Writing Theory & Practice
Dr. Mia Zamora
November 11, 2019
The Silenced Dialogue:
Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children
Picture this, it’s Saturday morning and you are in the supermarket doing your weekly grocery shopping. Walking through the isle you hear someone call your name. It’s your student and her mom. They greet you with a hug. You’re filled with love.
Now off to a mid-morning doctor’s appointment. There you see your student’s parents, and they are sad and filled with emotions. Mom just found out that she has cancer. Instantly, you recall the emotional breakdown that their son experienced in class the day before. You’re filled with empathy.
It’s proving to be a full day as you go to your nephew’s football game. Wow! It’s like a family reunion. You run into some of your students and their siblings that were once your students. You’re filled with a sense of family.
As the day ends you attend a late afternoon lecture at the local community college. The speakers are addressing the topic of the academic struggles of your people. The speakers are one male, one female; they share your race, your heritage, and your history. You look around and you see some of your former students. You remember their academic struggles. You reflect on a quote by Lisa Delpit, “In order to teach you, I must know you.” Your heart hurts; but you get it. You know your students and you know what they need to be successful in the academic endeavors.
Furthermore, you are educators of color. You are that Black male graduate student who is also a special education teacher in a predominantly Black community. You are a Black woman teacher in a multicultural urban elementary school. You are a soft-spoken Native Alaskan woman in her forties and, a student in the Education Department of the University of Alaska. You are a Black woman principal who is also a doctoral student at a well-known university on the West Coast. (Delpit 280-281) You are they, and they are you. You are Black people, you are the other non-White people, you are the poor white people and you all have similar experiences and perspectives. You know what your students need and you are ready to discuss “The Black Issue.” However, when the dialogue of “The Black Issue” is presented to “White people, the decision makers,” it turns into argument, they won’t listen, they seem to have blinders and ear plugs on, they think they know what is best for everyone; they don’t believe you are qualified to address the issue if you aren’t reciting scholars or providing research. As a result, the teachers of color became despondent and they gave up on trying to have a dialogue on this issue. “Thus, “The Silenced Dialogue was born.” (Delpit 281)
However, this silence is deceiving. The educators of color are in the dark. They are not aware of the silence. While White educators think that they, (the educators of color), have come to terms of agreement. In effort to clear the silence, so that each side can express their voice, Delpit suggest the opportunity for an ethnographic analysis. This would give each side the opportunity to express their sincere goals and alleviate harsh emotions. She suggests that the debate of skills vs. process be used to understand the, “silenced dialogue.” Students must be taught that skills and process are both necessary to the learning experience.
As Delpit, explores this debate she realizes that there is a connecting complex theme that she calls, “the culture of power,” that has five aspects of power. The aspects are:
1. Issues of power are enacted in classrooms.
2. There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a “culture of power.
3. The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power.
4. If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier.
5. Those with power are frequently lease aware of – or least willing to acknowledge-its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of it existence.
The ownership and practice of the culture of power is not readily acknowledged by those that possess it. In contrast, those that are not owners of culture of power can easily observe the power of others. This is so because “the owners of the culture of power, the White educators, have the authority to establish what was to be considered “truth” regardless of the opinions of the people of color, and the latter were well of the fact.” Delpit Pg. 284
Moving on, Delpit shares her thoughts on the use of explicit and implicit instructions as a way to express the culture of power. Using implicit/indirect instruction can be confusing for a student that is accustomed to explicit/direct instruction. I believe that each type of instruction serves a purpose, and should be used at the appropriate time. For example, a teacher of color will use explicit/direct instruction and say to her student, “It’s time for lunch. Wash your hands and come to the table.” The instructions are clear and straight to the point. Whereas a White teacher will say to her student, “Do you think now is a good time to eat lunch? If the student is not in the mood to eat lunch he/she may answer, “No.” This is the opposite of what the teacher actually meant. The teacher actually wants the student to eat lunch now. But the implicit/indirect instruction is presented as a choice. This miscommunication can cause potential behavior problems from the student. A teacher may interpret the student’s answer as an act of rebellion, when the student was not at all rebellious. The student simply answered the question that was presented. If situations like this occur too often, it can lead to an unnecessary behavioral classification. The teacher must be clear when giving instructions. If the teacher is giving the student an opportunity to make a choice or to express himself/herself, then implicit/indirect instructions are appropriate. But if the teacher is clear on the results of the instructions and there is no wiggle room, then explicit/direct instructions must be used.
There are those that claim they want equity in education. They must also remember the following. “To provide schooling for everyone’s children that reflects liberal, middle-class values and aspirations is to ensure the maintenance of the status quo, to ensure that power, the culture of power, remains in the hands of those who already have it.” (Delpit Pg. 285) In doing so, the students that attend school ready to learn with, “cultural capital,” have more than enough supplies, can benefit from lessons of autonomous. However, the students that are not equipped with cultural capital need different lessons. Students of color, non-White students and poor students are usually the students without cultural capital. They need to be taught communication skills and written and spoken language codes. These lessons will enable them to be successful in pursuing their endeavors.
Lastly, shown in a video, (DYSA), a teacher from a school in LA used a program titled, “Academic English Mastery,” to teach his students of color, how to translate their home language into mainstream American language. He uses a game of Jeopardy to fully engage his students during this exercise. According to the video the students made growth in written English. Delpit suggest that students of color should be taught the code of language so that they are able to function and be successful in the world. They should not be forced to give up their language. Instead, these lessons should be taught in a way that they can realize their skills and their uniqueness. On the contrary, one parent stated, “My kids know how to be Black – you all need to teach them how to be successful in the White man’s world.” (Delpit Pg. 285) I’m stand between these two recommendations, especially in the case of Black students. I do believe that Black students should hold on to their culture. While at the same time careful attention should be given to the Black students that talk in a language called Ebonics, which is defined as African American Vernacular English. When spoken it sounds like weak grammar and incorrect enunciation. I feel that students should not be allowed to speak in Ebonics. They should be taught proper English and be encouraged to speak it at home as well. Ebonics is not the language code that will make them successful in mainstream society. As we see there is a need for the silenced dialogue needs to be examined, discussed, and develop a plan on how to establish equity in all students.
Passage: “Finally, if schooling prepares people for jobs, and the kind of job a person has determines her or his economic status and therefore, power, then schooling is intimately related to that power.” (Pg. 283)
Question: Do think that it is fair that the culture of power has so much power that it literately dictates how a student’s adult life will be?
Passage: In a conversation between a student and a teacher, the teacher asked the student, “But who decided what’s right or wrong?” The student answers, “Well that’s true…I guess White people did.” (Delpit Pg. 295)
The language code was developed many years ago when America was established, during chattel slavery. This code was used as the foundation in education, in law making, in socialization, etc. And even though African slaves were kings and queens, extremely skilled and well versed in their own languages. However, their languages were of no use in this newly developing society. As a result Black people did not have the privilege of being a part the culture of power. Fast forward, this has proven to be a social stratification that has kept the power in the hands of the same group.
Question: Do you think that people of color, non-White people, and poor people will ever have an opportunity to become a member of the “the culture of the power?”
McGarrity, Laura, DYSA African American (or Ebonics) in the classroom.