By way of qualification, this is the start of an unfinished project--I hope to use it as the basis for a book I'm going to write.  If anyone reading it has any suggestions or comments, please forward them to

Spedonics: a systemic deficit theory
28 July 1999

As elementary and secondary school students progress through the grade levels, they are gradually exposed to material that requires greater demands of time and effort to complete. Due to this increase in complexity, students with learning disabilities that distract their attention or affect their faculties of processing or retention may not effectively absorb the material being presented. Nonetheless, these students must be educated, due to the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Public Law 94-142, which states that all students, regardless of disability or functioning level, are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Of the various cognitive learning disorders that have already been diagnosed and found to exist in certain students, few do not fall under the aegis of special educators required to develop individual education plans designed to assist the teacher in filling the deficits faced by the child. Because the solution to the perceived problem focuses on the academic advancement of the students through the teaching of cognitive strategies that enable them to maintain their grade level, the extracognitive learning impairments, or impairments in learning that are not based on intellectual inability and which may be perceived as deficiencies in the student’s ability to cognitively assess class work, may not be readily addressed.

Teachers of learning disabled students are not required in their programs to research the environment in which the child is raised beyond the examination of the child’s cumulative education file, which includes information regarding the disability dating only from the time of original diagnosis. According to Harold Dent, a procedure was devised by Jane Mercer in 1975 to determine true retardation based on the definition of mental retardation proposed by the American Association on Mental Deficiency, which stated that "an individual is mentally retarded only if both his intellectual functioning and his social functioning (social adaptability) are subnormal" (80), both of which can be determined through the study of a student’s native speech patterns. If extracognitive factors are included in the study of the child after diagnosis (and not in the study of the label, which is an easy way to perpetuate a misdiagnosis), then the focus is usually on adapting the learning environment at school (i.e. adjusting the hours of continuous study, varying assignments, and the like) and even paying some regard to the adaptations of the home environment (i.e. adjusting the quantity of homework, the study times, the supervision, and so forth). All of these pedagogical devices, however, are atmospheric, and they are implemented in an effort to deal with the predetermined diagnoses and not with their underlying linguistic causes. Little critical awareness, therefore, is focused within the arena of special education on the linguistic environment out of which the white student comes after the diagnosis is made, nor on whether the home language environment is what is having the deleterious influence on the white child’s academic performance. As it is usually the assumption that something is inherently lacking in the child who cannot perform to the expectations of the institution if his language abilities do not conform to the mainstream, efforts are made to fill the gaps.

In racial minority children, however, it is taken for granted the dialects of the inner city or of the non-native family unit are partly responsible for lack of proficiency, and it is believed that if the cultural deficit can be filled, then the student will be able to successfully achieve the standard norms of middle class white America. It is for this very reason that the majority of children from racial minority backgrounds are usually not immediately labeled as learning disabled when they exhibit deficiencies in their academic progress, but are instead merely remediated en masse. As it is easier to remediate than it is to find ways to enable the child to learn through the mainstream, we end up with two possible, though not exclusive, directions for minority children who cannot find normal placement due to the deficits in their language—remediation through cultural deficit theories and, if that does not work, labeling as disabled. Those who are diagnosed as disabled, therefore, are necessarily labeled through the gauze of that home language barrier, and the fact that the child may be the offspring of a learning disabled parent is examined more from the viewpoint of heredity than it is from linguistic socialization. In short, it is the assumption of hereditary disability that may keep educators unfamiliar with the language or dialect of the child’s family from drawing the conclusion that what is perceived as a disability is merely an exhibition of the excessive characteristics of the parent(s) which have imprinted upon the child as normal language or behavior. The labeling as learning disabled of minority children who come from households with learning disabled parents may, consequently, be premature based on the perceived differences between the linguistic home and school environments.


At its most fundamental levels, Black Americans do not speak the same as White Americans, as is evidenced by the countless numbers of sociolinguists who have given their attention to developing an understanding of both the deficits and the differences involved in the speech patterns between the races. To say that Blacks do not speak the same language as Whites, however, is a shocking assertion because of the assumption that English is English, regardless of the forms in which it is spoken. James Baldwin stated the reality of language and culture two decades ago when he wrote that "People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances or in order not to be submerged by a reality they cannot articulate" (16). This came of being subjected to learning a pidgin form of English and having to pass that form on to their children. While one can maintain a pidgin forever, and even eventually master the language itself, creolized forms of the pidgin seldom resemble their parent languages in every way possible. Blacks maintained their linguistic codes after being transported to the United States—they did not lose them. The assertion of Ernie Smith, a professor of medicine and clinical linguistics at the University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, who writes that "African-American speech is an African Language system—the linguistic continuation of Africa in Black America" (14) is not that far afield if taken in this light. Black English is, however, considered by some historical linguists, like John Baugh and J. L. Dillard, to be a dialect of standard English, wherein dialect is defined as having the greatest variance from the standard, and the standard is defined as having the least variance in the language (Baugh 1983). Centuries of slavery, followed by over a century of segregation, have taken their toll on the relations between Blacks and Whites in America, which the distance of thirty years, or one generation, since the Civil Rights Movement has not yet been able to effectively ameliorate. There has always been at least a partial segregation between the races, a boundary across which neither race has found acceptable to tread, and it is within this neutral territory that the gap between Standard Black and Standard White English lies. Smith qualifies the assumptions of the dialectologists who believe that Black English is merely a dialect of White English by stating their point and then showing its limitations. The word "grammar," he states,

means the phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic systems of a language. Therefore if English is defined and classified as a Germanic language based on a criterion of continuity in the rules of grammar, then it stands to reason that "Black English" is defined and classified as a dialect of English because there is continuity in the grammar of "black English and the English of non-Blacks…there is, however, an incongruence in the empirical evidence. Those who believe that Black America’s language is a dialect of "English" have not documented the existence of a single Black dialect in the African diaspora that has been formed on an English grammar base. (14)

That they have failed to do so is a matter of controversy, but the question of what this means, then, necessarily precedes that of how society should deal with it, and these responses on meaning have been as diverse as they have been multitudinous. Dialect, moreover, is a misnomer in appellation to a grammatical system that does not branch off the standard forms of a language, but instead has its root in a different language system altogether. The only way a dialect can exist is if its foundations lay in the parent language; otherwise, its foundations must lay in a creolized pidgin of that parent language, where the original speakers of another language were introduced to the new language and were required to raise their children in it. In that case, the parent language is not the one that provided the basis for the creole, but the original native language of its speakers. To describe the creole as a dialect, then, is to rob its inherent identity and subordinate it to the linguistic heritage that claims it. Through Baldwin’s addition that "a language comes into existence by means of brutal necessity, and the rules of the language are dictated by what the language must convey" (16), we see the point of generation of Black English did not start after the slaves were taught pidgin English, but when they had to deal with each other in that language. In that sense, Black English cannot be a dialect, but a language of its own.

If the historical perspective of the linguistic separateness of Black English from Standard English is insufficient evidence to disprove the dialectologist theory, in that it is taken out of context with the function of language in a society, a structural analysis of the grammatical system should complement that hypothesis. In pursuit of this structuralist approach, however, it is necessary to bring to bear a scientific concept borrowed from the geneticists and evolutionists concerning the idea of irreducible complexity, in which "irreducibly complex systems are systems composed of several well matched, interacting parts that contribute to the function of the system, wherein the system would cease to function if any part is removed" (Leach). My response to this definition was to question whether the theory of irreducibly complex systems could also be applied to developed linguistic systems as a determining factor of their own validity. A sentence, for example, that reads, "Jesus wept," which is the shortest sentence in the English Bible, is a fully viable concept in that it fulfills the grammatical requirements of standard prescriptive English by having a subject and a verb coherently joined together. The sentence could be made smaller, but it would not preserve its irreducible complexity in the transition. To write, "He wept," precludes our understanding of whom. To write, "Weep!" while being an irreducibly complex imperative sentence, changes the meaning altogether. Grammatically, then, one of the structures that Black English has that is alien to White English is the use of the habitual tense, signifying an action that occurs repeatedly and formed with the use of the verb ‘to be,’ as in the sentence, "He be trippin’." If trippin’ is taken as meaning ‘crazy’ or ‘weird,’ then the sentence means that it is an ongoing condition. "He be trippin’" comes to mean "He is usually or always deviating from the accepted social norms of our culture or expectations." The laws of irreducible complexity, in this case, lend themselves to the support of the non-standard form more rapidly than they do to the standard form. Standard White English has no way of expressing that sentiment in such a short rendering of words. Use of the verb ‘to be’ in this sense cannot be ‘just wrong,’ for Standard White English also uses the verb ‘to be’ outside its agreement with the subject in subjunctive sentences ("It is essential that the project be kept confidential," where the sense here is that of ideal condition). If Standard White English can have a subjunctive use for this construction, then Black English should not be faulted for its habitual use. The fact that this habitual tense is used throughout the daily discourse of Black English speakers legitimizes it, removing the tense from the status of dialect marker into the status of language marker, in that its frequency of use makes it the rule rather than the exception. Likewise, the expression, "He trippin’," without the use of the verb ‘to be’, is irreducibly complex in its ability to suggest that the person in question is presently deviating from cultural expectations, but usually does not. That grammatical differences like these exist at all is evidence of the non-dialectical status of Black English, and gives it a greater degree of dignity as a separate linguistic system.

Phonologically, Black English seems to differ from White English at the level of the word much more radically than it does at the grammatical level, because it is at this level when it is most easily discernible, as Black English is not a written language, for the most part, but a spoken one. Dorothy Seymour, in classifying the sounds of Black English, recognized the use of dis and tin for this and thin, respectively, and postulated that the difference lay in the fact that African linguistic systems lack the voiced and unvoiced sounds of /th/ and /t/, and therefore approximate substitutes were made and stuck. In the unvoiced medial position, the sound /th/ as in birthday becomes the sound /f/, as in birfday, and the end position unvoiced /th/ in Ruth becomes roof and voiced /th/ in brother becomes bruvver (124). Differences such as these occur through the phonological constructs of Black English, including the dropping of the final consonant in a word ending with two consonant sounds (pass for past, hole for hold), the lack of a final consonant sound (wha for what, yo for your, so for sore), and the dropping of /l/ in the medial and final positions of words (hep for help, too for tool). Such differences can lead to misunderstandings, as when a speaker of Standard White English has trouble distinguishing between a Black child’s use of right and rat (Seymour 124). The fact that these phonological constructs are the rule in Black English, and speakers of Black English have no trouble themselves understanding them, points to a difference rather than a deficiency. They appear deficient in relation to Standard White English, but not in relation to Standard Black English, in much the same way that the French spoken in Martinique is not considered a deficient use of the French language on that island, but would be should the entire population suddenly find itself scattered throughout France. That Standard Black English has to survive within Standard White English makes it sound deficient on the phonological level, whereas were it encapsulated on an island in the Caribbean, there would be no debate. Moreover, Black English has received phonological legitimacy in written texts, as demonstrated by the wealth of Black American writers who have written prose in Black English rhythm and maintained the phonological structure through their spelling of English vocabulary. Zora Neale Hurston, for instance, in Their Eyes were Watching God, wrote the word tomorrow in the accent, or manner, in which a black person would speak it, tuhmorrer, which is nothing less than writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare in England, or Twain and Steinbeck in America, have done. That dialect is given such importance in literature is a reflection of its significance in real life—that it is accepted is proof of its validity. Phonology, however, is concerned with accent rather than dialect, and has nothing to do with variance from a standard grammar. It is suggestive of the fact that standard speakers in one region can be differentiated from standard speakers in another region based on how they sound when they speak, not on the sentence structure that they use. Blacks in different regions of the country have different accents that distinguish them as being from those regions, some of which may be highly affected by the Standard White English accents around them. This does not mean, however, that their accents contribute to or perpetuate the standard forms of English, nor does it really mean that their accents are indicative of the standard dialect of the region in which they live. If they have achieved complete linguistic assimilation, then they speak a dialect of Standard White English, if they have not, then they speak a dialect of Standard Black English. That Standard Black English should be labeled a dialect based merely on its phonological variance from Standard English, therefore, is as absurd as labeling the language of the Tartars a dialect of Russian.

When the phonology of a language is coupled through its vocabulary with its grammatical structure, a process of semantic understanding between a speaker and a respondent is derived. For one speaker of Standard Black English to say, "He trippin’" does not indicate that the utterance carries any meaning outside of its context. If it is to carry meaning, to transmit an idea or concept to someone else, then there must be someone there who understands this transmission, even if incorrectly. Volosinov supports this idea in saying that "meaning belongs to a word in its position between speakers; that is, meaning is realized only in the process of active, responsive understanding" (53). To carry the intended meaning, therefore, the respondent has to be privy to the code, or the language, in which the utterance is spoken, otherwise it becomes unintelligible, and meaning is lost. What is then established is the dichotomy between theme and meaning, wherein theme is the intent of the speaker, and meaning is derived from the response of the listener. Meaning, therefore, is never transmitted, but understood. If a speaker of Standard Black English were to communicate with a speaker of Standard Whtie English, the latter might come away with a different impression of the interchange of thought than the former intended. Misunderstandings of this kind could lead to problems that will later materialize into the development of, or support of, prejudices or biases. Even when speakers of Standard Black English communicate with one another, there is room for misunderstandings, just as there is room for misunderstandings between speakers of Standard White English. While the ability to be misunderstood, as opposed to not understood, does not in and of itself prove the viability of a language system, the degree of variance of understandability between language systems might lend itself to that end. Speakers of Standard White English are misunderstood to the degree that their social, class, and gender goals differ from one another. Obviously, two speakers with the exact same intentions who draw the exact same meanings (not that this would ever happen) would never misunderstand each other. As we move further away from that ideal in a matrix of different degrees, the chances for misunderstanding become greater and the greater the breakdown in the semantic process is likely to be. The greatest difference, therefore, would lie at the opposite extreme, where there are two speakers of Standard White English who are diametrically different in every conceivable fashion. As far as Standard White English is concerned, there are our two extremes, and all speakers of standard English fall between those extremes to some degree in exactly the same way as all speakers of Standard Black English fall between those extremes to some degree. The semantic systems of these two grammars, then, being as different as they are phonologically and structurally, cannot possibly lend themselves to a greater understanding between the languages, but actually diverge from that end so that a reconciliation between them comes only after a process of finding shared meaning involving a great deal of translation work. If a linguistic system is less translatable to another linguistic system than that linguistic system is to itself, then we are dealing with not one, but two, languages on the semantic level.

Were it merely a matter of dialect, then speakers of Standard Black English should conceivably have the same degree of variance in communicating their intentions to speakers of Standard White English as speakers of Standard White English have to each other; yet, there lies a greater dichotomy at play here than merely that of language—culture gets infused into the picture. As Robert Rueda et alia, from the Handicapped-Minority Research Institute, have stated,

Deviance [from the mainstream] is an interpersonal assessment regarding behavior, abnormality cannot exist unless it is recognized by the social system. Norms are not biologically based but are determined by value systems within a social and political process…falsely labeling a person as deviant is a more serious error than falsely labeling a person as normal. Within this framework the process of labeling as well as the social impact of such labeling are central concerns." (16)

What needs to be emphasized here is that the standard culture of Black America is fundamentally different than the standard culture of White America, both in accepted norms and pursued ideals, and therefore Black Culture cannot by definition be deviant from White Culture, but it is labeled as such. There is perhaps no critical parallel that extends for any great length between the ideal situation and the accepted norm in a comparison of the Standard White Culture with the Standard Black Culture. The absence of such parallels proves that the separateness of the cultures lends to the separateness of the nature of their languages, for language is culture in the sense that it defines the priorities and inclinations of a people at the same time as being defined through those priorities and inclinations. Rueda et alia point that out in their description of a pluralistic model designed "specifically to address the issue of ethnic diversity in educational decision making" (16). To do so, the pluralistic model

references judgements [sic] about normal and abnormal to a child’s own sociocultural group. Under a pluralistic model it is assumed that all sociocultural groups have the same biological potential for learning but that sociocultural background has an effect on opportunity and motivation to learn. It is further assumed that existing achievement and intelligence tests measure only prior learning. In order to estimate a child’s potential, assessment personnel must compare the child with others who have had the same opportunity and motivation for learning. The pluralistic model is completely culture bound in that children are ranked relative to their own sociocultural group. Consequently the model yields multiple normal distributions, one for each many sociocultural patterns… Under a pluralistic model, emphasis is on estimating learning potential, and underestimating a child’s potential is a far more serious error than overestimating potential." (16)

By applying models such as these to all children, regardless of cultural background, perhaps greater distinctions can be made between cultural norms and greater pedagogical insights could be engendered. This idea of there existing a Standard Black Culture that can be proven to be separate from the Standard White Culture lends to the idea that Standard Black English can be proven by extension to be separate from Standard White English, and that extension is reciprocal in that it further clarifies and defines the consistency of Standard Black Culture through its linguistic roots.

When I first began this project, I was struck by the fact that what I was dealing with in analyzing the difference between Blacks and Whites was not Black America as a separate and distinct culture within a middle-class White society, but Black America as a separate and distinct culture broken into its constituent micro-cultures of gender relations, power relations, family relations, and so on, each overlapping the others, embedded into a mosaic wherein middle-class White culture was equally fragmented and overlapping, and where Society, a nebulous term at best, was comprised of all these different cultures bonded together. To have thought that White society itself comprised Black culture was akin to saying the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The distinction that I was making that led me to that syllogistic fallacy in the first place was the correct understanding that the power structure lies within White society, which has always come out ahead in every struggle between the races. That this remains true even to this day is evidenced in the various deficit theories that have prevailed for so long in our educational system, where a black child who is unable to pass standardized tests in White English is thought deficient and is remediated in order to bring him or her up to the level of his or her white peers. Bernstein’s ‘verbal-deficit hypothesis,’ for instance,

was based on the assumption that Black children in the inner city and rural south lived in environments where they heard very little language and had poor language models; therefore, they learned a restricted code of language which was defective and inadequate for learning, subsequently causing academic failure. (King 3)

Closely related to this idea was the notion of cultural deprivation, which Labov explained as being where

Negro children are said to lack the favorable factors in their home environment which enable middle-class children to do well in school. These factors involve the development of various cognitive skills through verbal interaction with adults, including the ability to reason abstractly, speak fluently, and focus upon long-range goals. (Labov 182)

The failure of the black child to acculturate is therefore transferred to his initial failure to enculturate within his own group. Were that child more comfortable within that group, then perhaps he would have a better time of acculturating outside of it. To allow for that, we first have to allow for the acceptance of the linguist systems apart from Standard White English. By setting a standard, consequently, one automatically makes everything that does not fit substandard. Labov concluded, however, that "the nonstandard dialect…that many inner city children spoke was not only a systematic and viable means of communication but that it was syntactically and phonologically different from but not inferior to Standard English" (King 4). The problem lies in the fact that the standard language of commerce, science and, for the most part, literature, is the language of White Culture, or the mainstream, as it is considered. Power relationships, therefore, are created based on one’s fluency in Standard White English, and when the black child goes to the college classroom, he speaks the language of his professors. Were it not so, then highly fluent speakers of Standard Black English would have no trouble passing standardized exams, graduating with honors from their high schools, finding admission into prestigious colleges, and ultimately locating high paying positions in global corporations. It is here that White Culture maintains its dominance over Black Culture, and language, not financial capital, is the final frontier in which it does it. It is language that maintains the power structure because it is language that blocks access to financial capital, not the other way around. Rich Black Americans speak Standard White English in courtrooms and business meetings. Rich Black Americans write Standard White English in newspapers and magazines (even in the Black ones like the St. Louis American and Vibe) and in professional correspondence. Were it the other way around, all this could be done in Standard Black English, and Blacks, writing to Whites, would not feel out of place in the use of a written Standard Black English. Lisa Delpit of Georgia State University writes in support of this point that, "while having access to the politically mandated language form will not guarantee success…not having access will almost certainly guarantee failure" (6). So, the balance of power is definitely in the hands of White America, a fact that is proven through the use of the language of White America, and that hold on power will not shift until Standard Black English is as acceptable a language as Standard White English, regardless of how many Black Americans receive degrees in higher education and/or become among our wealthiest citizens. Such a political definition corresponds to what Wayne O’Neil, the head of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, proffers, that "a common-sense definition of language is a dialect with an army and a navy—or a school system" (11). While the politics of Standard Black English have long existed within the political superstructure of White Culture, that does not mean that Black Culture itself resides within White Society, for the idea of there being a White Society in the first place is an imaginary construct developed around that unequal balance of power. Society consists of hundreds of different cultures on every level of humankind’s relationship with one another. All of these cultures interlock to form what is called Society, and, therefore, on the most practical of levels, Black Culture exists alongside White Culture, and perhaps even within White Culture to the extent that Blacks want success and acculturate themselves to White Culture as the only way to achieve it, but it is definitely not defined by White Society except through the gauze of ‘otherness’.

In applying this concept of there being definite distinctions between White Culture and Black Culture, where White Culture holds the power in that relationship, there lies a problem of how to educate the black child in the white school—where all schools funded through the institutions of White Culture are white schools. None of them recognize the value of Ebonics as a cultural requisite, and to emphasize their disapprobation, they openly declare themselves against ‘Ebonics,’ a term coined in 1973 by Dr. Robert L. Williams of Washington University. Delpit, who is more realistic on this point, writes that she

can be neither for Ebonics or against Ebonics any more than [she] can be for or against air. It exists. It is the language many of our African-American children heard as their mothers nursed them and changed their diapers. It is the language through which many first encountered love, nurturance, and joy. (6)

The fact that this is considered problematic indicates a situation wherein the introduction of the black student to the white school does not lend itself to his further advancement as it does to the advancement of the white students it absorbs. Obviously, there needs to be a revolution in critical awareness concerning this topic. A revolution, however, cannot be fought with the tools of the master’s house, the saying goes, and it is these very tools that are being used in the assimilation process of Black Culture into White Culture. The usual age for a child to enter kindergarten is around five, where the first lessons in socialization and basic enculturation are provided. Up to this point, the child has lived half a decade absorbing his home culture and the language of that culture. As most grammatical systems are psychologically in place by age 4, the child enters the white institution already at a disadvantage. To further compound the problem, children usually enter public school kindergartens in the neighborhoods in which they live, which means that they will find themselves surrounded by peers who speak the same language as their home language. Labov believes that "somewhere between the time that children first learn to talk and puberty, their language is restructured to fit the rules used by their peer group. From a linguistic viewpoint, the peer group is certainly a more powerful influence than the family" (208). By extension, that includes the institution of the school. If the teacher speaks a different language, such as Standard White English, it may pose only a little difficulty for students to learn to code-switch in their responses to the in-class assignments, in repeating the correct way to say something when in the immediate context of being prompted by the teacher, but it poses a great deal of difficulty for that sort of prompting to have a lasting influence, especially when most opportunities for discourse will begin to occur within the peer group and not with the representatives of Standard White English. Yet, students who speak Standard Black English are expected to suddenly unlearn all the grammatical, phonological and semantic determinations of their upbringing and replace those linguistic traits with those of the institution in order to become as fluent in Standard White English as their white peers are. Those who are unable to do so find themselves behind their white peers by second grade, unable to complete the assignments by fourth grade, and remediated by middle school. It is not they who have failed the institution at that point, but the institution that has failed them, and on a racial scale large enough to be considered a form of selective genocide. Labov argues that this failure in logic "lies in the verbal deprivation theorists, rather than in the mental abilities of the children" (205), and Fradd states that "Students in the process of learning English may appear to be limited in the ability to think as well as to understand…attention and memory problems, hyperactivity, and other indicators of learning disabilities may all have their basis in students’ inability to comprehend and respond effectively within their environment" (36). Were a school district consisting primarily of speakers of Standard Black English to seize the opportunity to educate its students in their own language, then the success rate of Standard Black English speakers would rise comparable to the average success rate of Standard White English speakers. Hall states, "Familiarity, acceptance, or recognition of the ‘legitimacy’ of Ebonics may work to change the expectations of teachers by changing their association of ‘difference’ with ‘inferiority,’ or ‘inability,’ and the low expectations that go along with such perceptions (13). Unfortunately, there would still be the problem of standardized testing and college entrance exams, not to mention employment interviews. White Culture, therefore, must take responsibility for Black Culture (it is indebted toward that end), but not in the paternalistic fashion of this nation’s white ancestors. The institutions themselves should change to accommodate Standard Black English speakers in such a way that the students will be able to grow academically through their own language in addition to growing cross-culturally through Standard White English in order to either learn the language of the culture in which they will one day have the opportunity to function or establish the legitimacy of their primary culture in such a way that it can work independently of White Culture.

The educational institutions of this country presently have another way of dealing with speakers of Standard Black English, which involves segregating them into separate classrooms and giving them work that is remedial in nature, expecting that the extra time the children have in which to perform an activity and the extra guidance that they will receive in doing so will be sufficient for them to master the more basic elements of Standard White English in the hope that gradual mastery will bring them up to the level of their white peers. This process is sharply reminiscent of conveying one’s intent to non-native English speakers by yelling at them slowly. According to Richard Rodriguez (1989),

Existing data appear to indicate that minority children are placed in special education out of proportion to their numbers in the general school population…The area where the data have proven most striking has been in classes for the mildly mentally handicapped. For example, Mercer (1973) has reported that Black children were seven times as likely and Mexican American children ten times as likely as Anglo Children to be placed in special classes. (2)

Rodriguez qualifies his estimates by restricting them to the state of California, but adds, "it is reasonable to expect that similar conditions occur whenever [sic] significant minority population exist" (2). To remediate en masse is to treat speakers of Standard Black English like slow learners incapable of grasping higher concepts, which is stereotyping and generalizing. The majority of a particular race or cultural group cannot be inherently slow-witted; there have to be cognitive language abilities within the group that stretch throughout the spectrum of intelligence, from genuises to the severe and profoundly handicapped, wherein the majority lie in that range of talent and ability we call average. To remediate on the basis of language differences is to say that the ‘average’ range of a black child is below that of a white child, that there is some language deficit that needs to be filled in order to bring the black child up to the level of the white child—a sentiment which has even been made explicit in The Bell Curve (1995), which reads that the average percentile differentiation between blacks and whites points to the average white child being higher than 84% of black children and the average black child being higher than only 16% of white children. This parallels Arthur Jensen’s 1969 report in the Harvard Educational Review in which he classified almost half of lower-class black children as mentally retarded (Labov 211). Of course, The Bell Curve qualifies its study by stating at the onset a handful of conditions that must be considered true before the study could have any validity, including those that explain that standardized testing is not demonstrably biased against any racial, ethnic, or gender group, and that intelligence is largely heritable—meaning if one’s parents were learning disabled, so would he be, and so would be his children. I interviewed one white family wherein representatives of three generations all considered themselves learning disabled. The patriarch of that family had dropped out of 5th grade at the age of 15, after having repeated every school year two or three times, but that was during the forties when special services were unavailable even to white students. His daughter had graduated from high school due largely to her interest in sports and had difficulties with every academic subject she approached, but there were no special services for her either in the sixties. Thirty years later, she is currently a student in my remedial writing class at St. Charles County Community College. Her daughter, who is presently attending high school, has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and has been labeled learning disabled by an institution that is seeking to advance her progress through corrective measures. These three cases exemplify areas where special services should have been or are warranted, but if the question of heritability were to be given credence, it would not explain why this woman’s son is academically gifted. It would not explain how the same proficiency test given to her daughter who is learning disabled would have identified a significant portion of the black community as being in need of remediation. The very fact that proficiency tests are called standardized suggests that they follow the standards of the institution, which, as I have shown, are institutions embedded within and serving of White Cultural norms. Ernie Smith says that

to the extent that African Americans have been born into, reared in, and continue to live in linguistic environments that are different from the Euro-American English speaking population, African-American children are not from home environments in which the English language is dominant. The consensus [of scholars in attendance at the 1973 Cognitive and Language Development of the Black Child conference] was that, as evidenced by phonetic, phonological, morphological, and syntactical patterns, African-American speech does not follow the grammar rules of English. Rather, it is a West and Niger-Congo African deep structure that has been retained. It is this African deep structure that causes African-American children to score poorly on standardized scales of English proficiency." (15)

Proficiency tests, therefore, developed along the lines of Standard Black English would show a truer picture of the abilities of its speakers, and it would have to be an oral test, not a written one, as Standard Black English is still largely an oral tradition, with comparably few written texts from it can draw support as a literary language. Blanket remediation is nothing more than an ill conceived idea, and it will continue to prove wholly ineffective for the education of Black America.

If blanket remediation is unhelpful in identifying the smart speakers of Standard Black English, then it is disastrous in being able to identify those students who are truly learning disabled and truly in need of help. Fradd states that

as a result of the difficulty in identifying mildly handicapped LEP students, there is a reluctance on the part of many school districts to consider students for special education placement until they have mastered English. However, that perception is counter-productive to students’ successful participation in school, because truly handicapped LEP learners may require more time to learn English than typical LEP students. Waiting 2 to 5 years before assisting these students with special services ensures failure to meet the students’ needs and effectively denies these students educational opportunities as specified under P. L. 94-142. (36)

Such an evaluation is on the opposite extreme of my contention that too many students are placed without proper assessment into special education programs than should be, which proves that schools are having difficulties categorizing Standard Black English speakers on both ends of the spectrum. The difficulty lies in learning how to properly determine who is LEP as a result of linguistic environment and who is LEP as a result of a real disability. Rueda et alia agree that the categorization and labeling process originate with the educator who is in closest contact with the student—the teacher—and believe that "it is likely that individual differences in teacher’s perceptions, tolerances, and attributional systems might also influence the extent to which they refer some children but not others" (19). They further quote from research which suggests that "behavior disorders arise when a child’s temperament, or behavioral style, is mismatched with the environment in terms of expectations, attitudes, or resources," where it has been argued that "teacher’s judgments regarding the teachability of children relates heavily to child temperament and the interaction between children and teachers…[where] temperament accounts for approximately 50% of the variance in judgments of teachability whereas IQ accounts for less than 1%" (19). Personality conflicts resulting from educators being from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds (which is not too uncommon an occurrence) than their students can therefore lead to the mismatched labeling of students. Mismatching can also lead to children being warehoused in an institution that is incapable or unwilling to take the time to learn the causal factors involved in a child’s learning disability. "With respect to minority children," according to a 1980 study quoted in Rueda et alia’s report, "educational decision makers have greater expectations that minority children will demonstrate handicapping conditions. Certainly such expectations," they add, "could lead to differential referral patterns with language minority children that may be related to factors other than cognitive, intellectual or academic characteristics of the child" (19). They not only can, but they do. Language and cultural deficit theories are usually applied in all such cases, and the further assumption is made that students who cannot do well are merely slower than those who can and need remedial help in filling the deficits in their education. As the deficits persist, without any sign of amelioration, the tendency is to harp on the ineducability of those who do not meet the expectations of Standard White English speakers, a factor that does not lend toward a reduction in the frequency of stereotyping and generalization.

It is no larger step, in this case, to assume that all remedial black students are going to have difficulties that prevent them from excelling on the same level or at the same pace as their white peers, and the way to deal with it miraculously materializes in the idea of dropping the bar for remedial students and assigning passing grades to work from a sixth grader that would not have fulfilled the expectations of a fourth grade classroom. Remedial students can still graduate on time with high school diplomas, which is not really providing them with a service. What happens, though, to those students who cannot make it in the remedial classroom, not even at the level of their peers, however, is that of further remediation through labeling as learning disabled, which can take the form of Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or a specific Learning Disability such a dislexia, discalcula, or language impairment. According to Wang et alia (1993),

L[earning] D[isabled] was a relatively new label in 1975, but it is now carried by more than half of the disabled students in the nation’s categorical special education programs. Classification as LD depends on calculation of a discrepancy between the rate of learning that could be expected of a child and what the child actually demonstrates in matters such as reading. It is often necessary to wait through the primary grades for the discrepancy to grow to acceptable magnitude for classification and placement, breeding failure, helplessness, and worse in the interim. (3)

As it is usually around the higher grades of elementary school that Learning Disabilities are noticed, it coincides with roughly same academic year in which speakers of Standard Black English begin to exhibit signs of inability to maintain the level of their white peers. The obvious step for a teacher who notices this is to undergo a process of evaluation and assessment based in part on her observations of a child’s proficiency, and without critical awareness the language barrier between White and Black culture can be confused with the cognitive barrier between competent and disabled. Students caught up in being mislabeled might remain in resource rooms a greater percentage of the day than their remediated peers, meaning that they lose out on a greater percentage of inclusive participation with peers who have found better ways to adapt to the system, which causes them to lose that important facet of peer support that is integral in the education process. Moreover, in Wang et alia’s 1993 report, "there is no separate knowledge base for teaching children classified as mildly MR and LD" (3), meaning that the level of instruction may not be appropriate to the students undergoing it, which might lead to students losing their motivation (a singular qualification for doing anything) to learn. If students lack the desire to focus on their studies, and they become repeatedly belligerent in the classroom, they might find themselves relocated to a self-contained classroom for the Behavior Disordered. This can lead to disastrous consequences, both educationally for the student and systemically for the school. In fact, according to Wang et alia, in the 86-87 school year in New Orleans, "African-American males accounted for 43% of the school population, but 58% of the nonpromotions, 65% of the suspensions, 80% of the expulsions, and 45% of the dropouts," where "nonpromotion is clearly a factor associated with dropouts, attendance problems, and suspensions" (6). Some of these students who are labeled with these disabilities are justifiably labeled and deserve as much help as the integrated support systems can give; others, however, may just find it difficult to learn through the lens of another linguistic system and internalize their failure academically, leading to low self-esteem and even lower interest in their studies. If they truly are intelligent and just find themselves bored with subjects that are so below their abilities they cannot motivate themselves to deal with it, they might exhibit signs of having an attention deficit or being hyperactive in pursuit of a number of activities that are more enjoyable to them. Of course, students cannot be labeled as learning disabled for bad behavior alone. According to Harold Dent,

Educational codes establish guidelines and criteria to safeguard the rights of students for placement. A student must be functioning below grade level or must be presenting a learning problem in order to meet the criteria for special placement. In most states, the student must also perform at a specified level of subnormality on one of any number of standardized tests of intelligence. This gives the process an air of objectivity and scientific respectability. Nevertheless, student behavior is still the key, and the teachers’ reaction to that behavior is what sets the process in motion. (78)

Dent concludes his piece on assessment by describing the process by which this assessment is undertaken, including how most teachers are "unprepared to accept the active, aggressive behavior of black boys," where that behavior challenges the teachers’ authority and creates a power struggle between the teacher and the student. When the tolerance level of the teacher expires, the child is sent to the school psychologist who "administers a standardized individual test of intelligence which is not only heavily oriented toward academic learning but is also culturally biased against minorities" (79). The process is completed, Dent says, when "the data from the objective, scientific assessment of the student’s intelligence yields an IQ which classifies that student as mentally retarded," and it is this "set of circumstances that leads to the disproportion of black and other minority students in special programs for the educable mentally retarded" (79). Of course, Dent is writing this only a year after the 1975 EAHCA was enacted, so there were probably, giving him the benefit of the doubt, more than a few bugs still in the system. Regardless of how students find themselves labeled Learning Disabled or Behavior Disordered, however, they really can find themselves imprisoned in a self-contained classroom where there may be half a dozen more children just like them, all bouncing off each other’s negative behavior, and not benefiting much from the remedial curriculum drawn out for them. I substitute taught in just such a class for about a month the fall of 1997, and of the seven high school age children I was teaching, none were above an elementary school curriculum, though one of them, a white student, learned the entire Arabic alphabet from me in three hours. "In recent years," according to Rueda et alia,

language minority children have been placed in special classes for the learning disabled more frequently than they have been placed in classes for other mildly handicapped children. Such a situation reflects a shift from placements in E[ducable] M[entally] R[etarded] to placements in LD classes and may represent institutional responses to proportionate representation mandates rather than efforts to appropriately place language minority students. (33)

Based on this, Rueda et alia conclude that "there is little empirical information regarding the practices and procedures which are used in special education and referral and placement when language and cultural differences are a part of the clinical picture" (33). Blind labeling of white students, or speakers of Standard White English, may occur, but remediation of speakers of Standard Black English who cannot conform to the strictures of Standard White English, especially of those raised in exclusively black neighborhoods, urban or rural, is almost a given, and any special education services that arise from students being assigned to those labels is done through the gauze of their language deficits—deficit in relation to the pursued ideal of the white educational institution.

Special education is not in and of itself a bad thing—it is highly necessary in identifying learning disabilities and adapting ways in which to deal with them so that children can be best enabled to learn. The special education movement, which followed a great deal of litigation in the early seventies, was first established as federal law in 1975, with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, or Public Law 94-142, which "was designed to provide due process and a variety of other procedural safeguards intended to assure non-discriminatory assessment and placement practices for all children referred for psychoeducational evaluation in the public schools" (Rueda et alia 5), and states that even students who have severe learning disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. The contention lies in what exactly the word ‘appropriate’ means, and whether it can be applied to students who exhibit learning difficulties unrelated to their educability. There is a requirement "that testing materials and procedures used for evaluating and placing students in special education programs be selected and administered so as not to be culturally or racially discriminatory" (Rueda et alia 6), but no stated requirement that students should be taught without cultural or linguistic bias interfering in the lesson plan. Were such a requirement explicit then that would preclude remediation and instead allow for adaptive classrooms to facilitate the learning of science and language through Standard Black English. There is also a requirement that testing "procedures must be administered in the child’s native language or mode of communication and must be valid for the purpose for which they are used" (Rueda et alia 6). Were Standard Black English to be legitimized, this requirement would force the institution to reassess every diagnosed case of remediation or disability. Finally, the Act demands that "assessments must be conducted by credentialed personnel who are trained and prepared to assess cultural and ethnic factors appropriate to the student being assessed" (Rueda et alia 6). Extracognitive factors, therefore, would have to be taken into account, and, linguistically, there would be a revolution concerning what disability actually means. A close parallel to this idea lies the adjudication of Diana vs. the California State Board of Education in 1970, concerning "Spanish speaking limited-English proficient students who’s [sic] placement in special education classes for the retarded had been based on standarized IQ testing in English," and which ordered "that determining the intelligence of children who are unfamiliar with the test’s language or the culture that underlies the test items amounts to discriminatory assessment and decision making practice" (Rueda et alia 5). Proceedings such as this and Guadalupe v. Tempe Elementary School, in 1972, "began litigation concerning the overrepresentation of minorities in special education that continues to the present (1996)" (Cahalane 2). The Diana Case in particular required school districts to:

    1. test children in their native language,
    2. retest language minority children previously placed in special programs using non-verbal intelligence tests,
    3. develop test norms applicable to specific ethnic groups,
    4. develop plans for revised testing programs,
    5. explain disproportionate representation of minorities in special education classes, and
    6. develop transition programs to help students return to regular education classes after decertification as mentally retarded. (Rueda 5)

If this can be applied to native speakers of the Spanish language and, hence, to any non-native speakers of Standard White English, i. e. those whose first language is not English and whose first culture bears little similarity to White Culture, then it should be applicable across the board to all speakers of non-Standard White English, which includes all speakers of Standard Black English. The difficulty in making this leap lies in the fact that speakers of Standard Black English are still being identified in our educational system as native speakers of Standard White English. Their language difficulties are attributed to the fact that they have a dialect problem, not a second language problem. Their difficulties in assimilation are not attributed to a lack of ability to acculturate, but rather to an unwillingness to enculturate. This misperception causes the definition of difference to be perceived as disability, wherein blackness, by extension, is also perceived as a disability. More apropos to this question of the viability of Standard Black English, is the 1979 "Black English Case," which entailed a lawsuit

rendered on behalf of a group of [9] black elementary school [male] students [at King Elementary School] in Ann Arbor, Michigan who had been assigned to ‘special education’ classes because of presumed scholastic inaptitude. Using the published work and testimony of Professor Geneva Smitherman, then Director of the Center for Black Studies at Wayne State University, the plaintiffs successfully argued that their clients’ language patterns were indicative of a legitimate, though different, language tradition, not low scholastic aptitude or intelligence meriting their assignment in ‘special’ classes. (Hall 12)

If the precedent set by this case is sufficient proof that assessment techniques more closely attuned to the sociolinguistic factors of a Standard Black English speaker are necessary, then there is no reason to not to more closely scrutinize the language patterns of black students before opting for special services. Hall elucidates the case by explaining that

Federal Judge Charles Joiner did not…order that "Black English" be "taught" to children in the classroom. Rather the court stipulated that the school had an obligation to teach standard English reading and writing skills using approaches that would "take into account" their indigenous language patterns (12),

based on the reasoning that

the linguistic principles underlying this argument are that deferences [sic] in language patterns exhibited by many African American students are the result of the same kinds of factors or forces that produce other variations in language patterns among different groups. (12)

Such a stance could not have been the result of a court trying to remain within the bounds of tradition, but of one which sincerely recognized the value of its ruling’s implications and sought to make a landmark ruling that would eventually effect requisite change. A more recent law that should find ready application to this debate materialized in the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main drive of which is the same right to appropriate education that was spearheaded in 1975, but which extends the EAHCA into other facets of a handicapped student’s environment in such directions as employment and parental rights. One important aspect of IDEA lies in its focus on inclusion, where every child is guaranteed as much access as possible to the mainstream learning environment of Standard White Culture, even if this means that special adaptations have to be implemented in order to include those children in the mainstream learning environment. If this means introducing alternative forms of teaching and assessment, then that is what must be done. If this means adhering as well to the 1986 P. L. 99-457, which extends such services to all special children between ages 3-5, or by following P. L. 93-112 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits any discrimination against handicapped people (Hallahan 28), then that is what must be done. If we are going to treat difference as disability, then we might as well play by the rules established for those disabilities, and make the student’s environment as inclusive and participatory and non-racially biased as possible, and the only way to avoid that is to break down and admit that there is no disability inherent in the majority of America’s black children, but that such perceived deficits from the norms of White Culture are integral and positive components of Black Culture that should be allowed to exist and to flourish alongside White Culture.

In order to realize this goal of removing the labels placed on speakers of Standard Black English, it is necessary to assess them on the linguistic and cultural norms out of which they come, and thereby teach through these norms how to adapt and assimilate into the societal power structure presently dominated by White Culture. Again, this does not mean that White Culture is the superior of the two, but that White Culture is where the power lies through Standard White English, and if speakers of Standard Black English want to get ahead then they have to pass through the gatekeeper language until such time as a greater cohesion between the languages exists, or until such time as Standard Black English can stand on its own in a comparable position of power. The first step to this is through education, but not necessarily through the institutions established by White Culture. Baldwin states that

The brutal truth [of our educational system] is that the bulk of the white people in America never had any interest in educating Black people, except as this could serve white purposes. It is not the Black child’s language that is in question, it is not his language that is despised: It is his experience. A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled. A child cannot be taught by anyone whose demand, essentially, is that the child repudiate his experience, and all that gives him sustenance, and enter a limbo in which he will no longer be Black, and in which he knows that he can never become white." (16)

Black Culture, therefore, should be able to establish its own institutional pedagogies without receiving the censure of an ill-informed or culturally biased society. Such a resolution was established in Oakland, California, in the beginning of 1997, which, drawing from the Federal Bilingual Education Act that mandates "that local educational agencies ‘build their capacities to establish, implement and sustain programs of instruction for children and youth of limited English proficiency,’" implied, in part, that teachers of Standard Black English speaking students should be educated in the grammar, phonology, vocabulary and semantics of Standard Black English in order to better understand the linguistic and cultural backgrounds out of which their students come, and "devise and implement the best possible academic program for the combined purposes of facilitating the acquisition and mastery of English language skills, while respecting and embracing the legitimacy and richness of the language patterns whether they are known as ‘Ebonics’…or other description." While the idea in principle is exactly what I have been arguing, it was perceived in a negative light by members of both White Culture and Black Culture due to its linguistic implications—that Black English was, in fact, a separate language and that recognition of Standard Black English as such would have a deleterious effect on the entire society. Although it was passed by a unanimous vote of the school board, educators in other parts of the country were concerned that legitimizing Standard Black English to such a degree would destroy the Standard White English language and give children further excuse to remain reticent in pursuit of their academic advancement. Moreover, it was thought to point toward the tolerance of Ebonic forms of communication in the classroom and to the gradual introduction of textbooks written entirely in Standard Black English—an idea that is far from its realization even if enthusiastic support were in the offing, in that Standard Black English, for the most part, is not a written language. Finally, teachers and administrators of English as a Second Languages courses were terrified that ESL funds might be used to fund public school programs in the inner cities. Gradually, educators around the country who have taken a more critical look at the Oakland Resolution have realized that the intent of the resolution was not a full blown resignation to the inevitable conclusion that blacks were ineducable, but a sincere attempt to develop a method of teaching that works through the linguistic and cultural values speakers of Standard Black English already have. Even so, O’Neil writes that such in-depth understandings and publications came "too much later…[and] are too late and too much, especially for readers who have heard it all already" (11). The bridge that must be crossed here is a linguistic one, and one that requires something a little more substantive than a mere leap of faith—a reassessment of the values to which both White and Black Culture inhere.

To draw a conclusion, therefore, on what need be done to enable speakers of Standard Black English to successfully navigate the school system, it might be most advisable to follow the models already established for us in the realm of bilingual education. As Ernie Smith concludes, "African-American L(imited) E(nglish) P(roficiency) pupils should not, because of their race, be subtly dehumanized, stigmatized, discriminated against or denied. LEP African American pupils are equally entitled to be provided bilingual education and ESL programs to address their LEP needs (15). The importance of recognizing the need for bilingual education, however, lies not in the service it will provide, but in the awareness among educators it will generate. The real thrust then that should be taken lies in teacher training in these areas and that implies a need for funding. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as reauthorized by Congress in October of 1994, provided for only a 3.6% increase annual increase in federal bilingual education funding in the state of California, the same state in which the Oakland Resolution would be passed a little over two years later, but a 26.8% increase in professional development funding for the 95-96 academic year, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office in a report entitled "Implementing New Federal Education Legislation." With such a priority being given to professional development, which, in fact, received the largest percentage increase out of all the categories, it would seem that educational programs for the continued advancement of teachers in troubled school districts were being encouraged. However, the same Act cut research into innovative education strategies by 16.5%, which would seem to preclude experimentation with programs as controversial as the one outlined in this paper, as controversial as what Oakland came up with. Even so, teachers who find themselves in an environment where a majority of the children are failing in their efforts to keep up with the educational system must take it upon themselves to do something, and if that something means to learn the speech patterns of their students, to accept Standard Black English as a language unto itself, then the government will not be able to discourage them with anything more than red tape. One does not need funding to reach critical awareness, one needs only desire—and perhaps it was the lack of funding, more than anything else, that served as the greatest motivational factor in Oakland’s development of such a bold and necessary plan. As J. L. Dillard (1972) states in Black English, it would behoove a teacher of Hispanics to learn the language of his students so that he can better understand the grammatical constructs out of which they come and be able to teach through those constructs where it is that the nature of the English language diverges from their own. Likewise, it would behoove the teacher of black students to learn the language out of which his or her students come in order to better teach them through the language of their culture. In doing this, the teacher would benefit as much as the students, for instead of looking at fifty errors on a paper and giving it up as hopeless, the teacher could be trained to identify it as one error manifest in fifty separate ways, and through that knowledge be better equipped to teach the students. Dorothy Seymour explains that Standard Black English approached in this way will not be perceived as deficient, and, by extension, neither will the Black Culture out of which the Standard Black English speaker comes. She writes that

A judgment of deficiency can be made only in comparison with another language system. Let’s turn the tables on Standard English for a moment and look at it from the West African point of view. From this angle, Standard English: (1) is lacking in certain language sounds, (2) has a couple of unnecessary language sounds for which others may serve as good substitutes, (3) doubles and drawls some of its vowel sounds in sequences that are unusual and difficult to imitate, (4) lacks a method of forming an important tense, (5) requires an unnecessary number of ways to indicate tense, plurality and gender, and (6) doesn’t mark negatives sufficiently for the result to be a good strong negative statement. (127)

She concludes her analysis with a question, "Now, whose language is deficient?" (127). Whose, indeed. By approaching Standard Black English in such a way, without blinders, educators would enable themselves to better adapt to the demands of teaching in predominantly black districts. For it is not necessarily developing an understanding on the structure of Standard Black English that will determine the success of this idea, for many educators in our educational system are black and may have had experience resolving their own difficulties with learning the Standard White English of the institutions of White Culture. What will determine the success of this idea is the acceptance of Standard Black English as a linguistic system of its own, and such acceptance may pave the way for the reintegrating of black children out of remedial rooms and into inclusive classes, and for a reassessment of those black students still remaining in special education classes through the enlightened awareness of their teachers. Equally important, though, we have to establish guidelines for how to successfully integrate Standard Black English speakers into a Standard White English environment. John Johnson has developed a handful that might be worthy of consideration, including (a) a strengthening of pedagogical foundations for learning through teacher preparation and re-education, (b) a generation of critical awareness that "the black child is a special social and behavioral entity and this makes the black exceptional child one for whom special teaching is all the more necessary," (c) "the development and strengthening of achievement motivation," (d) "the introduction of a program of group relations into everyday classroom life" where black children are concerned, (e) the drawing upon and educating about open systems theory (a system in which it must exchange materials with its environment in order to survive) and methods of organizational development, and (f) the building of an entirely new relationship between special educators and black parents in order to better relate to the people who are significant to the child and through that relationship attempt to arrive at mutually agreed upon educational goals (169-75). These ideas would work in any learning environment, primarily because the object of their focus is both cultural and linguistic, two areas in which black students have the greatest difficulties and express the greatest differences. That they would work particularly in one learning environment should be all that any single educator should have to be concerned with.


Education cannot be used to cure the ills of society as long as it is being used to perpetuate them. It is only through critical language awareness that such biases can be understood at all, and that understanding must lead to a reformed pedagogy in regards to speakers of Standard Black English. Were this to occur, I could see a great deal of progress being made in relationship between the White and Black Cultures within this country, but it will not come without a revolution. The moment Black English receives its distinction as a separate language, the dominant status of White Culture will be overthrown. There will no longer be a need for Black Culture to acculturate or assimilate into White Culture, and speakers of Standard Black English will better enculturate into their own heritage, the stigma of having belonged to it being erased. Blackness will no longer be thought of as a disability; in fact, it will no longer even be inappropriate to be black and to speak Standard Black English. The power structure will fall, and in its place will arise a symbiotic relationship between Blacks and Whites, and hopefully one that is more stable than that which exists between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast or Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem. It is not a bad future, but it will be a radically different one, and one for which we should prepare ourselves. It is White Culture, however, that has to initiate the way for change, just like it was White Culture in South Africa that had to be the ones to end Apartheid. The Apartheid we have experienced in this nation since the first slave ship arrived has not lent itself to the greater harmony of our people. Linguistically, we are depriving 12% of our nation’s people of their heritage, and in so doing have sentenced them to prisons, joblessness, academic failure, remediation and special education labeling. Allowing them the breathing space to realize their culture and watching them without protest as they build upon its foundations something wholly outside the interests of the White Culture is the only way of initiating that complete break that is necessary before both cultures can look upon each other as truly equal. The fact that blanket labeling of Standard Black English speakers as remediable or learning disabled without adequate tools whereby to assess such matters would cease is just one tangible benefit of this program—that its cessation would bring about a renaissance of American Culture is the ultimate goal for which I am aiming.

Annotated Bibliography

The focus of this bibliography is to create a historical understanding of the development of the pedagogical methods used in the education of black Americans who risk remediation and/or labeling as learning disabled based on their cultural and linguistic differences from the standard. Through this understanding, my research will prove that such labeling needs to be approached with extreme caution and that new educational approaches in mainstream environments should be administered in place of blanket remediation in order to better prepare black students for the demands of the college classroom.

Aristar, Anthony Rodrigues. "Revised Oakland Resolution on Ebonics." The Linguist List. 8.56. 19 January 1997.

This is the January 15, 1997, amended resolution on the Ebonics question passed by the Oakland School Board.

Baldwin, James. "If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" Reprinted in Rethinking Schools Fall 1997: 16.

In this letter to the editor of the New York Times, originally printed in 1979, Baldwin establishes that Black English is the linguistic and cultural bond that unites Black people in an otherwise hostile White America.

Baugh, John. Black Street Speech: Its History, Structure, and Survival. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.

This book is a historical linguistic approach to the development of American black speech patterns.

Cahalane, Benita H. "The Disproportionate Representation of Minorities in Rural Special Education Programs and What can be Done about It." Annual Conference of the American Council on Rural Special Education. March 1996.

This speech offers some suggestions as to what can be done to mitigate the large number of minorities in rural special education classes for retarded students.

Delpit, Lisa D. "What Should Teachers Do? Ebonics and Culturally Responsive Instruction." Rethinking Schools Fall 1997: 6-7.

In this article, Delpit admonishes educators to understand the CLD background of our black students and not sacrifice the content of their expression to the forms of our instruction.

Dent, Harold E. "Assessing Black Children for Mainstream Placement." Mainstreaming and the Minority Child. Ed. by Reginald L. Jones. Minneapolis, MN: The Council for Exceptional Children, 1976: 77-91.

This chapter, written within a year of the 1975 EAHCA, proposes assessment strategies to determine whether black children labeled as special needs should be moved into mainstreamed classrooms.

                Dillard, J. L. Black English. New York: Vintage Books, 1972.

This book is one of the landmark publications on the structure and history of Black English and establishes it as akin to a separate language.

Fradd, Sandra H. "Effective Practices in Meeting the Needs of Students with Non-English-Language Backgrounds." Preventing School Failure Fall, 1991, Vol. 36 Issue 1: 6 pages. Online. July 15, 1999.…%20education%20and%20language&fuzzyTerm=

This article "explores the educational needs of students with non-English-language backgrounds" with a focus on determining access to special education services, so it parallels my thesis on LEP black Americans.

Hall, Perry A. "The Ebonics Debate: Are We Speaking the Same Language?" Black Scholar Summer 97, Vol. 27 Issue 2, 3 pages. Online. July 15, 1999.…%20education%20and%20language&fuzzyTerm=

This article discusses the expectations that teachers have of black students in addition to a brief synopsis of the first Black English case to be raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1979.

Hallahan, Daniel P. and James M. Kauffman. Exceptional Children: Introduction to Special Education. 4th Edition. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1988.

This book is an introductory text concerning special education which helped clarify some of the federal laws passed before 1988.

"Implementing New Federal Education Legislation." Legislative Analyst’s Office. February 1995. Online. 24 July 1999.

This site gave me the ESEA information for the state of California, the same state in which the Oakland resolution was framed.

Johnson, John L. "Mainstreaming Black Children." Mainstreaming and the Minority Child. Ed. by Reginald L. Jones. Minneapolis, MN: The Council for Exceptional Children, 1976: 159-80.

This chapter, written within a year of the 1975 EAHCA, proposes curriculum and pedagogy designed to help in the advancement of mainstreamed black children.

King, Margaret A. and Alfred L. Karlson. A Non-Racist Framework for the Analysis of Educational Programs for Black Children. Palo Alto, CA: R & E Research Associates, Inc., 1982.

This book seeks to overturn the racist assessments of black children in regards to their educability.

Labov, W. "The Logic of Nonstandard English." Language and Social Context. Ed. by Pier Paolo Giglioli. _______: Penguin Education, ________.

In this article, Labov argues that restricted speech codes are unimpeded by the verbosity of elaborated codes and therefore express meaning more clearly. This is helpful to my argument that difference is not deficit.

                Leach, Richard.  Personal Interviews.  July 1999.

Richard Leach helped considerably in my understanding of complex adaptive and irreducibly complex systems, both of which are central to the argument of Ebonics as a separate language.

O’Neil, Wayne. "If Ebonics Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" Rethinking Schools Fall 1997: 10-11.

In a parallel to Baldwin’s 1979 letter to the editor of the New York Times, O’Neil asserts that Black English is a legitimate language and questions the media hype on Oakland’s initial resolution.

Rodriguez, Richard F. "The Effect of Sociocultural Factors on the Achievement of Minority Children." Education and the Changing Rural Community: Anticipating the 21st Century. 1989 Acres/ NRSSC Symposium. March 1989.

This speech discusses the consequences of applying standardized psychological assessment measures to minority children and relies on Labov (1969) in part for its support.

Rueda, Robert, Desdemona Cardoza, Jane Mercer, and Linda Carpenter. "An Examination of Special Education Decision Making with Hispanic First-Time Referrals in Large Urban School Districts." Annual Convention of the Council for Exceptional Children. San Francisco, 3-7 April, 1989.

This study includes some valuable information on the Diana Case, in Spanish-speaking LEP students had been placed in sped classes based on standardized testing in English.

Seymour, Dorothy Z. "Black Children, Black Speech." Language Awareness. Ed. by Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

In this article, Seymour clarifies the nature of Black English and argues that the language is not deficient in its ability to enable its adherents to functionally express themselves.

Sizemore, Barbara. "Chapter Four: Effective Education for Underachieving African-Americans." Making Schools Work for Underachieving Minority Students: Next Steps for Research, Policy, and Practice. Ed. by Josie G. Bain and Joan L. Herman. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990: 39-65.

This chapter focuses on further identification of potential problems inherent in the inability of African-Americans to achieve success in the American educational system.

                Smith, Ernie. "What is Black English? What is Ebonics?" Rethinking Schools Fall 1997: 14-15.

In this article, Smith argues that Black English and Ebonics are not synonymous terms and that African speech is not a dialect of English, but a continuation of African speech patterns.

Volosinov, V. N. "Language and Ideology." Language Literacy in Social Practice. Ed. Janet Maybin. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, Ltd., 1994.

This article was written at the genesis of the sociolinguistics field and argues that language is a product of one’s environment and cannot exist outside its use. It should prove helpful in examining the issue of Ebonics.

                Wahle, Cyndi et alia. Personal Interview. July 7, 1999.

Mrs. Wahle is a middle-age white student in my remedial writing class at St. Charles County Community College and was able to arrange a meeting with both her learning disabled father and her learning disabled daughter, which gave me a perspective on generational disabilities in the non-minority community.

Wang, M. C., M. C. Reynolds, and H. J. Walberg. "Inner-City Students at the Margins." Invitational Conference on Making a Difference for Students at Risk." Princeton, N. J. 14-15 October, 1993.

This speech argues for totally inclusive schools to be built around the learning disabilities the students within them may have.

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