MacArthur “Genius” Winner Leads Forum

Educator and Author Lisa Delpit Packs Crowd

Author Lisa Delpit is a rock star to teachers.

Hundreds of educators from both sides of the state line filled an overflow room to listen to Delpit, the Harvard-educated scholar and winner of a 1990 “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Delpit was the featured speaker at the 2013 Urban Education and Community Forum sponsored by the School of Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

UMKC School of Education Dean Wanda Blanchett said Delpit filled a ballroom to standing room capacity only at a conference she attended of more than 13,000. Delpit is the author of several books, including the hugely popular and heavily cited “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.” Her other books include “Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom” and her newest, “Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children.”

“Her books are must reads for anyone in the classroom,” said Laura Ryan, director of special education at the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, who showed up at the forum, Delpit’s books in hand. “I’ve started each one on a Saturday morning and couldn’t put it down until I finished it later that day.”

Delpit’s message at the 2013 Urban Education and Community Forum, held at Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, was that there’s no achievement gap at birth. But as soon as African-American children start school in the U.S., that’s when the lack-of-success story begins.

Citing studies on a large screen, Delpit shared the three main reasons she thought black students aren’t achieving.

Low-income African-American students are simply not being taught. “All children learn at the level of whatever you think of them,” said Delpit, the Felton G. Clark Distinguished Professor in the Southern University College of Education. “If you teach less, teach down to them, they learn less.”

They are affected by the deeply ingrained bias of blackness equating inferiority. Delpit shared an essay with words and their negative connotations: black sheep, blackmail, blacklisted. And young black girls, even recently, choose white dolls in study after study. “They doubt their own competence,” she said.

There is a lack of appropriate attention to culture and curriculum. Delpit advocates making learning materials more relatable. For example, in teaching students, she used Luster’s Pink Oil Moisturizer — a hair lotion African-American women grow up using — as a springboard for study. Through the product, students learned chemistry, geometry, history, culture and even business marketing.

Delpit said African Americans need to be taught about their positive, powerful heritage. It’s neglected that some Egyptian pharaohs, who built majestic pyramids, were black.

“Looking to the Egyptians, I tell children if they’re not doing well, it’s a mistake.”

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