Multiplication is for White People Chapter 1

Part One: Inherent Ability
1. There Is No Achievement Gap At Birth

One of the things I find myself constantly arguing is the fact that I am a white teacher in a not so white school.  I think I have heard (from the mouths of white people) “do you ever fear for your life?” more times than I would like to admit.  No I do not fear for my life.  I know where this is stemming from, the idea that black teenagers are somehow “more dangerous” than white teenagers.  Most of the time these types of comments are from folks who I believe to not be RACIST but, let's face it, they are pretty prejudice.  And there is a HUGE difference. (By the way…statistically speaking, look at school shootings and the demographics of the shooters.  Seems to me most of them are white, and in white neighborhoods.  I’m just saying.)

In the first chapter of Lisa Delpit’s book “Multiplication is for White People," (MIFWP)  Delpit reminds us that children are not born with deficits in learning.  It is how we start them in their first years of life.  She also reminds us that just because one student does not know how to count to 100 by the time they are 5, but can cook a box of macaroni, does not mean that they are deficit either.  The entire chapter is set up to remind us of this fact starting out with research from Marcelle Gerber in 1956.  She traveled to Africa to study infant and child development, concentrating on Kenya and Uganda.  Here she discovered some earth-shattering news: despite the probability that undernourishment could decrease infant development, Ugandan infant development was, on average, so much higher than the conventional rate- they actually were developmentally past European born babies twice their age. Delpit shows us this and other studies to remind us, that Black American children do not come into this world at a deficit, and that it is especially hard for us to remember this given the fact that the American Culture (i.e. media and society) tells us that black kids are incapable of learning, or have an impoverish culture, or, simply, are just “less-smart” than white kids.  This leads to a vicious cycle in education: "Our tendency is to teach less, to teach down, to teach for remediation. Without having any intention of discriminating, we can do harm to children who are viewed within a stereotype of 'less than...'" (pg6).  Basically stating that all children are gifted and brilliant not just white students.
She goes on to say that it is the fault of the teacher-I get sick of this argument, but can understand- for not coming up with culturally engaging lessons.  It is our responsibility to create a plan that not only is engaging but also is culturally responsive.  Ensuring that home language is used, ensuring that we build a curriculum that connects students interests thereby allowing students to connect the knowns to the unknowns.

All in all, the first chapter was a pretty much DUH chapter.  But…what else would I expect from a book exploring the cultural slippage of teacher to students (particularly black students)? 

Where I am left wondering is why are there so many books written in this format and we seem to forget the other cultures that are represented in our classroom?  I would love to do a lesson (as Delpit suggests) all on hair, and how the African American community does hair, but then am I not leaving out the 30% of my students who are Asian, the 20% that are Hispanic, 10% that are American Indian or the 5% that are white? 

One part of the chapter that I really liked was just how we refer to classes and tests.  There was a study done where they had both black and white students take a test.  The control group was not told anything and the test group was told that it was not a diagnostic test but a toll to see how people, already determined to hold strong language skills, solved linguistic problems.  The control group showed the racial gap in performance, the test group-it was eliminated.  So while this study shows if we “psych kids out” they may not succumb to a stereotype threat, what does that mean for our current classrooms?

I started to think about my new schedule that I got today, perhaps, rather than calling our remedial math class “math support,” we should call it “math enrichment.”

I don't know, just a thought!


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