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Ebonics taught as 'home speech' in Georgia school

class January 17, 1997
Web posted at: 11:40 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Brian Cabell

DEKALB COUNTY, Georgia (CNN) -- While Ebonics rages as a hot topic in the spotlight of American media, so called Black English has played a quiet role in an Atlanta area school district for more than a decade.

About 600 students in the Dekalb County School District just east of Atlanta are taking a course known as "bi-dialectal communication."

Here, Ebonics is considered not a language, but a dialect. Specifically, it's called "home speech," and it's not considered appropriate for the classroom.


The course focuses on more than just the non-standard English of Ebonics. The students learn they must project, enunciate and gesture properly to communicate.

Part of the class involves critiquing a videotaped actor violating several rules of effective communication.

This is the 11th year of the federally funded bi-dialectal program. Administrators cite rising test scores in language arts and reading as evidence that it works.

Parents also seem to approve: "If I had something like this when I was growing up, I probably would have went further," said parent Jannita Hightower.

Added Gregory Maxwell: "If you want someone that's going to go places, you want to be able to talk right."

Teachers agree. Ebonics, while a legitimate form of speech at home, will likely hinder children at school and eventually their careers.

"We have a responsibility to tell them that, and I think to tell them anything beyond that may be setting them up for an unrealistic view of our society," said Kelli Harris-Wright, bi-dialectal program director.

Teachers say sometimes their students take pride in going home and correcting the grammar of their parents.


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