Jackson, Oakland school board discuss EbonicsDecember 30, 1996
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EST
OAKLAND, California (CNN) -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson tried to mend fences Monday with the Oakland school board, which stirred national debate by proposing to incorporate so-called "Ebonics," or African-American diction, into the classroom.
Jackson, who initially criticized this month's school board decision as "an unacceptable surrender, bordering on disgrace," emerged from a meeting with board members with more positive words.
"The intent is to teach these children standard American, competitive English, because if they cannot read they cannot reason," Jackson said.
Jackson said he considered Ebonics a "language pattern," rather than a distinct language, adding that Oakland's intention was "not to elevate the pattern to a language."
"They're looking for tools to teach children standard English so they might be competitive," Jackson said.
The board's controversial resolution not only recognized black English as a distinct language but also called for public money for bilingual education.
"They're really asking for some resources," Jackson said. "Just as you go from Spanish to English, go from improper grammar to English."
Oakland school officials welcomed Jackson's supportive statement Monday. The district said it would not teach Ebonics in place of standard English, and would not try to classify Ebonics-speaking students as bilingual in order to obtain federal funds.
The Clinton administration had criticized Oakland's proposal, saying it would refuse to grant special funding.
At least some teachers want more clarity on the use of Ebonics, which comes from the words ebony and phonics, in the classroom.
"All the attention has been focused on the sections that say ... 'instruction will be imparted in the primary language,' that's where the confusion has come," said teacher Patricia Jensen.
"If that had been amended, or clearly written, I think this would die down."
The district contends black English is the primary language of many of its black students. By recognizing Ebonics, Oakland officials said they hoped to improve the way black students are taught to read and write standard English.
An estimated 53 percent of Oakland's nearly 52,000 students are black, and district officials say they have the lowest grade point averages in the district.
Correspondent Don Knapp and Reuters contributed to this report.
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