Ebonics Plague Grips Entire World!!

I haven't really got a lot to say about the continuing Ebonics plague, except that it's much ado about nothing. That is, a lot is being made about very, very little.

I'm not a linguist or an educator. I don't speak Ebonics though I can code-switch OK (having had a teenager in the house all those years will do that for you). I'm no Jesse Jackson expert and I don't live in Oakland. There are a lot of reasons why I should shut up and say nothing.

Of course, that's not the American way!

What I do think is this: we live in a lazy age. Soundbites are the media rage and soundbites pass for analysis. And the last thing we want to be is bored, so we focus on symptoms. And the more outrageous the symptom, the happier we are. But if it involves tedious, monotonous, boring work, fagetaboutit! We're moving on. Tired of the subject. Later dude!

Add race to the equation and you've got a perfect media concoction. Who in America is not interested in race? Doesn't matter what your point of view, which side of the fence you're on, race can get your juices flowing.

And so it does.

Those who know me have no doubt heard the following quote time and time again:
For every complicated problem,
There is a simple solution --
And it's wrong!
-- H. L. Mencken

It's not that every simple solution is wrong. We just have a penchant for trying, for seizing on the simplest of solutions. Because it's easy. It doesn't require any work.

It's soundbite analysis. Instant gratification. And it doesn't work!

The flap over Ebonics strikes me as one of those simple solution-type deals. Since I've read more than one article pointing out that Ebonics-based programs haven't been evaluated yet, it seems clear to me this isn't something that should be seized upon by advocates. Sure, we've got to try something, and I'm not opposed to trying this. But, will it work? That's the ultimate test.

Having helped raise a child, I know it's hard work, even when you care, have the best of resources at your disposal, and give it your all. And despite your best efforts and your best intentions, it doesn't always work out. Which means, for me, there's a lot more involved in teaching the King's English than a program, any program.

It requires efforts by parents and family members. In fact, that's probably the area of principal importance right there: the family. And the work is basic, boring stuff like reading to children, helping with homework, turning the television off, etc. If that stuff got done, we probably wouldn't be needing Ebonics, right?

Which is not to say that the boring stuff is easy to do. It isn't. And folks who have to work two jobs to make ends meet will have a hard time doing the reading, etc. We know that schools, especially in minority communities are strapped for resources. And we know why that is. But the reality is, without some major efforts, that's not going to change. And even if it could change, I find it hard to believe that the school can make up for what are, rightly or wrongly, deficiencies at the parental or family level.

In any event, I'm sure the folks in Oakland understand all this, and it's clear that the use of Ebonics is one, relatively small (but controversial) aspect of a broader program aimed at teaching the kids.

I wonder about the American appetite for hard work and sacrifice. Either on behalf of our kids or each other. In the wake of the Oakland controversy, I heard a statistic that something like 40 percent of white fourth graders don't read at grade level. I think that was a national figure, although I'm not sure. For black and hispanic students the numbers were much worse. But think about it: something like half the nation's school children can't read at or above grade level. And the white kids can't read either!

A rising tide of mediocrity and failure. That seems like a major problem to me. And an opportunity. Maybe Clinton's volunteer reading program is on the right track. At least we can read to the kids, right? In any event, I'm hoping to read about evidence that the Ebonics approach works for kids. And, more importantly, I'm hoping to see a serious effort to turn the broader educational problems around. Maybe we can discuss that as long and with as much passion as we've discussed Ebonics.

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