“Multiplication is for White People” : Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children (Delpit)

An unexpected “extreme weather day” gave me the opportunity to finish Delpit’s remarkable and inspiring book. She talks about the way that ‘other people’s children’ are sometimes motivated by the desire to please the teacher, and I found myself hoping I might one day teach in a way that would please her.

This book is filled with compelling research (both qualitative and quantitative – balanced effectively) that explains what we need to change and do in order to serve, well, ‘other people’s children.’ In sum, she reminds us what Goethe said: “Look at a man the way that he is and he only becomes worse, but look at him as if he were what he could be, then he becomes what he should be” (80).

Delpit reminds us what we should already know – that there is no achievement gap at birth. She also implores us to focus on what we can control – that which goes on in the classroom. Too often, we ascribe blame for the gap elsewhere (parents, home, society). Too often, sadly, we do things that increase that gap. Instead, we should be what she calls “warm demanders” (77).

We need, Delpit contends, to think more about culture, including our own. “One’s culture is to humans as water is to a fish” (200). We have to make ourselves more aware. Several years ago, I was asked at a conference, “What is white culture?” I still not have come up with much of an answer.

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