Friday, November 10, 2006

Back to Basics

Berkeley linguistics professor John McWhorter is in Norway and reflecting on why bilingual education has been such a disaster. He also reviews the “ebonics/Black English” debate. An excerpt:

Many think that the fact that Black English carries a stigma as “bad English” makes it a different case from places like Norway. The idea seems to be that black students of a certain demographic resist Standard English because of a feeling that it’s “not their party,” and that we are in the dark about methods of teaching them to read.

Yet from 1967 to 1977, the Department of Education sponsored a study called Project Follow-Through, which focused on lower-income (re: mostly black and brown) children. “Holistic” and “creative” reading programs stressing self-esteem and the like were tested against a rigorous, good old-fashioned program stressing basic skills.

The results resoundingly showed that the basic-skills methods work very well, while the more tutti-frutti ones do not.

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