Sunday, January 5, 1997
Ebonics just another sign of waste

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Why can't we see Ebonics for what it really is? It's a wake-up call. Another one.

Never mind the silly idea of teaching slang as a second language. That debate will collapse of its own weight shortly. Especially now that the feds have made it clear there's no money in it.

Worth noticing is that everybody understood immediately what the Oakland school board was talking about when they voted to recognize a dialect they called Ebonics - combining ''ebony'' and ''phonics.''

We've heard it. It's as familiar to people who live in Cincinnati as it is to people in Oakland. Dialects, according to linguists, are born out of both physical and social separation. Isolation, in other words.

And that would be the point, wouldn't it?


Local NAACP President Milton Hinton called the Oakland plan ''demeaning.'' The Rev. Jesse Jackson called it ''teaching down to our children.''

It's wasteful.

I say that because I have been educated by Myron Haynes. Student body president at Walnut Hills High School last year, he plays the violin and had a teen talk show on a radio station. The freshmen at Wittenberg University, which he attends on an academic scholarship, have elected him president of their class.

He is a musician, a scholar, a leader. In short, he has a lot to contribute.

When he was in the second grade, his teacher asked everybody what they wanted to be when they grew up. Without hesitation, he said ''president of the United States.'' Everybody laughed.

''I couldn't understand why,'' he said.

They explained: ''You can't be president because you're black.''

That was an interesting notion to Myron. Not that he has let it interfere with his plans. And besides, his teacher, who was not laughing, told him he could be anything he wanted to be. Anything.

After a degree in political science, then international law, he will pursue a career in politics.

Or, I guess it would be more accurate to say he will continue a career in politics. ''I have always known that I need to be cognizant of the future,'' he says. ''I do kind of watch what I do.'' There will be no letters to the draft board or uninhaled pot on his resume.

Vigilant mom

Unusually polite and attentive - he is, after all, no matter how accomplished, a teen-age boy - Myron tries to help me sort out the Ebonics question.

''It's just another separation,'' he says, in a society that already has enough of those. His mother, Joyce, who would not permit him to speak incorrect English at home, is a nurse at Children's Hospital. I wouldn't presume to give her much advice, since she has surely succeeded in life's greatest challenge - raising a good kid.

But I would have one tiny recommendation. I think she should begin thinking about what she wants to wear to her son's inauguration. I really do.

It's not just faith in Myron's ability to succeed. It's also a desperate hope that the rest of us won't squander his talents. Surely we are not so sleepy that we will not heed this latest proof that we have a long way to go to become one nation.

Possibly it's not fair to talk about Myron Haynes in this matter. He is not average in any way. But I say when you're trying to make a point, you use the best example you can find.

Myron does not speak Ebonics. He is not isolated. He has refused to be. So has his mom. OK, maybe she might have to use her inaugural gown for some other occasion, such as a state dinner or a baptism or a graduation or a wedding.

But this young man will be some kind of success right here in his own country, in his own language.

That would be the point, wouldn't it?

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.