In “What should teachers do? Ebonics and Culturally Responsive Instruction”, author Lisa Delpit deconstructs the Ebonics debate – the argument of whether or not the use of local dialect and colloquial English is acceptable in a classroom, and highlights the negative consequences of enforcing the strict use of standard English in the classroom. Delpit makes the point that teachers are being misguided by the belief that a students’ life goals will be hindered if they do not learn standard English. In practice, constant correction often does not lead to the desired effect and actually makes speech more difficult by increasing cognitive monitoring. Student’s often feel contempt when they are constantly corrected for using language that is accepted in all other aspects of their lives, which makes a student unreceptive to a teacher’s advice.
A key factor that plays into the Ebonics debate is the idea of group identity. By the time a child reaches school age, they have already established a sense of cultural and group identity. Delpit uses a number of examples to highlight that when children use Ebonics at home, forcing the use of standard English in the classroom blocks development. Overcorrection can cause a child to become a less fluent reader than other children who are not interrupted. Also – a complete focus on pronunciation cab block a child’s understanding of what their reading.
A teacher’s job is multifaceted and they need to both provide access to standard English, as well as accept and celebrate the language they speak outside of school. Teachers need to learn how to effectively teach language to student’s whose culture and language may differ from their own. In the end, each speaker will make their own decision on how to say something – it is the teacher’s role to make sure they have the tools available to access knowledge.