Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa DelpitOther People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit

Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom

byLisa Delpit

Paperback | August 1, 2006

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An updated edition of the classic revolutionary analysis of the role of race in the classroom

Winner of an American Educational Studies Association Critics’ Choice Award and Choice Magazine’s Outstanding Academic Book Award, and voted one of Teacher Magazine’s “great books,” Other People’s Children has sold over 150,000 copies since its original hardcover publication. This anniversary paperback edition features a new introduction by Delpit as well as new framing essays by Herbert Kohl and Charles Payne.

In a radical analysis of contemporary classrooms, MacArthur Award-winning author Lisa Delpit develops ideas about ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom, where prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions breed ineffective education. Delpit suggests that many academic problems attributed to children of color are actually the result of miscommunication, as primarily white teachers and “other people’s children” struggle with the imbalance of power and the dynamics plaguing our system.

A new classic among educators, Other People’s Children is a must-read for teachers, administrators, and parents striving to improve the quality of America’s education system.
Lisa Delpit is an Eminent Scholar and Executive Director of the Center for Urban Education and Innovation at Florida International University in Miami, where she lives. Her work is dedicated to providing excellent education for marginalized communities in the United States and abroad. Herb Kohl is a recipient of the National Book Awar...
Title:Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the ClassroomFormat:PaperbackDimensions:223 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.7 inPublished:August 1, 2006Publisher:The New PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1595580743

ISBN - 13:9781595580740

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Read from the Book

IntroductionSCENE ICarolyn is a young Irish-American kindergarten teacherwho has been teaching for five years. The school atwhich she has taught has been a predominantly white,middle-class school in a quiet neighborhood in New England.However, because of recent redistricting, the school populationnow includes children from a housing project not faraway. These children are almost exclusively poor and black.Thus, Carolyn and the other teachers in the school are newlyfaced with a population of children with whom they are completelyunfamiliar.I am working on a research project with Carolyn. She hasasked me to observe a little boy named Anthony, a five-year-oldblack child from “the projects,” whom she has defined as achild with behavioral, learning, and language problems. Shewants to use the results of my observations to “get him help.”In my observations of Anthony in the classroom, I havenoticed that he gets almost no positive feedback during thecourse of a day, and instead receives a tremendous number ofnegative comments. I have taken Anthony out into the hallwayseveral times to talk and play privately so as to get a betterassessment of his actual abilities. The following dialogue istaken from a transcript of my conference with Carolyn aboutmy observations. I am attempting to point out some ofAnthony’s positive points to Carolyn:L: Anthony told me that he liked school and that his favoritething in his class was group time.C: That’s amazing, since he can’t sit still in it. He just saysanything sometimes. In the morning he’s OK; after naphe’s impossible.* * *L: He’s really talking more, it seems!C: He’s probably never allowed to talk at home. He needscommunicative experience. I was thinking of referring himto a speech therapist. He probably never even got to usescissors at home.* * *L: He told me about his cousin he plays with after school. Itseems he really does have things to talk about.C: It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think he even knows whatfamily means. Some of these kids don’t know who theircousins are and who their brothers and sisters are.SCENE IICharles is a three-year-old African-American boy who likes alittle white girl in my daughter’s nursery school class. Likemost three-year-olds, his affection is expressed as much withhugs as with hits. One morning I notice that Charles has beenhovering around Kelly, his special friend. He grabs her frombehind and tries to give her a bear hug. When she protests,the teacher tells him to stop. A short time later he returns toher table to try to kiss her on the cheek. She protests again andthe teacher puts him in “time-out.” I comment to the teacherwith a smile that Charles certainly seems to have a little crushon Kelly. She frowns and replies that his behavior is “way outof line.” She continues with disgust in her voice, “Sometimeswhat he does just looks like lust.”SCENE IIIOne evening I receive a telephone call from Terrence’s mother,who is near tears. A single parent, she has struggled to put heracademically talented fourteen-year-old African-Americanson in a predominantly white private school. As an involvedparent, she has spoken to each of his teachers several timesduring the first few months of school, all of whom assured herthat Terrence was doing “just fine.” When the first quarter’sreport cards were issued, she observed with dismay a reportfilled with Cs and Ds. She immediately went to talk to histeachers. When asked how they could have said he was doingfine when his grades were so low, each of them gave her someversion of the same answer: “Why are you so upset? For him,Cs are great. You shouldn’t try to push him so much.”As I lived through each of these scenarios, a familiar sense ofdread closed in around me: my throat constricted, my eyesburned, I found it hard to breathe. I have faced this fog toomany times in my career in education. It is a deadly fogformed when the cold mist of bias and ignorance meets thewarm vital reality of children of color in many of our schools.It is the result of coming face-to-face with the teachers, thepsychologists, the school administrators who look at “otherpeople’s children” and see damaged and dangerous caricaturesof the vulnerable and impressionable beings before them.But we cannot blame the schools alone. We live in a societythat nurtures and maintains stereotypes: we are all bombardeddaily, for instance, with the portrayal of the young black maleas monster. When we see a group of young black men, we lockour car doors, cross to the other side of the street, or clutch ourhandbags. We are constantly told of the one out of four blackmen who is involved with the prison system – but what aboutthe three out of four who are not? During a major storm thispast winter, a group of young black men in my neighborhoodspent the day freeing cars that were stuck in the ice. When dowe see their lives portrayed on the six o’clock news?So, as a result of living in this society, their teachers makebig assumptions about Anthony, Charles, and Terrence. Theyjudge their actions, words, intellects, families, and communitiesas inadequate at best, as collections of pathologies atworst. These stories can be justifiably interpreted as examplesof racism. However valid that interpretation may be, it isinsufficient, for it gives us no clue as to how to resolve theproblem. Indeed, these views are not limited to white adults.In my experience in predominantly black school districts, themiddle-class African-American teachers who do not identifywith the poor African-American students they teach may holdsimilarly damaging stereotypes. These adults probably are notbad people. They do not wish to damage children; indeed,they likely see themselves as wanting to help. Yet they aretotally unable to perceive those different from themselvesexcept through their own culturally clouded vision. In myexperience, they are not alone.We all carry worlds in our heads, and those worlds aredecidedly different. We educators set out to teach, but howcan we reach the worlds of others when we don’t even knowthey exist? Indeed, many of us don’t even realize that our ownworlds exist only in our heads and in the cultural institutionswe have built to support them. It is as if we are in the middleof a great computer-generated virtual reality game, but the“realities” displayed in various participants’ minds areentirely different terrains. When one player moves right andup a hill, the other player perceives him as moving left andinto a river.What are we really doing to better educate poor children andchildren of color? Sporadically we hear of “minorities” scoringhigher in basic skills, but on the same newspaper page we’reinformed of their dismal showing in higher-order thinkingskills. We hear of the occasional school exemplifying urbanexcellence, but we are inundated with stories of inner-city massfailure, student violence, and soaring drop-out rates. We areheartened by new attempts at school improvement – betterteacher education, higher standards, revised curricula – evenwhile teachers of color are disappearing from the workforce andfiscal cutbacks increase class sizes, decimate critical instruc-tional programs, and make it impossible to repair the buildingsthat are literally falling down around our children’s heads.What should we be doing? The answers, I believe, lie not ina proliferation of new reform programs but in some basicunderstandings of who we are and how we are connected toand disconnected from one another. I have come to some ofthose understandings through my own attempts to understandmy place in this country as an African-Americanwoman: I am the offspring of a teacher in a colored high schoolin pre-integration Louisiana and a man who received his GEDdiploma in his fortieth year, only to die of kidney failure at theage of forty-seven because the “colored ward” was not permittedto use the dialysis machine. I am the frightened teenagerwho was part of the first wave of black students to integratehostile white high schools. I am the college student of the1970s whose political and ethical perspectives were developedagainst the backdrop of the struggle for black liberation andthe war in Vietnam. I am the panicked mother of a five-year-oldsoon to enter an urban public school system where I can nolonger buffer her from damaging perspectives. I am theteacher of many diverse students – from African-Americantoddlers to Papua New Guinean preschoolers, and from Hispanicmiddle-schoolers to European-American college students,to Native Alaskan teachers.The essays included in this book chronicle my journey intounderstanding other worlds, journeys that involved learningto see, albeit dimly, through the haze of my own culturallenses. In that blurred view, I have come to understand thatpower plays a critical role in our society and in our educationalsystem. The worldviews of those with privileged positions aretaken as the only reality, while the worldviews of those lesspowerful are dismissed as inconsequential. Indeed, in the educationalinstitutions of this country, the possibilities for poorpeople and for people of color to define themselves, to determinethe self each should be, involve a power that lies outsideof the self. It is others who determine how they should act,how they are to be judged. When one “we” gets to determinestandards for all “wes,” then some “wes” are in trouble!*The book is divided into three parts. The first contains twoarticles originally published in the Harvard Educational Reviewwhich stirred a great deal of controversy because they challengedaspects of popular approaches to literacy. “Processwriting” and “whole language” advocates believed me to beattacking their “progressive” and “child-centered” methods ofinstruction, while I saw myself as struggling to figure out whysome children of color in classrooms utilizing these methodologieswere not learning to read and write, not acquiring the“codes of power” necessary for success in this society. Thesearticles also questioned why teachers and parents of color wereso seldom included in the conversations about what was goodfor their children. The third essay in Part 1 describes anotheraspect of my thinking, one that has seldom been considered incritiques of my work: even while teachers provide access to the“codes of power” represented by acquiring facility in “standardedited English,” they must also value and make use inthe classroom of the language and culture children bring fromhome.Part 2 tries to find the origins of some of these views in myexperiences and research, particularly through my work inPapua New Guinea and Alaska, where I learned to see theworld through the eyes of those with very different histories.It was in those two settings that I first understood the need tostep outside of myself and my beliefs in order to allow the perspectivesof others to filter in. This part also includes adescription of the results of research on the views and attitudesof teachers of color about their teacher education andsubsequent teaching careers. With the number of students ofcolor increasing in our public school systems every year, evenas the number of teachers of color drops, I believe it is essentialthat we go directly to these seldom-asked teachers to identifythe problems associated with their entering and remaining inthe teaching profession.Part 3 offers some thoughts on solutions and directions forour future as educators. I am not immodest enough to believethat I have the answers to the myriad problems facing educa-tion, but I do hope that these essays suggest some avenues forthose working to find solutions. One piece is directed specificallyto teachers on teaching literacy to disenfranchised students.Another presents recommendations to policy makersfor making the assessment of teachers more sensitive to issuesof cultural difference. The last part concludes with a moregeneral essay on multicultural education, given as the CharlesH. Thompson Lecture at Howard University, which I hopewill interest people concerned with the improvement of educationfor those least well served by the public education systemin this country.

Table of Contents


Editor’s Note ix
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction to the 2005 Edition xiii
Introduction xxi


Skills and Other Dilemmas of a Progressive Black Educator 11
The Silenced Dialogue 21
Language Diversity and Learning 48


The Vilis Tokples Schools of Papua New Guinea 77
“Hello, Grandfather” 91
Teachers’ Voices 105


Cross-cultural Confusions in Teacher Assessment 135
The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse 152
Education in a Multicultural Society 167

Reflections on Other People’s Children HERBERT KOHL 185
Teaching the Hard of Head CHARLES M. PAYNE 188
Other People’s Children: The Lasting Impact PATRICIA LESESNE 193

Notes 201

Index 215

Editorial Reviews

"A godsend . . . honest and fair, yet visionary and firm."-Quarterly Black Review"Phenomonal. . . . [This book] overcomes fear and speaks of truths, truths that otherwise have no voice."-The San Francisco Review of Books"Here, finally, is multiculturalism with a human face."-Teacher Magazine"Provides an important, yet typically avoided, discussion of how power imbalances in the larger U.S. society reverberate in classrooms."-Harvard Educational Review