Most helpful critical review
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Insightful but contradictory
on September 2, 2010
This book is a must-read. Many important issues are presented which I had never engaged with before, even in my teaching program, and even in a class in which the teacher urged us to read this book (but didn't make it mandatory).
To cut to the quick, though, I have a few problems with it. Delpit seems to suggest that white teachers are not direct enough with minority (esp. black) kids, and this is a source of confusion, because black parents have a much more direct style than white parents, and so black kids don't know what to do when they aren't being ordered around as at home. Perhaps this is true, but what she doesn't say is that black parents also tend to use corporal punishment to enforce their authority... should we white teachers then be allowed to hit black kids for disrespecting us or refusing to comply with our commands? Many blacks I've talked to have emphatically argued that indeed, teachers should be allowed to hit the kids. But somehow this must cross the line for Delpit.
Another thing I noticed is that on p. 120, she quotes "a black teacher who taught for 2 years and then left the profession in 1971" as saying that "Minority teachers expect kids to make their own decisions; white teachers tell kids everything to do." This is obviously contradicting what Delpit says in her entire book, yet she does not even address the contradiction after the quote.
Then on p. 173 to 174, she talks about the now-cliched idea that we need to teach disadvantaged kids MORE, not less as we have been doing. Yet we can't teach them boring, minute skills, she says. What she doesn't say is, HOW are we supposed to teach them more when they can't even get the little we are trying to teach them? Is she saying we should pay home visits for extra tutoring? Surely she can't be saying we should just give them extra work, if they can't do the work they've already got. A little elucidation would help a lot here.
Then on p. 180 she talks about how when white teachers call the parents of failing black students, the parents say "Well, he's fine at home." And then us white teachers think the parents are being defensive, when actually the truth is that we need to ask them to help us do whatever it is they do to get the kid to behave. But I think it is at least equally often the case that the black parents say, "Well, we don't know how to control him at home, either." So what then? And even if they do seem to be able to control them at home, what likelihood is there that they do so without the threat of physical abuse?
Also, I forget where it was in the book (near the end), but she says something about how we can't stereotype kids by their race in order to try to understand the instruction they need. She says every kid must be treated as an individual. Yet the whole rest of the book is just her stereotyping kids based on their culture and offering suggestions of how to teach in culturally appropriate manners. So I guess we are supposed to be flexible with our stereotyping in case it doesn't work for some individuals? Is that her message?
All in all, she made me very depressed about the prospects for multicultural education, even though she herself seems to think it is the way to go, even though minority children did, and might again do better academically in segregated classrooms. Her argument, of course, is just that we don't want to continue with a segregated world... it is too dangerous in the nuclear age.
So, I've really focused on the problems and contradictions in her book, even though the truth is I thought that it was a very important and insightful book. If anyone has any answers to these questions I lay out, I'd love to hear them.