Thursday, October 13, 2016 -
4:10pm to 6:00pm
Written, Directed and Produced by Jonathan Gayles, Ph.D.
On 18 December, 1996, Oakland Unified Schools adopted what is now commonly known as the “Ebonics Resolution.” Among several points of the Resolution, the board resolved that: the Superintendent in conjunction with her staff shall immediately devise and implement the best possible academic program for imparting instruction to African American students in their primary language for the combined purposes of maintaining the legitimacy and richness of such language whether it is known as “Ebonics,” “African Language Systems,” “Pan African Communication Behaviors” or other description, and to facilitate their acquisition and mastery of English language skills;
…that the Board of Education hereby commits to earmark District general and special funding as is reasonably necessary and appropriate to enable the Superintendent and her staff to accomplish the foregoing.
Almost immediately, this action garnered the attention of the entire nation. Some have argued that the national attention represented tensions about race rather than the potential technical and educational merits of the Resolution itself. Much of the public debate focused on the alleged desire to “teach” Ebonics – something that was never articulated in the original or revised Resolution. Consequently, the Ebonics “debate” could also be understood as a debate about the legitimacy of Black cultural expression itself. Others consider the Resolution, and the contentiousness that followed its adoption, as evidence of political correctness and local educational activism gone completely awry.
For nearly six months, the Resolution was at the epicenter of the so-called “culture wars” in the United States, sharing space with the O.J. Simpson trial. What is clear is that the Resolution provoked pre-existing tensions about race, education and culture that may have had little to do with the Resolution itself. Indeed, less than five weeks after its adoption, the Resolution was the subject of a special U.S. Senate hearing on Ebonics convened by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), then chair of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Education Funding. That a Resolution adopted by a local school board warranted a special senate hearing in less than six weeks speaks to the degree to which the Resolution (or what some thought the Resolution represented) resonated nationally.
This documentary critically considers the Ebonics Resolution as well as the myriad influences on the public debate (or lack thereof) that erupted as a result of the Resolution. Through the use of archival footage and interviews with scholars, policymakers and, most importantly, those directly involved with the Resolution, the documentary pursues a coherent and comprehensive engagement of Ebonics.
Specifically, this documentary seeks answers to the following questions:
• What is Ebonics?
• What structural aspects define this speech variety?
• To what degree is there debate about the name – both the act of naming the speech variety and the name “Ebonics” itself?
• For what reasons was the Resolution adopted?
• For what reasons was the Resolution revised?
• What influenced the public dialogue on the Resolution?
• To what degree was there local consensus on the Resolution?