Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Delpit vs. Johnson

Format: Connections

In reading Delpit's The Silenced Dialogue I couldn't help but think about English language learners. Many of the points Delpit made about teaching explicitly are things that ESL teachers can't take for granted either. Being aware of different cultures and how they perceive the institution of schools, how they view the teacher as an authority on education and how they come to expect certain things, are all factors when teaching to a diverse culture.
What Delpit said about African American students needing to be in a classroom where the teacher is direct is what a lot of Hispanic students need also. They are not used to being given a choice and they do not pick up on cues such as "should you be doing that?" Instead they assume that because the teacher posed it as a question, they must have the option of doing it or not doing it.
She also mentioned teaching students the game. How can students grow up to become part of a professional society, a working society if no one has mentioned how they should speak in an interview for example or how they should dress when going for an interview. This ties into Johnson's comments about the white man creating norms to keep others out of his circle. By not teaching the game, African American students cannot play the game, they can never be part of the norm. Bringing it back to the classroom, I see it all the time. I am guilty of it too. We take the American culture, the culture of power, for granted when we assume all Americans, whether they be African, Hispanic, or Asian, have shared the same experiences and therefore understand the same things.
Johnson talks about power and having privileges and how people in power often don't acknowledge their privileges (their power) while people without power are most aware of it all. Delpit says this too on pg. 24. Delpit's argument is an extension of what Johnson says except there's a slight twist. Delpit states that some white teachers with good intentions silence African American students because they don't want to be seen as an authority. They don't realize that by being teachers, they are automatically in an authoritative role. African American students then assume that when the white teacher does not play the role of authoritarian, that he/she is a joke. They lose respect, they don't learn from that teacher and this often leads to other behavior problems in the classroom.
In conclusion, as an educator I try to say more in an attempt to be explicit but there is a fine line we must walk if we are to teach students to become independent learners.


  1. I believe that Delpit would fully support your connection to ELL students -- these are also young people who are not members of the culture of power. Great connections.

  2. Thanks for making the ELL connections. The issues of cultural differences and the unspoken expectations of dominant and subordinate cultures is an issue. Of course, not too many in power are listening to the concerns and expectations of ELLs, neither kids nor adults, the latter being my educational demographic.

    Delpit further confirmed for me that explicitly teaching and uncovering codes in the classroom and in society is imperative. The assigned reading and your post remind me that for ELLs trying to figure out the dominant culture is a full time occupation made more difficult without explicit and honest communication from educators.

  3. I too appreciated that reminder about the ESL students. Delpit writes about larger non dominant groups. I was thinking about the subtleties of communication even among different Spanish dialects of Castilian vs. South American. Hearing someone from Naples and Milan speak side by side sounds so entirely different. Even among whites in the same social strata within the United States there are communication differences. We northerners are viewed as being direct and closed. Southerners, warm and open, Californians free and easy.... All stereotypes of course! But food for thought re codes of power. For example in Hawaii the news anchors don't wear ties, they wear aloha shirts. Professionals rarely wear suits. I bet codifying all the subtleties of differences would be as exhaustive as DNA typing!