Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom

Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom

Winner of an American Educational Studies Association Critics Choice Award and Choice Magazines Outstanding Academic Book Award, and voted one of Teacher Magazines great books, Other Peoples Children has sold over 150,000 copies since its original hardcover publication.

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There is a really useful divide in the theory involving teaching children to read, with right-wing types likely to stress the importance of skills-based methods of instruction, while left-wing types are likely to stress the readers construction of meaning as the best way to learn to read. Her point is that when many well-meaning people are trying to teach young black children to read, ideology can get in the way whether right or left-wing ideology while what is actually needed is a focus on what works. Her work is based on theory - but her point remains - simpleminded applications of ideology do not help children of colour learn how to read. The middle class kids had two linguistic codes they could rely on - a concrete one (just as the working class kids had) for when they were talking with those immediately around them - and a more universal one for when they were talking to the teacher or when they need to speak to people in authority. This second code is particularly prized at school and it therefore gives middle class children an advantage over their working class peers, particularly in the classroom. All you needed to do, to make the world a more equal place, was to give working class the same access to this universal linguistic code they lacked. The problem is that this type of deficit idea seems to imply that black or working class children are stupid - and that was certainly never Bernstein's belief. Which means that too often when people are trying to teach people the 'language of power' what actually happens is that the people being tuught feel as if they are being made fun of or disrespected at least and that does as much to stop them from learning as anything else you can think of. Delpit's point is that you need to not only teach the highly prized language - but to do so in ways that respect their linguistic codes at the same time. She is also not saying that children of black or working class parents can get by with their own 'quaint linguistic codes.

Rather, she asserts, students must learn the tools and skills that are necessary for success in modern America, namely standard English.

Repeatedly she suggests that white liberals are too scared to use authority in the classroom, and that they are too wimpy to properly teach African American children (who Delpit treats as if they are a species apart, and so require different teaching methods as compared to all other racial groups). She encourages her students to distrust and be suspicious of white Americans, and argues very early in the book that teachers who disagree with her (that is, those that permit the use of AAVE in speech and writing, as long as a proper point is communicated) likely only feel this way as a means to protect high-status jobs. She also attacks statistics, research, and science repeatedly throughout the work; but even so, countless times she makes statements like 'studies have shown,' followed by a completely outlandish belief.

Here are some quotes/tidbits to give the gist of the book: In response to whether or not students should be taught Standard English, many parents share these sentiments: "My kids know how to be black - you all teach them how to be successful in the white mans' world." "Teachers do students no service to suggest, even implicitly, that 'product' is not important.

This would never be a book that I would consider recommending for gaining deeper insights into teaching children of color.

Page 30 The authoritative teacher can control the class through exhibition of personal power; establishes meaningful interpersonal relationships that garner student respect; exhibits a strong belief that all students can learn; establishes a standard of achievement and pushes the students to achieve that standard; and holds the attention of the students by incorporating interactional features of black communicative style in his or her teaching. This can only be done, however, by seeking out those whose perspectives may differ most, by learning to give their words complete attention, by understanding ones own power, even if that power stems merely from being in the majority, by being unafraid to raise questions about discrimination and voicelessness with people of color, and to listen, no, to hear what they say. I suggest that the results of such interactions may be the most powerful and empowering coalescence yet seen in the educational realm for all teachers and for all the students they teach. Page 51 Teachers need to support he language that students bring to school, provide them input from an additional code, and give them the opportunity to use the new code in a nonthreatening, real communicative context. Page 60 Some youngsters may become more engaged in school tasks when the language of those tasks is posed in real-life contexts than when they are viewed as merely decontextualized problem completion. Yet, all U.S. demographic data points to a society becoming increasingly diverse, and that diversity is nowhere more evident than in our schools We can continue to view diversity as a problem Or we can recognize that diversity of thought, language, and worldview in our classrooms cannot only provide an exciting educational setting, but can also prepare our children for the richness of living in an increasingly diverse national community. Page 74 The worldviews of many in our society exist in protected cocoons their public lives and the institutions they have encountered merely reflect a reality these individuals have been schooled in since birth. Those who have been on the receiving end of such biases understand them well Listening to the stories of these women and men has made me even more sensitive to the ways in which most institutions in our society are created to reflect the realities of a particular cultural group mainly the white, academically oriented middle class. Page 97 Whats interesting to me is the frequency with which the Anglo teachers words do not match his actions: he frequently directs the children to do something while he is physically engaged in a completely different task himself. From the childs perspective, their teachers attempt to coerce behavior Despite the rhetoric of American education, it does not teach children to be independent, but rather to be dependent on external sources for direction, for truth, for meaning. Page 102 Learning solely through the decontextualized word, particularly learning something that was so much a part of their home culture, was simply too foreign for the children to grasp without careful instruction about how to make the transition. Page 124 Dewey further advises that failure to allow students to explore their past experiences in light of theoretical constructs will produce only a mindless imitation of others practice rather that a reflection on teaching as an interactive process. Page 125 It is vitally important that connections be examined, that the education professor highlight the narratives of the students of color and ask them to serve as resources for bringing to the fore differences in worldview, learning style, social organization, language, and so forth. Page 126 The students of color may find their experiences both admissible and valued in the classroom, which, along with the increased opportunity for interaction, may help to reduce their feelings of isolation from the university and their white classmates and professors. Page 126 If we are to succeed in this quest, we must recognize and address the power differentials that exist in our society between schools and communities, between teachers and parents, between poor and well-to-do, between whites and people of color. Page 151 Knowledge about culture is but one tool that educators may make use of when devising solutions for a schools difficulty in educating diverse children. Not knowing students strengths leads to our teaching down to children from communities that are culturally different from that of the teachers in the school. Page 173 If we plan to survive as a species on this planet we must certainly create multicultural curricula that educate our children to the differing perspectives of our diverse population. Page 177 Were that not the case, these children would not talk about doing well in school as acting white. Page 177 If we are to successfully educate all of our children, we must work to remove the blinders built of stereotypes, monocultural instructional methodologies, ignorance, social distance, biased research, and racism. Page 182 REFLECTIONS One of the educational conversations I always dream of having: no ego, no contest, just a consideration of schooling and how it affects childrens lives, combined with a lot of storytelling. Herbert Kohl I expect tears, arguments, denials, excuses, confessions, accusations, and whole range of displays of vulnerability, revenge, and strength Upon first reading OTHER PEOPLES CHILDREN many white teachers take it as an attack on their capacity to teach students of color. Others believe their problems teaching African American students stem directly from the childrens families, neighborhoods, peers, and cultural environments. Charles Payne After a workshop on poverty and some honest reflection Patricia Lesesne Through this communication, I realized that I was operating from a middle-class ethos with all of is trappings Instead of asking why a behavior exists and when it will stop, I began to ask how I could create a classroom setting that allows these students to thrive in a society run according to middle-class values while respecting their home cultures.

Through tales of Native Alaskan tribes, urban blacks, and minority student teachers, Delpit reminds teachers, parents, administrators, and students themselves about diverse upbringings and differences in linguistic cultural traditions that can easily be misunderstood in a school environment that is run by and which teaches the (white, professional) culture in power way of speaking/writing/learning/relating.

2. Recognize conflict between students' home discourses and the discourse of school.

Indeed, many of us dont even realize that our own worlds exist only in our heads and in the cultural institutions we have built to support them. p.25 What the school personnel fail to understand is that if the parents were members of the culture of power and live by itself rules and codes, then they would transmit those does to their children. p.37 Now you may have interred that I believe that because there is a culture of power, everyone should learn the codes to participate in it, and that is how the world should be. p.39 to summarize, I suggest that students must be taught the codes needed to participate fully in the mainstream of American life, not by being forces to attend to hollow, inane, decontextualizes subskills, but rather within the context of meaningful communicative endeavors; that they must be allowed the resource of the teachers expert knowledge, while being helped to acknowledge their own expertness as well; and the even while students are assisted in learning the culture of power, they must also be helped to learn about the arbitrariness of those codes and about the power relationships they represent. This can only be done, however, by seeking out those whose perspective may differ most, by learning to give their words complete attention, by understanding ones own power, even if that power stems merely from being in the majority, by being unafraid to raise questions about discrimination and voicelessness with people of color, and to listen, no, the hear what they say.p.47 Thus, if teachers hope to avoid negatively stereotyping the language patterns of their students, it is important that they be encouraged to interact with, and willingly learn from, knowledgeable members of their students cultural groups. This can perhaps best become a reality if teacher education programs include diverse parents, community members, and faculty among those who prepare future teachers, and take seriously the need to develop in those teachers the humility required for learning from the surrounding context when entering a culturally different setting.

In her collection of essays, Other Peoples Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, MacArthur Award-winning author Dr. Lisa Delpit examines how everyday interactions in classrooms are laden with assumptions about the competencies, aptitudes and basic capabilities of low-income students and students of color. We hoped that it inspires you to read this book, and to join in our discussion about culture, language and power in schools.

  • Education

  • Rating: 4.11
  • Pages: 223
  • Publish Date: August 1st 2006 by The New Press
  • Isbn10: 1595580743
  • Isbn13: 9781595580740