Controversies Revisted

            Published originally in 1986, “Skills and other dilemmas of a progressive black educator” describes the transformation Delpit experienced from being an advocate for the open classroom and the writing project, but she realized based on her own experiences and her discussions with white and black teachers that these methods were not conducive with black students because of cultural differences that existed. She discussed how the writing project that had gained popularity was discriminatory towards black children as it focused on students learning to write fluently leaving black student’s not knowing skills of writing.

            In chapter two, “The silenced dialogue”, Delpit responds to public reaction to her first article. She outlines the five aspects in “the culture of power,” and emphasizes the need to explicitly share cultural rules and codes with students from another culture so they can be successful in mainstream America. She also contends the argument between teaching writing skills versus process is an unnecessary debate that can be resolved through combining both areas as students range in their abilities based on their culture and will benefit from both skills and process writing instruction.

            In the third chapter, “Language diversity and learning”, Delpit discusses forms of English, including specific dialects and formal English. In classrooms, it should be taught both types are valid and how they are used in different types of situations. Student’s role playing speaking formal English is encouraged as students can build their formal English skills without feeling personally targeted. The point was also made that although a child may not speak formal English, it does not mean that they do not know how to speak it, as with the Sioux and Pima Indian children.

            In the article Perceptions Of Classroom Belongingness Among African American College Students, Koeyna C. Booker discusses the level of comfort African American students feel in academic settings. Booker echoes Delpit’s sentiments that African Americans often feel excluded from college courses due to the lack of understanding by fellow students who come from culturally different backgrounds. These students state they did not feel respected by peers, and additionally felt they had to prove their abilities to professors and peers before respect was given (Booker, 2007, p. 184).

            A second article, Counting Language: An Exercise in Stigmatization, detailed negative views of Ebonics then describes an exercise completed with a group of college students. In the exercise, students brainstorm forms of English, then choose three forms they had positive feelings towards and three which they had negative feelings towards. In a class of forty-four, forty-one students were African American, yet Ebonics ended up with twenty negative votes and three positive votes. Positive comments included “well-educated, strong” while negative comments included “ignorant (5), ghetto (3)” (Gayles & Denerville, 2007, p.22). The end goal of this exercise was to “move [prejudices]…to the realm of the learned and arbitrary” (p. 19).

            Previous to reading these three chapters, I was familiar with some of these concepts, including the cultural difference of storytelling between a black child and a white child, and the differtn roles questions play in different cultures. However, other information in these chapters was surprising and eye-opening, such as the effect of open classroom and process writing on non-white students. Descriptions of how these two techniques were not beneficial to black students were surprising, as I never really thought deeply about a teaching technique working or not working due to student’s culture. I wonder if there could be a compromise between an open classroom and a more traditional one so that all students benefit, as Delpit concluded with process versus skills. Another interesting aspect was how students should not be criticized for their dialect but instead positive role models who speak formal English should be available. I work with students who use improper grammar and say words such as “ain’t”. Since I am working with these students in the area of math, it is inappropriate to lead a discussion or minilesson on the differences between dialects and formal English. Instead, accepting the student as is and building a positive relationship with him is more important (The one time I did correct him, he said “Why do all my teachers correct how I speak?” I realize now this could have been an opening for a discussion on formal English v. informal English and when each is appropriate).

 

References:

Booker, K.C. (2007). Perceptions of classroom belongingness among African American college students. College Student Journal, 41 (1), 178-186.

Delpit, L. (2006). Other people’s children: cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: The New Press.

Gayles, D. & Denerville, D. (2007). Counting language: an exercise in stigmatization. Multicultural Education, 15 (1), 16-22.

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