Tuesday, August 09, 2005

EBONICS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Perhaps in response to Bill Cosby’s humorous critique of "Who you are? What you be?" linguistic deformations, a Cal State sociologist has convinced the education pooh-bahs in San Bernardino of the need to incorporate substandard English into the curriculum of that school district--at least on a limited basis.

Dr. Cosby, you may recall, had the temerity, the effrontery, da u-da-man moxie to declare that kids who speak like untutored street urchins are as unlikely to impress potential employers as baggy-pant adolescents who show up for interviews flashing four inches of underwear and sporting a backward-facing baseball cap. For this shameless violation of political correctness Cosby was excoriated by sensitivity monitors in the press and tarred with convenient accusations of moral impropriety--concerns that are never raised by MSM talking heads when Jesse Jackson pontificates about matters of race and culture.

Now the empire is striking back. The "we no Tomz" academic establishment --whose record of negative accomplishment rivals that of Democrat consultant and John Kerry campaign advisor Bob Shrum--is pushing not only the risible notion that Ebonics is a distinct language but also that the issue is a foregone scholarly conclusion.

Consequently, ideas that worked poorly with an honest-to-goodness language (Spanish) are now being shoehorned into a curriculum on behalf of speech patterns that reign supreme ("be top dog") in the world of rap. The rationale for this educational absurdity is that speaking in Ebonics will keep kids who are currently dropping out in large numbers more interested in school.

More likely what will happen is that marginal students will think they’re OK just as they are--since the desperate language of pop-culture will be accorded special recognition. Indeed, if Ebonics is a real language, why should members of this distinctive linguistic community learn to talk like "whitey"? As Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. has observed, the idea that educational accomplishment means selling out to "da man" already permeates black culture. Ebonics-based education only strengthens that notion by linking identify politics to poor speech. In this way anger, sloth, and racial pride are combined in a witches brew almost guaranteed to produce failure.

Needless to say, none of the sociologists or school board members got to where they are by using the language they seek to legitimize. Nor would these persons think twice about exiting a doctor’s office where the fellow with the stethoscope spoke in the cockneyesque dialect of the street (’aws ye bum, guv’nr!). Of course, no one has to make that decision because professional accomplishment requires serious dedication--a quality not exhibited by those of whatever race who cling to sloppy grammar and poor diction like a security blanket.

In many ways Ebonics advocates resemble jar-of-urine-as-work-of-art exhibitionists. Both fancy themselves part of a special group that is more creative, sensitive, and thoughtful than ordinary folks. Unfortunately, kids victimized by this avant garde educational project will lose out in a much bigger way than suckers who cede their aesthetic sensibilities to a few con-artists.

As Thomas Sowell’s book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, observes, these black pupils will be encouraged to identify more completely with a violent "cracker" culture that has nothing to do with racial identity and that undercuts their own success. They’ll certainly be worse off than Spanish-speaking students whose native tongue wasn’t invented by an academic in search of a tenured post.

Put succinctly, these children will be kept on the plantation--a plantation that benefits various shades of elites who constantly churn out bad ideas for which they themselves never pay a price: whole language, self-esteem curricula, culturally sensitive math, and now Ebonics.

2 comments:

Dr. Luke Van Tessel said...

I think Ebonics may be looked upon as a valid American vernacular, almost tantamount to the flattened "A" of Wisconsin, the "y'all" of the South, the "you'ins" of Central Pennsylvania, and the omitted "to be" of many parts of the Middle West, where the grass "needs mowed." It's enlightening to know that, "He be a soldier," is Ebonics for the standard American English imperfect tense, "He used to be a soldier," while the omission of "be" is present tense (i.e., "He a soldier." = "He is a soldier."), this manner of speaking should no more be taught or encouraged than any of the other ubiquitous deviations of dialect found within the lower 48. You wanna make it in the U.S. of A.? Speak at least as well as the President. Holla back.

RKirk said...

Thomas Sowell's book, BLACK REDNECKS AND WHITE LIBERALS, not only discusses the cultural origins of this low-class dialect, he also has an extended essay on black education in America that dovetails nicely with his remarks about the "redneck" culture that "Ebonics" education ironically perpetuates.