Board tones down Ebonics policy

UNITED STATES. A month after school board members in Oakland, California, decided to recognise black English, or Ebonics, as a second language, thereby sparking a national uproar, officials have tried to "clarify" the policy.

Some language specialists have backed the board since it adopted a policy last December for teachers to instruct black pupils in both their primary language and English.

Black English, with its unique use of the word to be and some 50 other distinguishing characteristics, was indeed more than a dialect, they said.

But at a board meeting where one speaker claimed Oakland had become the laughing stock of the nation, members rewrote their policy with softer language that only promises to develop teaching programmes that respect the legitimacy and richness of black English. And they removed the controversial wording that described African language systems as genetically based.

The board has faced a storm of criticism over the New Year holiday from conservatives who claimed their decision was political correctness run amok, and from liberals and influential black figures such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who feared that black students were being short-changed and encouraged to stick to a language that was useless in the job market.

Oakland hired a public relations consultant and set up a World Wide Web site to answer the angry voices.

African-American students make up 53 per cent of Oakland's 52,000 students. The new policy reflected the board's struggle to improve the lagging scores of black pupils, and possibly an attempt to get second-language teaching funds that are available to their Hispanic and Asian-American classmates.

The US Department of Education, however, has dealt another blow to the board by ruling out any central government grants for black English.

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