chapter  7
24 Pages

Ebonics and the Struggle for Cultural Voice in U. S. Schools

WithIRA KINCADE BLAKE

The use of language to dis-invite African American children from full participation in the educational process is illustrated in the above scenario on several levels. The most obvious level excludes Mica’s friends from sharing in the genuine teaching/learning opportunities that occur in their classroom. A more subtle level presses Mica either to accentuate or to lessen the linguistic differences between her own speaking and that of her friends. The latter would likely jeopardize Mica’s invitations to participate in the classroom in the future. The former might harm her affiliation with her friends. Although Mica did not report any tensions with her friends, the eventuality of such tensions is palpable and captured in labels such as “Oreo,” which is ascribed to persons seen as possessing more mainstream than African American traits. While this text focuses on the challenges of teaching African American high school students, this chapter intentionally begins with childhood. The reader must keep in mind that children enter formal education excited and fully equipped to use their home language as a tool for mastering the activities there. From the beginning, the treatment of their home language influences their perceptions of themselves as good or bad learners, particularly in formal schooling contexts. Over a period of thirteen years, if they remain in school,

classroom to realize more of their human potential. In terms of their home language, teachers often understand little about and provide little practical insight into its distinctiveness and similarity to the version of American English favored in schools. What is really at issue is whether the home language of African American children has any place in school, and if so, should it be leveraged in school learning?