Tuesday, July 17, 2018

It's In The Way You Say It

Sorry To Bother You will make you think of a lot of things. It will make you think about more. If you have not seen Boots Riley's film, I invite you to take a walk on the Oaktown side and check it out. It may shock, surprise, sadden, enthrall you, but I don't expect that it will simply slide on by.
Here is what I thought about, in part, after I came home from a lunchtime showing: I became a teacher in Oakland just a few months after the Oakland school board passed a resolution recognizing the legitimacy of Ebonics, or African American English. As part of my intern credentialing program, I was given some very basic tools for teaching reading, ,writing, math and classroom management before being turned loose in a classroom in urban Oakland. I was never instructed in the delicacies or intricacies of Ebonics. All I knew was that it was legitimate.
Like many white teachers who found themselves in an urban Oakland classroom at that time, I found myself as intrigued by learning this dialect as I was in teaching "proper English." It was a fifth grade teacher, who was also new but not white, that suggested that in his class he would be teaching "money English." This was the kind of English that would get you a job. The kind of English that would get you money. He didn't discourage Ebonics between students, but he made certain that all academic discussions in his classroom took place in that distinct mode.
I felt a little challenged by this, since I was still recognizing my own struggle to acclimate to my new setting, and I was as pleased as anyone to have students respond to me in any way. I endeavored to model that version of English that could be found in the textbooks that we set in front of kids, and in the standardized tests that we administered to them in hopes that they could decode and interpret what sat on their desk. Somewhere in there, as the years passed, it became clear that I would also have to help bridge that gap by talking the talk. The talk that I could hear going on around me every day.
Not very much, since I am painfully white. I wouldn't try to mirror the speech or vocabulary used by the kids at my school. I will sometimes pick out a word or phrase, just to send a message: I am listening. Like the Spanish that I hear but rarely speak, I understand plenty but become confused when it comes time to enter into conversation, Ebonics is not my native tongue. I don't expect that students of mine will leave my room "sounding white," but I hope they are ready for a world that will hear them speak their minds. They are, we are told, terrible things to waste. No matter how you say it.

1 comment:

Krs10 said...

We don't say Ebonics anymore. That early attempt to create equity was perceived as racist by the powers that be. We now call it AVE, African Vernacular English, which is actually a language, not a dialect, with tenses standard English doesn't have that are rooted in Old English.