Other People’s Children: Cultural
Conflict in the Classroom
By Lisa Delpit
Book Review by Janelle Smith
SPED 561
This book is a collection of articles and
essays by educator Lisa Delpit. Delpit
questions the ability of white, middle class
teachers to understand and teach AfricanAmerican and other minority students. She
draws on her own experiences as a
student, teacher, professor, and researcher
to provide vivid examples of prejudice
against African-American and minority
students. Throughout her essays and
articles, Delpit calls for reform in teacher
education programs, curriculum, and
pedagogy to help eliminate stereotyping in
education today.
Reaction 1: Teaching Writing
• Teachers often stress fluency in writing using
the “writing process approach”(Delpit, 1995).
• African-American children are often lacking
basic skills in writing to help them succeed in
school (1995).
• Many teachers do not realize the fluency that
students already possess. (Example: Students’
ability to write rap songs.)
• As teachers, we need to make sure that we are
incorporating both skills and fluency into our
writing curriculums to meet the needs of all of
our students.
Reaction 2: The Hidden Rules
• White children come to school knowing the
“codes” or “hidden rules” of participating in the
white, middle class culture or, as Delpit says,
“the culture of power” (1995).
African-American parents want schools to
prepare their children with the “codes” and skills
to ensure their success in larger culture (1995).
“My kids know how to be black-you all need to
teach them how to be successful in the white
man’s world” (1995).
Children often bring skills to school that help
them survive at home but may be detrimental to
them at school (Payne, 2001).
As teachers, we need to make sure that we are
teaching students the skills necessary to survive
not only in the school culture, but also as part of
wider society.
Reaction 3: Classroom
Teachers from middle class backgrounds often
use indirect requests for behavior. (Example: “Is
this where the scissors belong?”) (Delpit, 1995)
Children from working class homes are used to
requests being stated directly. (Example: “Get in
the bathtub.”) (1995)
If a child repeatedly misunderstands the teachers’
indirect requests, he or she may be labeled as a
“behavior problem”, when really, the child just did
not understand what the teacher wanted him or
her to do in the first place!
As teachers, we need to use direct requests for
behavior. (Example: “Put those scissors on that
This is especially important for young children as
they are learning the “hidden rules” of school
(Payne, 2001).
African-American students, especially males, are
disproportionately assigned to special education
(Delpit, 1995).
Using the discrepancy model, students are identified as
having a learning disability when there is a gap
between IQ and achievement (Lerner, 2006).
Based on Delpit’s work, this discrepancy may be due in
part to cultural misunderstandings, stereotyping, and
prejudices between teachers and students.
Home environment and poverty may also put AfricanAmerican students at risk for being identified as having
a learning disability (Lerner, 2006).
If teachers have a better understanding of the culture
and learning styles of “other people’s children”, this
may help reduce the number of African-American
students identified as “learning disabled”.
Delpit, L. (1995). Other People’s Children:
Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New
York: New Press.
Lerner, J.W. (2006). Learning Disabilities:
Theories, Diagnosis, and Teaching
Strategies (10th ed.). Boston: Houghton
Payne, R.K. (2001). A Framework for
Understanding Poverty. Texas: Aha!
Process, Inc.
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Other People`s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom