Ebonics: A Bridge to Learning or the Ghettoization of Education?

December 24, 1996

Last week, the Oakland, CA board of education passed a resolution recognizing Ebonics as a second language. Carol Tolbert, a trustee with the board, explains the goal is to change the generally held perception toward African American students with limited Standard English skills as deficient. Instead, new programs are intended to enable teachers to help students distinguish between and transition from home language to Standard English. John Rickford, Stanford University linguist and author of a book on Ebonics, cites studies that show the longer African American kids stay in school the more they fall behind in reading and writing skills, using traditional English teaching methods. Conversely, he also cites a study that has shown a contrast analysis approach to studying Standard English and Ebonics improved reading and writing skills dramatically. He suggests critics of the program, who refer to Ebonics as inner-city slang, are uninformed about the linguistic properties of Ebonics. Rickford thus fully supports the Oakland initiative because, he claims, recognizing and analyzing Ebonics as a language in its own right, is crucial in helping students transition to Standard English.

Keywords: Ebonics, Education, Race

Guest Names: John Rickford, Carol Tolbert