Delpit’s Question

In Fall 2006, I took a course that was co-listed with Georgetown’s English department and the Georgetown Law School. I admit I can’t remember what the course was called, but it had to do with understanding the legal angles of the failure of U.S. primary and secondary schools. As part of the course, we volunteered with reading and homework help at a nearby community center, and as prep for considering the politics of reading, we read a lot of children’s books and wrote one ourselves.

Mine was a sci-fi story about a boy raised on the moon going to Hogwarts school on an elite space station. The story is called Delpit’s Question, and I figure this blog is as good a place as any to post it–partly because I’m excited to see the kinds of things Scribd can do in a blog setting. We also wrote an explanatory essay about what we were trying to do in the story; here’s a blurb:

The central question of the book, however, revolves around Delpit’s interactions with his teachers.  This conflict of understanding is designed specifically to demonstrate the structural, legal barriers to students trying to learn the curriculum and social codes of power in an unfamiliar setting.  Delpit’s question (“What do I know?”) is a tool for me to bring these underlying legal issues to the surface in his first two days at School in the Stars (SIS).  After all, I don’t want readers to walk away from this story only annoyed at the teachers’ close-minded attitudes; the corporate and government sponsors of SIS structured the school as elite setting designed to train elite children, and such goals (though unspoken) result in teachers being hired with certain blinders.  For a teacher to survive at SIS, he or she needs to be either White (American or European) or non-White but steeped so thoroughly in academic discourse that he retains no sense of identification with the discourse of his home culture (as with Mr. Amalendu).  It’s only natural that the things Delpit knows (the science of colors, music, predictive logic, ways of interacting) aren’t in line with the knowledge his teachers expect him to have.  In her article (pdf), Lisa Delpit quotes a Black principal taking doctoral classes who expresses her frustration with teachers who, when hearing her descriptions of racial and cultural bias, will only “look and nod.  The more I try to explain, they just look and nod, just keep looking and nodding.  They don’t really hear me” (124).  Ms. Merino is the prime example of this “silenced dialogue” in Delpit’s Question: when Delpit first approaches her she answers glibly and “smile[s] as if she had solved all of his problems” (26).  After Delpit goes beyond his comfort zone to push for a better answer, she still does nothing but dismiss his problems.  “That just can’t be helped,” she says towards the end of their exchange, exclaiming, “They all started talking just like the rest of us in no time!  I’m sure you’ll be no different!” (28)  Not only is Delpit’s knowledge not accepted as worthwhile at SIS, his ability to question that fact is squelched by a discourse that doesn’t allow room for his participation.

Enjoy! (Maybe. I wrote this a while ago, so I’m not completely positive of its quality. But it’s worth sharing.)

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