“Multiplication Is for White People”: Full House for Lisa Delpit’s Book Talk

On April 9, 2012, Teaching for Change was honored to co-host the book launch for Lisa Delpit’s new book “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children (The New Press).

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Education scholar Lisa Delpit spoke to a crowd of nearly 90 educators from D.C. area schools, colleges, and universities on the evening of April 9, 2012. Teaching for Change was pleased to include Delpit in our 2012 series of author events for teachers. With the support of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Teaching for Change is able to offer classroom teachers free copies of the featured books. Delpit came to launch her latest book,  Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children.

Delpit is recognized for illuminating the ways in which teaching practices in the United States are often relevant to only middle class students.  Her new book is an effort to push beyond multiculturalism in American education to address the needs of African American children specifically. “This is a conversation that is never held,” she explained. “We talk about the achievement gap but no one ever talks about race. A black child is not just a dumb white child, there are issues at hand in a black child’s education that don’t affect other children.”

These issues, as she details in her book, are historical, systemic, and political. Delpit examines teaching models from the Freedom Schools established during the Civil Rights Movement to present-day teacher training programs like Teach for America. Today, mainstream curricula have become divorced from students’ lived experiences and do not tap into the knowledge they bring with them from their homes. Educators, especially new teachers from programs like Teach for America, are often unfamiliar with the communities they have entered and in which they teach for a brief time before leaving.

The crowd’s energy was evident in the questions posed. Teachers, administrators, and professors were interested in practical teaching strategies as much as they were in larger issues of institutionalized racism in education. Delpit told a professor from a nearby university who asked what she thought were best practices for teacher preparation, “I’d like to see teachers having an opportunity to get to know the communities they’ll be teaching in, to get to know their strengths.” This might be the best way to address the concerns about African-American children in our present education system: engage in the difficult process of dialogue amongst staff, community, and students. Delpit resolutely denied that parents are the cause of the present failures of our educational system to engage, encourage, and inspire children to learn. She advocated for the improvement of classroom teaching, cultural awareness, and sensitivity, always returning to her core message about the pervasiveness of negative stereotypes about African American children and their intellectual abilities.

Photography by Anthony Njoku of Blue Lightning Photography, BlueLightningPhotography