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Ebonics, the Oakland Resolution, and Using Non-Standard Dialects in the Classroom

Keywords: African-American (Vernacular) English , Ebonics , Oakland , non-standard English , dialect , pedagogy

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In 1996, the Oakland, California school board passed a resolution that ignited fervent debate, both linguistic and pedagogical. It resolved that the first language of African American students was indeed not English, but ‘Ebonics’, and it proposed improve the literacy of these students by applying ESL methodology that was already in place for students with a first language other than English: the instruction of English through the medium of the first language.This paper will explore the revelatory controversy that ensued. The debate called attention to the highly arbitrary nature of the distinction between languages and dialects, and more importantly to the prevailing negative attitude towards non-standard linguistic varieties. The resolution was later amended and many of its original claims were mitigated, but it continued to call for the valorization of Ebonics in the classroom as a bridge to the instruction of Standard English. The issues raised by the Oakland Resolution continue to be relevant today as pedagogues look to it as a model of instruction for speakers of other non-standard dialects.


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