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"I 'on Know Why They Be Trippin'"

By Theresa Perry

With few exceptions, mainstream media2 presented the Oakland resolution as a decision by the school board to abandon the teaching of Standard English and in its stead to teach Black Language/Ebonics. Not only was this not the intent of the resolution, this is not what was contained in the original resolution. Whether in response to the Oakland resolution and/or the media's misrepresentation of the resolution, with little or no awareness of their orchestrated movements, editorial writers, columnists, pundits, talk show hosts, educational leaders and spokespeople for the race (for Black people) formed a coalition of individuals who together took aim at the Oakland resolution. Black and white, members of the religious right, liberal Democrats, neoconservatives, staunch conservatives, left liberals, and the privileged -- such was the reach of this unintentional coalition of individuals that, in the weeks and months after the passage of the Oakland resolution, vigorously registered their opposition to it.

The right-wing talk show hosts had a field day. The Internet hummed. Called lunatics, Afrocentrists, accused of giving up on Black kids, and of legitimizing slang -- these were just some of the invectives hurled at the members of the Oakland School Board. What was so disorienting for some African Americans, regardless of how they understood the board's resolution or their position on it, was this strange configuration of folks who were attacking African-American educators and community activists who obviously care deeply about the welfare of African-American children. How is it that long-time civil rights organizations and activists ended up on the same side of the barricade with their traditional and current adversaries? How did it happen that Jesse Jackson, Kwesi Mfume, and Maya Angelou joined with William Bennett, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, and Pete Wilson to take aim at the Oakland decision? Why did folks who love the language, use it exquisitely, and whose personal and political power is in no small measure tied to their use of Black Language, register ambivalence or outright rejection of the board's call for the recognition of the legitimacy of Black Language and its suggestion that it be used to help African-American children become fluent readers and writers?

It is, of course, easy to blame the media for the creation of these strange bedfellows.

The media deserve blame for their gross misrepresentation of the resolution and their failure to capture the resolution's essential elements. Even after the spokespeople for the Oakland School Board, the superintendent, and members of the school board had asserted over and over again that the school system was not abandoning the teaching of Standard English, TV news accounts continued to lead with this claim. Reporters continued to ask Black spokespeople what they thought about the Oakland decision to teach Ebonics. One had to search long and hard in the print media for the full text of the board's resolution. Instead, one found phrases, sentences taken out of context, and outright distortions of the original resolution.

 

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