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September 06, 1979 - Image 42

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-09-06

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Page 14A-Thursday, September 6, 1979-The Michigan Daily

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Black English
Dialect may hinder learning-judge

II

By ELEONORA DI LISCIA
After a group of local students filed.
a suit against the Ann Arbor Board of
Education last year a federal judge
ruled that black English, in com-,
bination with negative teacher at-
titudes, could be a learning barrier for
students who use the dialect.
While it's unclear what the long-
range effects of the decision will be, the
case may increase the probability that
similar suits will be filed by other users
of the black dialect, according to Ann
Arbor School District Superintendent
Harry Howard.
The case began with 15 black children
who attended Martin Luther King Jr.
Elementary School in Ann Arbor and
lived at the Green Road Housing
Project for low-income families. The
basic learning skills of the children did
not match their grade level due to what
experts during the trial attributed to as
language barrier or dialect interferen-
ce, specifically black English.
ATTORNEYS FOR the children
charged the school board with
overlooking the language barrier and
instead labeling the children as
emotionally impaired or learning
disabled. Several witnesses testified

that when children are made to feel that
their language is inferior they develop a
negative self image and become unin-
terested in learning standard English.
Attorneys for the children have main-
tained that the school system is respon-
sible for the education of these children,
despite complications posed by
language difficulites.
The school board has maintained that
there is no language barrier, since the
children are able to understand the
teachers and vice versa. "Language hs
not impeded participation in any school
program and the school had not failed
to take appropriate educational ac-
tions," attorney John Weaver argued
for the schools. Furthermore, he added,
the school could not guarantee an
education unless the child was willing
to learn.
Plaintiff aftorneys Gabe Kaimowitz
and Kenny Lewis tried to show that
while the differences between black
and standard English are few "the dif-
ferences are very significant."
KAIMOWITZ AND Lewis said they,
weren't asking that black English be
taught in the school but that the child's
black dialect be used to teach standard
English. The plaintiff attorneys have

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agreed that children must be taught to
read standard English but in order to
do so the home language of the child
must be recognized without being
stigmatized.
After hearing the case Federal
District Court Judge Charles Joiner
ruled in a 43-page opinion that there
was no direct evidence that the school
had damaged or been insensitive to the
children. He wrote that "Black English
is not a learning barrier in and by it-
self" but could become one when com-
bined with negative teacher attitudes.
The judge requested the school board
develop a plan to train teachers to iden-
tify students who speak black English
and use that knowledge to teach stan-
dard English.
Some ways that black English may
impede. a child's learning are
gramatical and auditory, witnesses
testified. They said children who use
the dialect had difficulties with. the
Wepman Auditory Discrimination Test,
which requires that children
discriminate between the meanings of
two different words which sound alike.
GRAMATICALLY, the use of the
verb "to be" may become a problem
when not recognized as being different
from standard English. According to
Geneva Smitherman, the director of the
Center for Black Studies at Wayne
State University, black dialect "allows
you to differentiate between subtle
aspects of meaning with words." For
instance, "he be gone," "he gone," and
"he been gone," have different
meanings. "He be gone" means he is
gone frequently or continuously. "He
gone" means he is gone right now. "He
been gone" means he's been gone for a
long time.
Smitherman estimates that 90 per
See JUDGE, Page 17

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