In a newsletter to staff, Rochester City School District officials say it is OK for students and teachers to speak Ebonics in class.
The newsletter, Diversity Dialogue, suggests teachers use BEV to communicate with students. It says teachers can:
• “Switch into BEV in specific situations or informal discussion.”
• "Translate common phrases in Standard English into BEV.”
• “Read and retell stories in both BEV and Standard English.”
“We need to embrace the diversity they bring into our schools,” said the district’s Chief of Diversity and Leadership, Michele Hancock.
Hancock and Tyra Webb-Johnson, Director of Coaching and Leadership, wrote the newsletter. They are both former elementary school principals.
“We want (teachers) to have a better understanding of what BEV is so they can incorporate it into their teaching. That way, they're not alienating the students who are speaking the vernacular and degrading them,” Webb-Johnson said.
Ebonics was debated nationally in 1996 when the Oakland, California school district proposed using it in the curriculum.
Ebonics is defined as a speech pattern used by some African-Americans that does not follow standard grammar.
“No matter how you speak, you do need to learn the standard form so you can embrace the larger audience of people,” Hancock said. “But you can hold on to the richness of your family environment and not feel that is beneath any standard of living.”
Hancock says many people, including her own son, who graduated from college, know how to "code switch" between Standard English and Ebonics. She said students must learn to be proficient in Standard English.“Many African-Americans are bi-dialectic in their speech patterns. I think it's critical teachers understand those speech patterns so they can effectively, visually show children how they are speaking, but not to denigrate it, but to celebrate it,” Hancock said.
13WHAM News showed the newsletter to several black leaders in the community.
“Anybody who suggests that these kids will lose their identity because they cannot be, should not be encouraged to speak Ebonics is wrong,” said school board member Van White, who is pushing to create an African-American studies department in the district. “We are not African-Americans because of how we speak, but who we are as a people.”
“I understand there's a need for teachers and students to meet on some common plane, but I'm not sure expressing that as Ebonics as that plane is a way to go,” said City Councilman Adam McFadden.
“It's acceptable in hip hop culture, but I don't think anyone would suggest the way forward for students already coming to school with severe educational deficiencies is to maintain a deficient language pattern,” said former Mayor William Johnson.
Johnson and then-Police Chief Bob Duffy fired a white police officer for writing a memo called “Ghetto Lingo,” which claimed to translate English phrases into African-American vernacular.
Hancock and Webb-Johnson say many white teachers come to them for help communicating with students. The BEV suggestion is not a mandate, they said.
“It doesn't hurt the kids. What we're saying to the children is we value what you bring. You have value,” said Hancock."What if one of your teachers started speaking Ebonics to you tomorrow? I would think they were crazy!" said Jada Scott, an 8th grader.
"I just think that's outrageous. Ebonics, that's something that kids speak out in the street with their friends, it's not something to be encouraged in the classroom,” said Maxine Humphrey, a high school senior.
“I think it's not a good idea,” said senior Candice Scott. “If we learn to speak Ebonics and we get into the real world, I don't think it's going to be of any help to us."
"I don't think it's a very good idea. I think it's more important for the kids to reach up to the school standards, instead of the school coming down to the kid’s level,” said parent Melynda Scott.
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