In order to question deficit perspectives held by schools of students of color, teachers must first understand their roots. Deficit perspectives stem from white dominant education systems, which privilege the knowledge, language practices, and cultures of mainstream people. Therefore, the knowledge, languages, and cultures of people of color are seen as less than. Simply knowing this is often enough to help us question deficits, but doing so on an ongoing basis is challenging.
Deficit perspectives devalue the knowledge, languages, and cultures of non-mainstream students. Teachers should take deficit perspectives on and disrupt the notion that mainstream centrism is normal. Keep reading to learn why and how to dismantle deficit perspectives!
What are Deficit Perspectives?
First, what are deficit perspectives? Deficit perspectives and deficit discourses are the deeply held beliefs that people who are unlike the mainstream-centric standard of excellence are less than other people.
Where do Deficit Perspectives Come From?
Listening to the podcast “Nice White Parents” sheds light on deficit perspectives by juxtaposing the values of white parents with those of BIPOCs. These perspectives stem from the deeply rooted white mainstream control over education. White people determine what counts as quality, they control resources, and therefore hold others against their standard. Our textbooks show a particular standard of what counts and our curricula and pedagogies reinforce a particular mainstream-centric standard. The people who control what counts in schools (white people) set the standard. Therefore, when the values of non-mainstream families and students do not align with the standard, they do not perform as well. This reinforces the perspective that they are not good enough.
How do deficit perspectives manifest in our schools everyday?
If you’ve ever vented or overheard others venting about frustrations with underachieving students and placed blame on students or their families, those are deficit perspectives being voiced out loud. Focusing on students' and families' deficits blind us to their brilliance (which just might look different from our standard of excellence).
So, what do you do?
First, practice a mindful awareness of how your thoughts impact your actions. Be metacognitive about your views of students and their families, then interrupt deficit thinking. It's best to do this by being curious. Wonder, how do they view success? What do they do at home? What are my students' gifts? Questions like that can help you reframe your thinking by seeing students as brilliant from the start. Start from an axiom of brilliance (Gholson, Alexander, & Bullock, 2012).
Race-conscious educators see each student individually through an asset-based lens, and they see the classroom as a space where students and teacher learn together from each other” (Alvarez et al., 2016, p. 37). Shift power dynamics in the classroom. Recognize students’ funds of knowledge and cultural capital as opposed to expecting them to fit into the narrowly defined standard of what counts as proficient in schools (Yosso, 2005). Call your own power into question and call your own race-based standards into question.
What else can you do?
If you hear these conversations, intervene. Remind your colleagues that the way we talk about children and families directly translates to the way we treat them. Help others reframe, asking, what strengths does this student possess? How can you rephrase that in a positive manner?
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.