Black dialect shortchanges students

It’s not enough to maintain that non-standard English hinders opportunities for young people in the workplace.  It also is a handicap in the judicial system (“Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences,” The New York Times, Jan. 27).

Researchers found that even certified court reporters regularly made errors in transcribing sentences spoken in what linguists term African-American English.  On average, they did so in two out of every five sentences.  Such errors have serious consequences by confusing jurors about what defendants say.  It’s not just white court reporters who blunder but black court reporters as well.

The results of the study have widespread implications for public schools, where not that many years ago Ebonics was being considered.  Because blacks are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, their very freedom from prison hangs in the balance.

When busing began at the high school where I taught for 28 years, I had trouble understanding what many students were saying.  But trying to point out the need to speak standard English was frowned on by the district as being insensitive.

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4 Replies to “Black dialect shortchanges students”

  1. Seems obvious — to me at least — that schools should emphasize/require standard English in all classes (except foreign language classes). Anything else sets the students up for failure in life + interferes with fellow students’ understanding of what is going on in class. Schools should probably also at least encourage students who are speaking with significant foreign or even regional accents to modify their speech to comport with easily-understood English.


  2. Labor Lawyer: I agree. Yet I remember when Ebonics was being considered as a language to be taught. Standard English is the key to success in the workplace, but it is being undermined by claims that it disrespects the culture of others.


  3. In recent years, I’ve moved from thinking of myself as a “liberal” towards thinking of myself as a “realist” — meaning that, in analyzing political or “moral” issues, I try to determine what approach works best rather than what approach makes my gut or psyche feel best. As with the Black-Lives-Matter movement, rather than focus only on the horrible consequences of an innocent black man being killed, I also consider each shooting situation from the perspective of the involved police officer as well as the possible consequences to society at large — and particularly to residents in high-crime areas — if the prospect of criminal prosecution for unwarranted albeit good-faith shootings deters police officers from responding quickly and forcefully to what appears to be criminal activity.


  4. Labor Lawyer: I’m not an ideologue. I always try to see both sides of an issue and be realistic about a solution. Unfortunately, whenever race is involved, this is impossible. You see this often in education.


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