Dogma versus reality: Part II

Posted: Jul 20, 2005 12:00 AM

A recent e-mail from a dedicated teacher illustrates a problem that has received far too little attention.

 In her kindergarten class was a little black girl who did well except for getting a very obvious question wrong. It turned out that the little girl had no problem with the concepts or the facts but had misinterpreted a word because it sounded like another word that she had heard used at home, where a "black English" dialect was spoken.

 Since the teacher was white, she knew that she was running a risk by getting into this issue. Opening this can of worms could result in anything from being called a "racist" to an ugly confrontation at school or in court.

  Nevertheless, the teacher told the girl's mother that, unless her daughter learned standard English, her education could suffer and her intelligence might be so under-estimated that she could be falsely labeled subnormal.

 It was near the end of the term so there was no time to see what effect, if any, the teacher's words might have had.

 Some time later, however, the mother and the teacher happened to encounter each other in a department store and discussed what had happened since their discussion.

 Sure enough, the same problems had caused the little girl to do badly on tests in her next class. Fortunately, the girl's mother now remembered the teacher's warning and began to get workbooks and to watch how people spoke around the little girl at home.

 On the next tests, the girl made straight A's.

 Think about it: This straight-A student could have ended up a failure and perhaps even considered retarded, if her teacher had not gone out on a limb to let her mother know what was wrong. Years of letting the problem go uncorrected could have taken a toll on her prospects for a lifetime.

 No matter how smart you are, you can end up looking pretty dumb if you take a test written in Chinese. But there is no excuse for English to be a foreign language to anyone growing up in the United States.

 Thanks to the dedicated work of Ron Unz in California and other states, the practice of teaching Hispanic American students in Spanish under so-called "bilingual" programs, has been shot down and the test scores of Hispanic students have gone up.

 For black students, getting them away from "black English" is likewise key to improving their education and all the opportunities in later life that will depend on education. Unfortunately, there are too many people with a vested interest in promoting "black English" and other fads that are part of the multicultural ideology.

 What makes this a farce, as well as a tragedy, is that what is called "black English" is a dialect that originated among white people in parts of Britain centuries ago. That dialect was transferred across the Atlantic when people in those parts of Britain settled in the American South.

 With more than 90 percent of the black population living in the antebellum South, this transplanted dialect became the language of American blacks. Meanwhile, that dialect died out in Britain, with the spread of education and the standardization of the English language.

 It also eroded away in the South, with the spread of education among whites and blacks. But it persisted among the least educated blacks and, after the 1960s, this dialect became a badge of racial identity. Teachers were warned not to tamper with it and many heeded the warning.

 Fortunately for one little girl, one teacher defied the taboo and pointed out the obvious handicap that "black English" could be in school and in life.

 One teacher can't do it all. Not only do more teachers need to start correcting "black English," blacks themselves -- especially leaders and activists -- need to recognize what a high price a whole generation of black youngsters will pay for the indulgence of a fad and the hustles that grow out of that fad.

 The time is overdue. And the clock is still ticking.