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Black English Testimony Winding Down

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Black English testimony winding down

By Katherine Green


DETROIT - Attorneys for Ann Arbor’s “Green Road” children rested their case Friday following testimony by two witnesses who stressed the value of teacher expectation and the role of the administrator in the schools. Another witness, who had testified previously, was recalled to the stand to testify on teacher attitudes towards language.

The three testified in proceedings of the black English lawsuit currently being argued before U.S. District Judge Charles Joiner in Detroit.

Kenneth Haskins, president of Roxbury Community College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Professor Ronald Edmonds of the Harvard School of Education, and senior assistant of public instruction for the New York City public schools, testified on findings from their experiences and research in public school systems.

Haskins testified that it is sometimes necessary to change teacher attitude to increase teacher expectation.

"THE MAJOR PROBLEM in schools is the attitude staff and faculty members have toward black English," said Haskins, who was a former elementary school social worker and administrator in Washington, D.C.

"Teachers take an approach that students are trying to speak standard English, but don't have the intelligence to speak it well, rather than giving them credit for what they've learned so far," he said.

The 11 Ann Arbor children, who all reside in the Green Road public housing projects and attend Martin Luther King Elementary School, are not doing well in classes.  Some have been placed in special education, learning disability and speech classes as a result of tests which indicated the need for those kind of services, according to school officials. Attorneys for the children contend that these services place a stigma on the children and has been done because of the language they speak.

Testimony from Edmonds supported previous testimony that if children are not learning, the “expectations in that building calls for something to be done differently.”

Edmonds is former assistant superintendent in the Michigan Department of Public Instruction, a former Ann Arbor teacher and was the first human relations director for the Ann Arbor school system.

OTHER TESTIMONY was received from Dr. Richard Bailey, professor of English language and literature at the University of Michigan. Bailey was recalled to the stand by attorneys for the plaintiffs to comment on teacher attitudes toward language.

“I believe the people, staff and administrators, who expressed neutral ideas toward the black children, did indeed feel negative,” said Bailey, who had analyzed tapes of the teacher comments.

John Weaver, school board attorney, is expected to file a motion Monday afternoon to dismiss the case on grounds of insufficient evidence to justify that a language barrier exists between the plaintiff children and the teachers at King School.