Baton Rouge author and Southern University professor Lisa Delpit’s latest book has garnered national attention in education circles, not for its provocative title, but for its premise captured by the first chapter’s title: “There is no achievement gap at birth.”
The book, “‘Multiplication is for White People’: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children,” was recently named one of the “Top education books of 2012” by the award-winning education magazine, The American School Board Journal.
The book addresses national and local education policy and teaching strategies. “Multiplication,” along with her first book, the national bestseller “Other People’s Children,” has been mentioned alongside other critically acclaimed works on education, including Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities.”
Delpit explains that “Multiplication’s” title was inspired by a quote from a black seventh-grader questioning why a tutor was trying to teach ever more complex branches of math.
Her argument is that some black children and large pockets of society-at-large, have a notion of black people “as less intellectually capable.” She said the notion is so pervasive that people who subconsciously feel that way, don’t realize they have those prejudices.
Delpit said, paraphrasing a passage from author Beverly Daniel Tatum, “If you live in L.A., you breathe in smog, whether you notice it or not. When you live in the U.S., you breathe in prejudice. You don’t mean to, but it’s part of the fabric, like breathing smog in Los Angeles.”
Delpit said she’s experienced first-hand the kind of self-destructive thinking that holds people back in her own family. She recalled being among the first black students to integrate catholic schools in 1960s Baton Rouge when she left St. Francis Xavier after eighth grade and enrolled at St. Anthony High School as a freshman.
Delpit said she and other black students won awards for outperforming white classmates in her first year at the school. But just six years later, Delpit said her nephew, who also attended an integrated school earned only a D in chemistry.
“He had an attitude like, ‘What do you expect of me? The white kids get Cs,’” Delpit recalls. “We went from teachers telling us we had to work twice as hard to get half the benefit all the way to his feelings.”
Delpit, who was a 1990 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, which is awarded to people who show continued and exceptional merit and promise, said young black children need to recognize their own capacity for genius.
Her book says that educators don’t teach “as much as we could or should” in a way that breaks through some kids’ notion of themselves.
The book further says if teachers were to change the type of instruction so as to connect and engage minority students with their cultures and backgrounds, achievement would improve.
She used the examples’ of the worlds most highly regarded universities in Timbuktu in West Africa, which were seen as a model for the entire world.
“The Greeks and Romans were coming to learn from Africans who were the intellectual leaders of the world at one time,” she said. “If you could show these children that people who looked just like them accomplished those things. ...”