Daily News-Record, Harrisonburg, VA, April 2, 2007
Administrators in this nation’s public schools, we feel certain, wonder why they, at times, come under fire from those whom they serve. This latest gem emanating from the Rochester, N.Y., school system should provide an inkling.
In a recent newsletter sent to teachers and staff, two district officials — Michele Hancock, chief of diversity and leadership, and Tyra Webb-Johnson, director of coaching and leadership — warmly approved of the use of Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) in Rochester’s classrooms. Among other things, the two women said, teachers should feel free to “translate common phrases in Standard English into BEV” and “read and retell stories in both BEV and Standard English.”
Their rationale for marginalizing Standard English is stunning. “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,” Ms. Webb-Johnson said.
So, expecting kids to use Standard English — once called the “King’s English” — is “degrading”? What’s “degrading,” in our mind, is the message conveyed by these alarming sentiments — namely, that African American students are unable, for some reason, to learn the communication skills needed to succeed in life’s marketplace.
What a disservice this is to children whose very future will — not may, but will — be determined by how well they are educated. Giving them a pass on the employment of good grammar is akin to handing them a ticket to permanent underclass status. Schools are supposed to be oases of enrichment, not wastelands of hopelessness.
My take is that our new superintendent perhaps meant well but failed to grasp the bigger picture. There's often a huge gap between being educated and being smart. Perhaps Ms. Hancock meant well but the road to failure has all too often been route directed by those who mean well. We have long decided that racial equality is the public policy of this great nation. It is insulting to suggest that standards somehow need to be lowered. To be fair, an unacceptable number of American young people of all races in college and the workforce lack basic linguistic and math skills. We ought to be raising the student to the standards, not lowering the standards. To do otherwise is a cynical insult to our youth.