Ebonics spoken here, despite the controversy

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Posted on the wall of Carrie Secret’s classroom, handwritten cards in careful cursive strokes list the primary language of her black fifth-graders as “Ebonics.”
Over in a corner bookshelf, a stack of much-handled dictionaries tells another part of the story: English is spoken here.
The classroom artifacts sum up the state of ebonics in Oakland a month after the school board’s decision to recognize black English as a separate language.
On one hand is the concept of ebonics as mother tongue — blasted by critics as dumbing-down education, praised by supporters as an innovative attempt to reach floundering students.
On the other is the reality of what is going on in schools — English lessons.
“My objective is not to erase ebonics from their repertoire. It is only to prepare them and give them English as a tool,” Secret says. “They must be able to manipulate English in the broader society. That’s really my mission.”
Moments later, Secret practices what she’s been preaching.
When one of her students, eager for recess, calls out a plaintive, “We don’t got lunch?” she shoots back, “Excuse me? L-2.” That’s shorthand for Language Two — standard English.
Secret has been teaching her flock of about two dozen since they were first-graders, part of a relatively small state Standard English Program. Most of her students are black, though she does have some Cambodians and Hispanics.
Under Oakland’s new policy, the goals of SEP would be expanded district-wide, with all teachers trained in the art of recognizing and translating black English — perhaps as early as this fall.
Critics say that makes about as much sense as asking teachers to respect and understand why some students add up two and two and get five.
“Why do we African-Americans need to lower our standards to speaking ebonics on a regular basis?” high school student Elisha Nah’shon Spikes wrote in a letter to The Oakland Tribune. “It’s dissing (disrespecting) all of Oakland’s youth who speak ebonics or slang because it’s saying, ‘Go ahead, lower yourself to a lower language that will make you lower than the so-called upper class who don’t have to learn it.'”
Last Wednesday, the board tried to muffle some of the sound and fury set off by their original resolution by passing revisions that, for one thing, dropped all suggestion that black English is genetically based.
But the resolution still declares that ebonics is “not merely” a dialect of English.
The changes mollified some critics, like the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
But black linguist John McWhorter said the revisions don’t go far enough.
“Any characterization of black English as a separate language for me is just pseudo-intellectual, racially divisive … idiocy,” said McWhorter, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of California-Berkeley.