusing to endorse use of black English in the classroom as a teaching tool and affirmed its support for the Oakland proposal.
"This is cultural and educational genocide," said Conrad Worrill, chairman of the National Black United Front and an educator at the Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University.
In many cities, including Chicago, more moderate versions of the Oakland approach have been under way since the '60s.
At three Chicago schools, Willi- ams and Fuller on the South Side and Suder on the West Side, teachers from kindergarten through 3rd grade are using the Cultural Linguistics Approach, a program developed by Chicago educators in 1968--five years before the word Ebonics was coined.
At Williams School, in the Dearborn Homes public-housing community, John Taylor told his classmates why he thinks monkeys are smarter than crocodiles.
"The monkey, like, be in the tree. He real smart and stuff," Taylor said. "He can watch the crocodile and outsmart him."
Unlike teachers at most Chicago public schools, John's teacher, Lori Matthews, does not correct him. One of the public school system's handful of CLA teachers, Matthews believes children should bring their culture and home language to class.
She always uses standard English, but she incorporates a compelling black accent more commonplace in social gatherings than in the traditional classroom.
"They understand me better when I talk like that," Matthews said. "I want them to relate to me. I don't want them to think that I am so different."
Teachers at the traditionalist Young School and others that follow the official board policy would argue that correcting children does not inhibit them. Rather, they say, it prepares them for life in the real world.
In the playground at Young School after classes let out, the children seemed to agree. Laughing and joking together, 8th graders Crystal Edwards and Lakebra Gardley and 6th graders Alexia Patton and Enchelle Jones said it's simply natural to move from black to standard English.
"We may talk street language, but we talk standard English in the classroom," said Crystal just as a tall, skinny boy strolled by and overheard her.
Affecting an almost Shakespearean tone, the boy declared, "We don't use improper English."