Date: Tue, 07 Jan 1997 23:15:11 -0800
From: (Susan Ervin-Tripp) Subject: Forwarded comments on ebonics
Precedence: bulk

The following message is forwarded, with his permission, from the former Dean of Education at UC Berkeley:
>From: (Bernard R. Gifford)

>I believe there are two important issues this episode has raised.

>First, academics must be much more aware of the messages they convey to the general public through the press, especially in situations where it is possible to inflict serious damage on a desperate community already beset by serious problems. In this dispute over the merits of "Ebonics," I believe that many members of the press had their story in hand and were simply looking for faculty mouthpieces to give legitimacy to their predetermined views....

>Second, the Oakland Board of Education passed a poorly worded resolution, and for this maybe they need to be taken to the woodshed, especially by their friends and supporters. But the errors of the Board should not blind any of us to the true message and meaning of the Ebonics resolution, that being that children of African descent are in deep, deep trouble in a variety of educational areas, including the area of language instruction, learning and assessment. Moreover, the folly of the Board should not blind us to that fact that some of these troubles may be compounded by the way the larger society treats individuals who are speakers of non-prestige varieties of English, no matter how correct their grammar.

>I believe that the larger truth to be conveyed to the general public is that something is desperately wrong with the public educational system if teachers of non-English speaking students can obtain higher pay, teach smaller classes and secure the assistance of a paraprofessional assistant, proficient in the non-English speaking student's first language, while poor children of African descent are abandoned to classrooms that have too many students, where they are likely to be taught by poorly paid, overburdened and underprepared teachers, who in most instances cannot draw upon paraprofessional assistance of any sort.

>Resolving this disparity does not mean that we should cut back on the assistance we provide non-English speaking children. That would be dumb, unfair and run counter to the long-term interests of all of our children, as well as the long-term well-being of our nation. On the other hand, why not fight alongside the Oakland School Board to expand the same privileges now enjoyed by non-English speaking students to poor children of African descent? Why not speak truth to power, regarding the desperate conditions in the Oakland schools that lead the Board to take such a desperate measure? Why not use the privileged positions we occupy in the University to speak out about what we know all too well, that for poor children of African descent, the public schools as they are currently constituted are not working.

>The tragedy in this situation is that the Oakland School Board did something dumb, while attempting to improve the educational opportunities of their most needy students, and, unfortunately, in the hullabaloo over the poorly worded resolution of the Board, and in the learned critiques of academics, expounding from the safety and security afforded by tenure, the import of this tragedy has been lost.

>Bernie Gifford