Yesterday, I decided to take my girls to the local park. It was a clear, 63-degree day and I thought that we could all use the fresh air and sunshine. The park was full of energetic, merry children. While watching my girls play on the slide, I noticed a middle-aged black woman pushing a child in a stroller around the fenced in play area. She stopped about five feet away from me. She appeared to be looking for one of her children. Just then, a little black girl emerged from the swarm of kids in the center of the play area and ran up to her.
The woman looked down at the girl and said, “Where yo’ sister at?” The little girl shrugged her shoulders. The woman continued, “Ya’ll ‘posed to had been together.” I cringed while listening to this woman speak to her child this way.
I could cite a dozen studies and quote several statistics that highlight the importance of language and literacy skills, but it does not take a specialist to understand that the more words a child knows, the more concepts they are able to understand. Consequently, the greater their capacity for learning.
Some people regard broken English (also known as “Ebonics”) as a language in its own right. I reject that view. Nevertheless, the effects of its usage are undeniable. Children that grow up hearing broken English and fewer words do not acquire the vocabulary that is necessary to be successful students.
When it comes to literacy, we should heed the lessons of the past.
During slavery, educating slaves was strictly forbidden. Slave-owners recognized that communication and literacy were keys to independence and thus a threat to the slave industry because they eliminated a slave’s reliance on his or her master. Slave-owners understood that in order to control their slaves, they had to keep them intellectually immature.
The key to freedom is knowledge. The key to knowledge is literacy. The key to literacy is proper speech.
When we use broken English to communicate with our children, we are employing the same method that slave-owners used to keep their slaves intellectually immature. We are preventing them from acquiring the vocabulary that they will need to be successful in the classroom. Effectively, we are mentally enslaving our children.