Sunday, September 13, 2015

“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Education Other People’s Children” - Lisa Delpit

“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Education Other People’s Children”  
- Lisa Delpit
I found Delpit’s piece “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” to be a very interesting and potentially controversial one.

Delpit focuses on the common disconnect in education between people in power (referred to as “liberals”) and their minority students. Although she does not focus her argument around quantitative research, Delpit uses personal examples and conversations to demonstrate that middle to upper class whites often fail to understand and provide what their minority students want from them.

On many points, I agreed with Delpit. Most of my students are not part of the “culture of power”, and I often ask them to share their opinions on what “good” teaching looks like, what I can improve on as a teacher, and their opinions on growing up in the Providence public school system. In many ways, my students’ opinions coincide with the examples that Delpit provides.

It would come to no surprise to Delpit that my students dislike and lose respect for teachers who do not “control” their classroom. Often, teachers try to teach the way they were taught in suburban communities, but this fails minority students who come from a different, more authoritative culture.  I also agree with Delpit that teachers should be honest with their students. Teachers should try to develop interpersonal relationships to garner student respect, and push their classrooms to integrate student proficiency in conjunction with teacher expertise.

While I agree with Delpit on many of these aforementioned points, I also found some of her points confusing or in opposition to what teachers are commonly taught to be “best practice”. Delpit notes that she is not simply in favor of the process method or the skills method, but rather, she feels teaching should be a blend of the two. However, she seems to be more strongly in opposition to the process method. For instance, she notes that many students complain that “lazy” teachers are not “doing their jobs” when they have students work in groups and edit/correct each other’s’ work. Perhaps I read this wrong, but this “student-led” teaching is what we teachers are told to do. Indeed, my principal even told me that to earn the highest rating on the state teacher evaluation, she should be able to walk into my classroom and see me saying nothing – my students should be leading the classroom. Perhaps Delpit would argue that this evaluation is reflective of the “dominant culture’s” influence.

Additionally, my grad school certification classes and training taught me that I should present rules and consequences as a choice. Students should recognize that they face consequences if and when they choose to break rules. I was taught that I should not tell students what they should do if they make a mistake, but I should say things like, “what are we supposed to do when we enter the classroom?” etc. Thus, I was very surprised when Delpit states that we should be more authoritative and demanding with our instructions. I found this especially interesting because Delpit argues that this is what these children are used to at home, and we should mirror this. She also continually argues that we should be preparing minority children for life beyond school. I would go against Delpit and argue that giving students choices and not always giving direct instruction is better preparation for life outside of school. Delpit argues that these children expect and desire to be told what to do by people in power. This is interesting in context of many of the excessive abuses of power by police in recent times. Additionally, I would argue that the real world does not have people always telling us what to do. We have to make decisions and face the consequences of those decisions. By not allowing our students to make their own choices, are we not failing them for life beyond school? 


  1. You've made me think again about Delpit's article and her stance on a more authoritative teaching style. It is true that in the real world, people must make decisions on their own. Students have to become adept in weighing choices and consequences in order to succeed. Perhaps a combination of both styles is the happy medium.

  2. I also found Delpit's negative comments regarding "student-led" instruction in opposite to much of what I have been told over the last few years. The idea of "flipping the classroom" has been very prevelant and Delpit seems to be stating that this is a terrible idea. I read this the same as you have described and it will be interesting to discuss this further.

  3. I deal with the same problem in my own teaching. While I want to really help my students, at times I feel like I am "holding their hand" and giving them too much guidance. Typically if you guide someone too much, they do not form their own independence, which is exactly what these students need to be successful in the world beyond. So I disagree with Delpit in that sense, that we should not be as authoritative and directional, as it could hinder our student ability to succeed independently.

  4. What a great question. I also felt perplexed when reading a negative connotation towards student-led teaching. This was the entire shift in the Next generation science standards that we are rolling out. I hadn't thought about the different perspectives of culture. Should we be? Is that the silenced dialogue