Teaching Children Versus Teaching a Curriculum
Language Arts:You come down solidly advocating that educators need to teach children rather than to teach a curriculum. And you have also stated that the wars between whole language advocates and phonics advocates "are based more on educator identities than on children's needs." Would you talk about that a bit?
Lisa Delpit:I continue to be astounded that folks seem to put themselves into a political and ideological camp and indicate, "I'm going to stay in this camp come hell or high water." I view teaching a little differently. I don't place myself as a teacher in a camp. I see myself as responder to the needs of children. Some children will need to learn explicitly certain strategies or conventions: some children will not need that because they've gotten it through the discourse that they learned in their homes.
In California I saw a black child who was in a class where the kids were supposed to read a piece of literature and then respond to it. The child clearly couldn't read the selection. When asked about the situation, the teacher said, "Oh, he can't read it, but he'll get it in the discussion." Perhaps it's good that he will be able to get it in the discussion, but at the same time nobody is spending time teaching him what he also needs to learnhow to read for himself. So, we can lose track of the fact that children may need different kinds of instruction, depending on their knowledge and background.
Sometimes we have the best intentions but actually end up holding beliefs that result in lower expectations for certain students. We are content that the students are just becoming fluent in writing, so we don't push them to edit their pieces into final products that can be published. We don't do the kind of pushing necessary to get students to achieve at the level that they might be capable of.
SOURCE: An excerpt from "A Conversation with Lisa Delpit" by Language Arts (1991:544-545).