What is Taught, and What Are We Teaching?
Since the inception of Teach For America in the early 1990's, increasing numbers of primarily white, highly-motivated recent college graduates have been entering some of our country's most challenging schools. The students in these schools are primarily Hispanic or African-American and are reared in a culture starkly different from the cultures in which their more privileged teachers came from. Academic content aside, this lends itself to an unspoken cultural dialogue in which students and teachers must somehow find a common point at which they can be set to agree on one goal. The implicit message when a white, upper-middle class teacher is standing in front of a room of children whose families are functioning below the poverty line can be confusing, even insulting. What often emerges is: what your culture is doing isn't working; be more like me.
In 1988, Lisa Delpit wrote a revolutionary article entitled: "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children." In the article, she examines the role of power in society and how it plays out in the classroom. She writes:
"To provide schooling for everyone's children that reflects liberal, middle-class values and aspirations is to ensure the maintenance of the status quo, to ensure that power, the culture of power, remains in the hands of those who already have it."
This sentiment is so rife with assumptions that it may be indefensible; however, it does voice a commonly-held belief, namely that those in power are constantly aware of the power dynamic and will do what it takes in order to maintain their advantage. In other words, the achievement gap will never be closed.
She does go on to quote a parent who implicitly acknowledges that sentiment and has resigned herself to its conditions:
"My kids know how to be Black- you all teach them how to be successful in the White man's world."
So many emotional questions arise from here, but let's keep it to the context of "The Academy." Is it preferable to teach middle, or even upper-middle class values in a school in which many if not all students come from a lower-class background? Which values should be taught?
Some of the best recommended readings (from the sidebar):
-Cohen, D. (1990)
-Stigler, J. & Hiebert, J. (1999)
-Delpit, L. (1988)
-Hill, H. (2007)
-Committee on Science Education K-12 and Mathematical Sciences Education Board...(1999)