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With the rap, hip-hop genre of music being the most popular, most profitable genre of music today, we are presented with an interesting paradox. This style of music has almost universal appeal among young Americans of all racial groups. In fact, young white Americans purchase the vast majority of musical products even though the most talented purveyors of the art form are African Americans. Most importantly, the linguistic style of the performance is decidedly non-standard English. This discussion will not be an attempt to approve or disapprove the lyrical content of the performance. I only point out the popularity and acceptance of a language style that some define as deficient.

The recent history of Ebonics burst onto the popular scene when the Oakland California school board recommended that Ebonics be acknowledged as a form of speech, not that it supplant standard English in the classroom. One of the accepted canons of teaching is the belief that all students are capable of learning. Of course a student must be prepared for a learning environment. He or she should be socialized in a way that they are capable of following instruction, that they are properly nourished and have proper rest in order to stay attuned to the teacher. And the teacher owes the student an obligation to create a learning environment feasible to optimizing comprehension and facility. A teacher must respect and understand what milieu the student is coming from. This includes a sensitivity for the student’s home environment, an understanding of the family dynamic, the parent’s educational attainment, etc. Once a baseline profile has been established, the teacher can begin to assist the student in building on what he or she has mastered at the point they enter this teacher’s learning environment. With the Oakland School Board controversy, many persons believed that the board was attempting to legitimize non-standard African-American English as a replacement for standard English. A few politicians as well as academicians believed the push for validation of Ebonics was a ploy designed to receive federal funding for a questionable second language. The Oakland school board made it clear that they were merely seeking to assist students whose home language was different for standard English. Their approach was an attempt to assist non-standard English speakers in understanding the context of the English they spoke at home and the English, which was spoken in school texts and in the workplace throughout America. Ebonics advocates were conscious not to shame non-standard English speakers but, on the contrary, to help them understand the appropriateness of certain styles of English speech depending on the environment. Instead of putting down a person for how they speak, a proper learning environment respects the student’s background all the while showing them how to "code shift " between various environment’s.

One constant complaint that many 20th and 21st century African-Americans have is the short shrift that is paid for our historical deprivation and legacy of slavery. There is also a dearth of recognition by the dominant society to the resilience and creativity of people of African descent in the Diaspora. When one closely examines the physical and psychological depravity of a system of chattel slavery specifically designed to enslave people of African descent for perpetuity, where reading and writing was forbidden by law, where the speaking of indigenous language was forbidden by threat of death, it’s short of miraculous we learned to speak at all. And not only have we learned to speak, but we are truly bilingual wordsmiths who have added much to the vernacular of the spoken word in this country from the time of our arrival. Words such as goober (from the West African word "goobah" for peanut), to a word as ubiquitous as "okay", Africans have contributed to the way English is spoken in this country. We also have a tradition of letters in the cannon of American literature as varied as Elizabethan poetess Phyllis Wheatley to the poetry of Langston Hugh’s character " Simple" , to Amiri Baraka to Tupac Shakur. In other words, we have always been bilingual and if there are educational methodologies existent today to aid speakers whose primary language is not standard English (including Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans), then it would be malfeasance on the part of educators not to make such resources available to the African-American students who could benefit from such a program.




Maddahian, Eb. and Ambition Sandamela.Affirmation Program 1998-1999

Evaluation Report ProgramEvaluation and Research Branch1. Los Angeles Unified School Dirtrict. 2000