Originally created 01/30/97

Georgia lawmakers work to block Ebonics



ATLANTA - A group of black lawmakers want to make sure Ebonics doesn't join reading, writing and arithmetic in the standard fare of Georgia classrooms.

A measure banning local systems from implementing language curriculum based on Ebonics won near-unanimous approval Wednesday from the Senate Education Committee, the first step in what is expected to be an easy circuit through the General Assembly.

Sen. Ralph David Abernathy, D-Atlanta, told the committee he has no evidence that Ebonics - so-called "Black English" - is widely used by Georgia educators in the classroom. But he doesn't want schools even to consider it.

"This is not an issue and I do not want it to become an issue," Mr. Abernathy said. "African-American students are very capable of using standard English in the form it is now being taught.

"We need to send a message across the country that Georgia doesn't have a problem and we don't want it coming into our school systems."

A national debate was kicked off last month when the Oakland, Cal., school board adopted a policy to recognize Ebonics.

The board's measure called Ebonics a "genetically based," distinctive language and the "primary language" of many black students.

The original resolution drew sharp criticism from some black leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The Clinton administration voiced concern and said it would refuse to grant special funding to the system.

It was amended two weeks ago to remove references to Ebonics being "genetically based" and to clarify that black students will not actually be taught in Ebonics.

Several multicultural school districts across the country, including DeKalb County's, already use distinct speech patterns like Ebonics as a bridge to teaching standard English.

DeKalb County officials said Mr. Abernathy's bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Nadine Thomas, D-Atlanta, and Floyd Griffin, D-Milledgeville, wouldn't change their curriculum.

Mr. Abernathy dubbed his measure "preventive legislation" to keep systems from stigmatizing and singling out black students. If that happened, he said, the next step might be to separate poor children from others.

"Before we know it, we'll be back where we were in the 60s'," the lawmaker told reporters.

But DeKalb County Sen. Vincent Fort, a member of the Senate Education Committee, called it a "non-issue" and voted against the bill.

"There are other issues we need to be dealing with for our children. There are issues of school violence. There are issues of non-education of our children, particularly disadvantaged children," Mr. Fort said. "We need to deal with substantive issues instead of non-issues."