Making Curriculum Pop

BOOK: ”Multiplication Is for White People” - Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children

Short review from Rethinking Schools...



Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children
By Lisa Delpit
(The New Press, 2011)
256 pp. $26.95

Once again, Lisa Delpit addresses key issues in education with laser attention to the kind of teaching that students, particularly African American students, need to be successful. She challenges the low expectations and stereotypes that are pervasive in schools and school policy today. In the course of the book she points out the weaknesses of scripted “teacher-proof” instruction and of Ruby Payne’s popular work on the “culture of poverty.”


Here is a link to the book at Amazon.


The original review can be found at:

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Replies to This Discussion

Hard to comment meaningfully without reading or at least skimming the book, but I've had a few problems in the past with Lisa Delpit's take on mathematics education. Back in the '90s, she seemed to be arguing that progressive reform mathematics programs like Everyday Math, Investigations, Connected Math, etc., were an attempt to water down or "dumb down" math for poor black kids. That was the same position that anti-reform folks at Mathematically Correct and HOLD were taking, the majority of whom were clearly no friends of the poor and whose agendas were consonant with the sort of things coming out of the Hoover Institution and similar right-wing think tanks. I tried to point this out to Delpit via e-mail, and while she replied cordially, I don't recall if we got much further.

Now, she appears from the review above to be taking a similar but opposite position, one with which I fully concur: teacher-proof scripted mathematics lessons are not good for poor African American kids, because they're not good for ANY kids. They represent the distillation of vibrant, thought-provoking mathematics down to procedures, rote, and mere calculation. To say this is not to argue against procedural competence, but for something much deeper and important. And I remain as convinced today as I was in the mid-1990s that we will never get many American kids to appreciate the power and beauty of mathematics through the tedious, empty-headed approaches that are advocated by the educational deform crowd or the anti-progressive mathematics community. I'd love to think that I had some tiny impact on Delpit's thinking about mathematics curriculum and pedagogy or at least that I got her to rethink her views and was able to see where the bulk of the problem lies in US mathematics education (and much else). But I'd settle for knowing that she's gotten past her previous views of discovery-oriented, constructivist-based, inquiry mathematics. 

I would argue that US mathematics education has low expectations for nearly everyone and both reflects and helps cause the general ignorance of Americans when it comes to math, and further that this is not a coincidence. I would also posit that the shiny new Common Core Curriculum Standards are more of the same old problem, not a way to a meaningful solution. For those inclined to believe otherwise, I recommend that you check some of Christopher Danielson's insightful interrogations of the CCCS math at his OVERTHINKING MY TEACHING blog. 

Michael - always great to hear (and learn) from you! I love your FB posts as well.

Sorry for the response lag - I'm still in post-surgery slow-mo. I agree w/ everything you are saying above as it applies to all subjects. I put the review out there from RS as I thought it might be of interest to folks - not as an endorsement (I think you know this but just in case). I too have not read the book. Unlike you I did not know the interesting Delpit history you mention above - thank you for sharing that. Years ago I read Delpit's Teaching Other People's Children the same time I read Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanind Poverty and thought Delpit was deeply flawed but a bazillion times more thoughtful than Payne. I don't even remember what she wrote about math in that book - you've made me want to add to the "infinite re-reading list."  

On the specifics of math I coach math teachers with my unique novice (read - what are you saying?) eye but I was intrigued by Moses' book: 

Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project

That seems to be the direction we would both like to take math for ALL students. I have to say, my absolute favorite use of math is in interdisciplinary settings for social justice things (see

Science for the People - Rethinking Schools Online)

I would love some links to a few specific blogs from Danielson as I think the CCCS is very much the Emperor's New Standards.

BTW - Speaking of a math related discipline - Did you listen to this awesome (if "duhh" and "of course it comes from a Harvard physics prof so people might FINALLY listen") story on NPR?

Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool : NPR 

I hope you're doing well! Ry:)



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