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Reading Delpit's Words Through A Third Lens: Silence

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

I have read the Delpit reading in multiple settings and for different reasons. Once for my ED 250 class where my classmates and I explored how dominant forms of literacy marginalize groups of students because their way of speaking, writing and native languages are left out of public education. During the summer, again, I was told to read this same Delpit article as I prepared to embody the life of a full-time 7th grade writing teacher. This time, I took away from the article that explicitness in the classroom was key. As I taught, I was always conscious of what I said, how I said it, and the different forms I could say it so that my instructions were clear and catered to different learning styles.

  It never occurred to me to read Delpit through the lens of silence. Now that I have read it with silence in mind, I see that silence is the consequence for students if teachers, especially ones from the dominant discourse, and the education system do not recognize and proactively react to what Delpit coins as, “the culture of power.” Already in this 360, I have sat back in silence during discussions that seemed over my head because I did not understand the terms being thrown around or could not relate to the connections being made to past and current events in our society. So, quite often, I have wrestled back and forth with myself about what to do when I feel like the conversations in our 360 are not explicit and are framed with terms I do not understand. When I choose to be silent, I feel like I am losing participation credits. If I ask for clarification on a term or concept, I feel awkward because I feel like I should know what is going on or at least act like it.

I have not figured out how to settle this issue but it is a conversation I’d like to have because I think all of us, regardless of race, and class, have felt like the silent outsider looking in at some point in our lives. So, I wish to close with a point that Delpit noted as a characteristic of “the culture of power.” She writes, “Those with power are frequently least aware of—or least willing to acknowledge—its existence. Those with the less power are often most aware of its existence.” We all possess a power of literacy and it is most potent depending on the context. In the classroom, I will admittedly say that I am someone with less power because, trust me, I am aware of it. And so as we move forward with our discussions, I’d like us to be more aware of our audience. I am not asking for simplified terms because that would be demeaning. I am not asking for terms to be explained in full as you speak because that would take away from the purpose of your thought. I am asking that we use silence, one that is inviting, to leave room between thoughts so we can all process and ask clarifying questions. I genuinely want to learn and want to hear everyone’s thought so please give me enough silence to do that.



Dan's picture

I really appreciate this

I really appreciate this post/comment. 

I felt some very intense things reading Delpit, because I think that, in a lot of ways, I have been one of those liberal, white progressive teachers who prioritizes process over skills in ways I did not realize were so problematic. The example that she gives about the Native American man who is interviewing for a job was particularly striking. He doesn't know the explicit codes of the interviewers communicative styles or expectations -- and so their subtle hints, although they are trying to help him, are useless and misguided. I always felt, intuitively, that the internal development was way more valueable than any quantifiable skill or result -- but that's SUCH a priviledged feeling. 

I've felt critical of the more regulated, explicit, outlined courses I've taken (in Ireland) because they haven't given me room to push my own intellectual and creative boundaries -- but that's because I have always felt secure and supported in the education I've received and I have the cultural capital. Thus, I've projected that outward onto others -- that of course they too would benefit most from unstructured, unobtrusive forms of learning. But explicitness -- clearly defining one's terms, grounding new, exciting ideas by explaining where they came from, is important for our learning as a collective.

I think, with this 360, it's the diversity of experience that is going to teach us the most -- and so communicating effectively, knowing who our audience is and being sensitive and aware of how they learn -- what kind of learning they value, and how explicit and descriptive to be when sharing ideas is incredibly important and I'm glad I've been made conscious of it at this point. Please! Hold me accountable if I am ever not communicating clearly or understandably. And I'll do the same.