Whatever we believe, they learn.

“We all mouth the mantra “All children can learn.” I would modify the chant to “All children do learn.” It’s just that some of them learn that we expect them to be successful, and some learn from us that they are dumb. Whatever we believe, they learn.”  – Lisa Delpit, “Multiplication is for White People”: Raising Expectations of Other People’s Children

I chose to discuss this quote because a, I have a great admiration for Lisa Delpit and b, because it resonates with me strongly. Delpit has spent much of her life concerned with equity within American classrooms and determining how to ensure that African American children feel empowered at school, which is an issue I see mirrored in Canada in regards to Indigenous students.

Lisa is right in saying that we all mouth the mantra “all children can learn”, we believe in the idea that all children, across the board can learn what we want them to. Of course all children have the capacity to learn, but the consequences of things that exist within the hidden curriculum are often the lessons learned by students. Tracking in schools creates a separation of students, and sets a specific expectation. And students catch on to this. They know that if they get placed in a special math group that it’s either because they’re not meeting standards and therefore aren’t expected to even try, or that they’re above and beyond the expectations and therefore will be held to a higher standard. These students will learn that they either need to constantly be pushing themselves beyond the level of their peers, or that their teachers don’t expect them to ever meet the same level as their peers — either way, that separation changes the way a student thinks and feels about school, and themselves.

Tracking does have it’s benefits, and arguably can be considered a form of differentiation. However, these students feel ostracized from their peers when they are told they are different. Yes, it requires more work on the part of the teacher to ensure that students are in the same classroom for the same lesson, however this work will serve to empower students who have been inherently told their whole school career that they aren’t good enough, or that they don’t meet our standard of understanding.

No teacher goes into the classroom without bias, but what is important is that we don’t allow these biases to interfere with our students’ education. Systemic racism often creeps up from behind us before we can recognize it, but as teachers we cannot allow this to affect our students. We need to teach equitably, and we need to ensure that all of our students feel confident in their abilities, whatever they may be.

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