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African American Vernacular English:

Content and Controversies in the Classroom

Every 7 seconds an African American student is suspended from school, and
every 49 seconds of the school day an African American student drops out of school.
Overall, African American students are twice as likely as Caucasian students to be
suspended, with 20% of them dropping out before college. Along with these statistics
80%-90% of African Americans speak some form of Black English, also known as
Ebonics or African American Vernacular English (AAVE). At the center of culturally
relevant instruction is the culture of the learner. Changes need to occur. To develop an
instructional program that is relevant to students, educators need to understand the core
beliefs and experiences of their culture.
African American students live in a society that devalues their culture and overall
existence; however teachers need to acknowledge students backgrounds and bring in
culturally relevant information to the students so that they will be inclined to learn.
Learning and using African American Vernacular English in the classroom will restore the
power of language back to students, while giving them the traditional skills needed to
succeed in an unconventional method.

Throughout the history of education in the United States of America, African
American students have fallen into the achievement gap, bringing about low test scores,
high retention rates, and skyrocketing drop out rates. In order to combat these increasing
problems, teachers need to make things relevant to the student’s culture. In this unit
students will be able learn and identify the grammar rules associated with African
American Vernacular English, while understanding the deep historical roots of this
language. In addition to these things, students will become more knowledgeable of the
stereotypes and negative connotations associated with AAVE; from that students will be
able to fight back against these stereotypes instead of being a victim.
While learning about AAVE, students will be engaged in African American
literature and music to further understand and see the components of this distinct
language. Gaining valuable experience beyond using their verbal skills, students will
utilize their writing skills in addition to Standard English in traditional types of
assessments. Overall students will become more competent in their first language


• AAE has a grammatical system that is as systematic as that of Mainstream

(Standard) American English. It is not a substandard, uneducated, or lazy way of
• Researchers agree that the roots of AAVE are as deep as those of other social and
regional varieties of American English.
o Despite this history and linguistic standing, there are often negative social
consequences to speaking AAE. Speakers of AAE face discrimination
because of persistent false stereotypes, for instance about the relation
between academic ability and ways of speaking.
• AAE has important social functions: Using AAE features signals solidarity with
others who use this dialect.

NCTE Standards Addressed in this Unit

 Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g.,
conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of
audiences and for different purposes. (Standard 4)
 Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use,
patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and
social roles. (Standard 9)
 Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to
develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of
content across the curriculum. (Standard 10)
 Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own
purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of
information). (Standard 12)