Mumia, Ebonics & Pedagogy

Harvey Wheeler (
Thu, 16 Jan 97 18:32:58 UT


Subject: Ebonics

I agree with Mumia. The Ebonics issue is politics rather than pedagogy.

There have been many anthropological and linguistic studies of street and Black English. I do not know of any on Ebonics as such. It would be a great service if you could find and distribute texts about the language.

The C-MODE System was developed to deal with language problems like those at issue in Oakland.

Working with the Chair of a high school English Department C-MODE developed a computer-mediated pedagogy for dealing with two language arts problems:

1. Pseudo-Literacy: Students of all backgrounds arrive at school with impaired literacy. There are many causes and I have a document on "PseudoLiteracy" that explains our diagnosis and treatment in the C-MODE System. Such students may have large oral vocabularies and their spoken grammar may seem to be recognizable English but their literacy, literature and compositional foundations are gravely deficient.

2. Non-Literacy. Students of several linguistic backgrounds arrive at school as non-literates. They may have fine brains and good minds and sometimes though not often may have memorized hundreds of tunes. But their acculturate has been through oral, not optical media. This is not an ESL problem as such. An ESL student is assumed to have some literacy - even though impaired, as above - in a natal language. Not so with non-literates. They are not literate in their natal languages. In our region this is true primarily of Latinos; less so of inner city Afro-Americans and Asian-Americans.

The C-MODE System developed separate, though related pedagogies for each. The systen was compulsory during one year, as part of the regular English requirement, for all entering 9th graders. Both programs were sucessful during the trial year.

Our approach to non-literates was essentially to adapt a simplified version of the literation approach of Plato, using the (then) recently introduced quill and scroll. Plato introduced literacy education in the First Academy, following death of Socrates. The First Academy (named after an athletic facility) amounted to the invention of Greek formal education. Remember though that Plato's students were already fluent in classical Greek, even in rhetoric, and had memorized the classics of Homer and Hesiod.

Peter Fairweather (of IBM) and Richard Mammen of Change Inc.- Minneapolis - observed and can provide assessments of the C-MODE approach.

Ours was a computer-mediated approach and involved the students in six reiterative stages, employing four separate kinds of computer programs. The students literally constructed the English language for themselves.

Had we been able to continue we would have incorporated into our computer-mediated approach the model of Basic English (developed by Ogden and Richards during World War II for non-literates - the then famous "English Through Pictures" series.

Ebonics could be used creatively. Classes could record Ebonics speech patterns and use them to compile dictionaries and grammars. Folk and street tales could be recorded and transliterated. Students could write beginning English exercises by translating their Ebonics speech-ways into English words. Plays and skits could be written and performed in Ebonics. There are many ingenious ways Ebonics could be used to teach English.


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