Lisa Delpit, Friend or Foe?

Today’s happening has very little to do with New York the city, and everything to do with its children. My teaching seminar today covered an article by education professor Lisa Delpit. She is often lauded as a specialist in the area of minority education. As usual, class discussion found me in the role of contrarian, which gets lonely sometimes.

Delpit’s foundational arguments are based on the premise that cultures exist as a tension between those who have power and those who do not. In democratic societies, the powerful rely on norms in various aspects of communication to perpetuate their reign. Delpit would then extend that the American society is one of perpetuated white power. White people, she claims, devise the arbitrary standards of language and then do a poor job of teaching minorities, essentially damning them to an outsider’s fate. By failing minorities in the education system, the majority invests its power structure with added permanence. Particularly concerning the English language, Delpit insists on high standards for minorities. Paradoxically, she seems to claim that educators must learn to embrace the beauty of variants of English used by minority heritage culture . Delpit seems to argue for “code switching” between Heritage & Standard English.

At this point, let me interject what are my objections. First, I do not believe the issue putting downward pressure on minority student achievement is race. If this were the case then what could explain the preponderance of evidence to the contrary. Are Black Americans not lawyers?Doctors?Professors? Are White Americans not Garbage men? Construction workers ? Unemployed? The answer to all the questions is yes, but it begs the question for a unifying characteristic among the two groups.

I believe the unifying characteristic and the ultimate sorting force in our society is socio-economic class. I will not develop this fully but I must mention the disparities in cultural norms are more closely tracked down class lines, not by race. A poor white person has much more in common with a poor black person than a poor white person with a rich white person. I would then qualify that the abundance of non-whites in the lower classes must not be mistaken as a sign of direct racism. Perhaps the upper classes would discriminate against whomever was the statistical majority of the societal minority?

But enough already…

What do you think?
Should Ebonics and other non-standard forms of English be encouraged?
Is our culture divided more racially or by class??

I am dying to know what YOU think. Leave a comment and get six friends to do the same…ok just one friend.