I purchased Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit on my Kindle for my “Issues of Equity in Schools” graduate class. There were a few books to select from and I wanted one that I could read on my Kindle. Out of those available for the Kindle, I ultimately chose this one because of its publication date: 2012. I hoped to find up-to-date information and suggestions for dealing with inequity.
I was dismayed to find that the book focused heavily on African American children. I understand the author wanted to draw attention to the specific learning needs of African American children, but it seems counter-intuitive to me to focus on one particular race while arguing for equity.
The books aims to persuade its readers to take notice of the inequities in schools, especially urban schools. Delpit is “still angry” as she puts it, over these inequities. She begins by stating there is no achievement gap at birth, and in fact, she cites studies that African American children progress faster through the developmental benchmarks. But soon “white” children (she does not refer students as Caucasian, only white) catch up and then surpass the African American children because teachers are not believing in each child equally. As she puts it, “we cannot let an expectation gap lead to an achievement gap,” (p.26).
There’s a lot of whining and blaming in this book. Delpit complains that those who join Teach for America are essentially middle-class, white females who come to teach for two years and then leave. These white teachers have jobs that are “reserved” for them because the school district went and fired all the black teachers to make room for the cheaper, higher turnover teachers (p.111).
She complains that African-Americans are stigmatized, called “oversensitive” or “too thick skinned” (p.175), and feel a “disidentification” with school (p.180). I do not see any of these issues as being exclusive to African American students. Delpit explained most of these incidents are “microagressions” that are small insults that independently mean nothing but when you add them up, you see a great deal of injustice. She even complains about desegregation!
Many educators today don’t realize some of the “unofficial” repercussions of the desegregation decision. Prior to that ruling, black teachers and principals were guaranteed jobs in the segregated system. Whites taught white children in white schools and black taught black children in black schools. (p.105).
It seems to me that Delpit would rather have segregated schools because it guaranteed employment for black teachers.
Delpit tries to explain that every person in America is racist because we all are “racism-breathers” by referencing a story by Beverly Tatum in which Tatum describes the people of Los Angeles as smog-breathers simply because they live and breathe the smog in the area. Tatum takes this analogy to a whole new level by stating that people who live in America are racism-breathers and that no matter what color we are, we all live and breathe racism (p.11).
Even our language is riddled with racist overtones, according to Tatum. I personally disagree with her. Her examples come from a piece by Robert Moore and some of the words like “black eye” (a mark of shame)” may be more related to the actual color black rather than race. Many examples are outdated terminology as well.
Delpit argues every angle as to the cause for the achievement gap and somehow it always comes across as someone else’s fault. Not just anyone. The white teachers. And while it is aggravating to constantly feel like I’m at fault, I don’t want to discount Delpit’s book. She does make several good points about teaching youths of all cultures. I even marked a few ideas that I want to make into a lesson assignment.
She summed up the purpose of teachers, of education, and why we do what we do, quite eloquently.
We, in education, at universities or in K-12 schools, are charged with preparing the minds and hearts of these who will inherit the earth…The second purpose of education, I believe, is to build bridges across the great divides, the so-called achievement gap, the technology gap, class divisions, the racial divide. If we do not find a way to bridge the divide between the haves and the have-nots, between white and black, between native and immigrant, then we are ensuring our ultimate demise. We are all part of the whole, and no part can be affected without affecting the whole (p.200-201).