Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Other People's Children

Lisa Delpit's Other People's Children is an excellent and thoughtful book about education in a multicultural environment. What I found most interesting was the fact that she highlighted some scathing comments by other black teachers who seem to view so-called "progressive" education as a liberal racist ploy. For example, she had learned in education school to "embrace[] holistic processes" to teach writing "with an emphasis on fluency and creative expression." But when she talked to another black teacher -- Cathy -- she heard quite a different perspective:
She adamantly insisted that it [a progressive writing program] was doing a monumental disservice to black children. I was stunned. I started to defend the program, but then thought better of it, and asked her why she felt so negative about what she had seen.

* * * she was particularly adamant about the notion that black children had to learn to be "fluent" in writing -- had to feel comfortable about putting pen to paper -- before they could be expected to conform to any conventional standards. "These people keep pushing this fluency thing," said Cathy. "What do they think? Our children have no fluency? If they think that, they ought to read some of the rap songs my students write all the time. They might not be writing their school assignments but they sure are writing. Our kids are fluent. What they need are the skills that will get them into college. I've got a kid right now -- brilliant. But he can't get a score on the SAT that will even get him considered by any halfway decent college. He needs skills, not fluency. This is just another one of those racist ploys to keep our kids out. White kids learn how to write a decent sentence. Even if they don't teach them in school, their parents make sure they get what they need. But what about our kids? They don't get it at home and they spend all their time in school learning to be fluent. I'm sick of this liberal nonsense.
Delpit describes other similar incidents. Then in the second chapter of the book, Delpit is even harsher:
Several black teachers have said to me recently that as much as they'd like to believe otherwise, they cannot help but conclude that many of the "progressive" educational strategies imposed by liberals upon black and poor children could only be based on a desire to ensure that liberals' children get sole access to the dwindling pool of American jobs. Some have added that the liberal educators believe themselves to be operating with good intentions, but that these good intentions are only conscious delusions about their unconscious true motives.
What's really interesting is Delpit's description of what happened when she presented these ideas at a 1987 conference at the University of Pennsylvania:
Amidst an undercurrent of whispered disapproval, one white woman rose to say that I was lying to suggest that black teachers weren't happy: I was just trying to stir up trouble where none existed. Several of the African-American teachers in the audience loudly and passionately challenged her position. When the session was ended due to scheduling constraints, the passion continued. I found the woman who had challenged me sobbing in the bathroom, surrounded by a group of consoling white women.



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