My thoughts on Ebonics….

… and my opinions on the unifying national necessities of accepting a standardized language and standardized law.
First, some disclaimers: I’m not a sociologist or a scholar. What I’m expressing here are my ruminations after 30 years in the field of education, 64 years of curiosity about ideologies and the forces that drive people apart, and 40 some odd years of trying to bring up two kids who have turned out to be really good, kind, accepting (although also assertive), literate, and loving adults.
What I’m expressing here are my thoughts after reading the comments (and getting emails) about this post about P. Diddy and who’s getting credit and money for originating the Vote or Die t-shirt effort. What I’m expressing here are my feelings about the assumptions made about my motives just because I’m white, old, middle class, literate, and my glory days dancing a mean Salsa are long over.
I mention Ebonics, but that’s not really the whole issue. That was just a way to get people to click on the link that comes up in Google.
The really issue is connected to the matter of how to create a feeling of national unity — an attitude about being an American that transcends race, nationality, cultural and language background, and religious (or non) beliefs.
It seems to me that two of the major unifying forces in any nation are its language and its laws — a language which all citizens speak understandably (although not necessarily solely or perfectly) and fundamental and fair laws about which all citizens understand their rights and responsibilities and are fully aware of the consequences of breaking those laws.
The language of America is historically based in the English language, although it has evolved over the centuries into our own form of English. Our laws are written in English, most of the citizens of this country have always spoken English. If I moved to France and wanted to become a citizen there, I sure would be expected to learn basic French in order to participate fully in my citizenship. And that’s how it should be.
I seems to me that it’s so important for the people of a nation to embrace a common language and accept standardized democratic laws that empower them to be good citizens, good people, caring adults.
I know that these are complex issues, and I’m not trying to oversimplify. As a matter of fact, the issue of laws is way out of my scope of understanding. All I know is that we keep veering farther and farther from the intents of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and our legal system has gotten much too complicated. The Patriot Act is the work of the devil, and our drug laws are out of sync with scientific reality. That’s as far as I go with my understanding of our system of laws.
But language isn’t out of the scope of my understanding and experience.
I grew up bi-lingual, speaking Polish along with English, since I was part of an extended immigrant family. It never occurred to me that Polish would be my first language. I’m an American. I was born here, and if I wanted to be able to communicate clearly with my fellow citizens, I needed to become proficient in English.
It seems to me (and I can just hear the mental explosions going on in the minds of many reading this) that in order to become a naturalized citizen and have the rights and responsibilities thereof, one should first be required to have a basic command of the English language and an ability to read and understand the fundamental laws of the land. Until then, one is a guest of this country, to be treated with respect, to be assisted in attaining citizenship — but not a citizen with guaranted rights and responsibilities. Yes, yes, I know. That’s not a simple strategy to put into place either.
What that would mean for education, however, is that students who do not have minimal English language skills would be required to learn them before anything else (and that includes students who ARE American citizens). Doing so would not prevent them from continuing to speak their native language or to continue learning other subjects. Yes, yes, I know. That’s not a simple strategy to enforce either.
But all these things can be done. It’s a matter of attitude about language and its importance in solidifying a national spirit, a feeling of national community.
We can celebrate all of our subcultures, continue speaking and sharing all of our second and third languages. As individuals, we are, after all, all pieces of the global puzzle. But here, at home, in this simmering steaming vegetable soup that started out as a little melting pot, we need a way to also see ourselves as true and empowered pieces of the same whole America.
Language empowers.
I watch my 88 year old mother on the verge of tears because she is having trouble coming up with specific words she wants and needs to communicate her needs to me. The human link of common language is waning for her.
I watch my toddler grandson look me in the eye and say over and over again words that he wants me to understand but I can’t seem to get. He’s struggling to learn the language he needs to communicate with me and the rest of the world. He wants to be understood. He wants to connect. I try to meet him halfway for now. I struggle with him for understanding and connection.
Understanding and connection. Those are the benefits of a shared language.
Offshoots of the English language, like Ebonics, while becoming a unifying factor in the subculture, become a force for disunity in the larger national community. There are ways to deal with this issue, including making students — and the public — aware of the various uses, and the appropriate uses, of language.
Do I see that there will be a solution, a resolution to this language issue? Nope. We have become a nation of subcultures pitted against one another. The vegetable soup is curdling. If we ever had a recipe for the easily mingled flavors of an essentially unified America, we sure don’t have it any more.
I don’t know what this nation will be like when my grandson is my age. There’s a part of me that feels I’m going to be glad that I’m not here to see it all go down the drain.
My one hope is that the Kerry/Edward ticket will prevail. As I watched the Presidential Debates last night, I thought that Kerry made frightening and intelligently articulate sense. Bush who looked an awful like George Burns to me, was appealing to all of those — and there are many — who need an authority figure up there who’s so convinced that he’s right that he convinces them he is simply by saying it often enough. Simple minds. Simple solutions. Simply scary as hell.
P.S. While I’m on the subject of language and the presidency, how about Bush’s use of the word “vociferously” when he said that the insurgency didn’t want democracy which is why “they’re fighting so vociferously.”
VOCIFEROUSLY!???? Mr. President, I’m fighting vociferously. The insurgents are fighting a lot more than vociferously. You can even turn the sound down on your tv and you can tell that they’re fighting more than vociferously. The way they’re fighting is downright vehement.
Sigh. We have a president who doesn’t know the English language. No wonder America is rife with misunderstanding, miscommunication, and missed connections. So much for articulate, intelligent, educated, thoughtful, and informed leadership.

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