Lisa Delpit is Director of the Center for Urban Educational Excellence. She is the author of numerous books on educating children of poverty and color and on improving teacher education. As a child she experienced segregation growing up in Baton Rouge. She was one of a handful of students to integrate the catholic high school in her hometown. Her experiences teaching elementary children in Philadelphia led her to focus on language, literacy, and the teaching of writing. The following excerpt is from Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom.
A young Athabaskian Indian boy once looked at his teacher and asked, “When are we going to die?”The teacher to whom he addressed the question was surprised, but answered, “Well, none of us know when we are going to die, that is for a power beyond us to decide.” The young boy looked away and said softly, “Well, if we don’t know when we are going to die, then why do we have to go to school? Why can’t we just be happy?” That Native Alaskan teacher later said to me with tears in her eyes, “Why can’t we figure out ways to make that child happy in school?”
Touched by those comments, I have carried around the question of that child and that teacher for many years. Why do we have such a hard time making school a happy place for poor children and children of color? A few years ago, I asked Oscar Kwageley, a friend, teacher, Yupik Eskimo scientist, and wise man, what the purpose of education is. His response startled me and opened my eyes even more: he said, “The purpose of education is to learn to die satiated with life.” That is what I believe we need to bring to our schools: experiences that are so full of the wonder of life, so full of connectedness, so brilliant in insights that we develop and the analyses we devise, that all of us, teachers and students alike, can learn to live lives that leave us truly satisfied. (p. 104)
The following video summarizes concepts in Lisa Delpit’s book Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations in Other People’s Children