Thursday, June 5, 2008

Saying No To Deficit Theory, Culture of Poverty

Paul Gorsky, founder of EdChange, is highlighted in the Parsons Sun
"The achievement gap is not as much an achievement gap as an opportunity gap. ... By calling it an achievement gap it puts full responsibility on our most disenfranchised, and I think that is problematic."
Culture of poverty, first coined by Oscar Lewis and based on ethnographic studies of a few small Mexican communities, is the idea that poor people share all the same beliefs, values and behaviors -- such as frequent violence. He extrapolated his findings to suggest a universal culture of poverty.

While his theory was popular, his work inspired a massive amount of research, all of which came to one predominant conclusion -- there is no culture of poverty.
Within that concept, Gorski said educators approach students based on their deficits rather than their strengths.

The deficit theory argues that poor people are poor because of deficiencies based on stereotypes.

"There are two aspects to this I see playing out in education in implicit ways: It draws on stereotypes that are false ... and it ignores system conditions that give some people access and opportunities that others are denied."

To believe the poor are poor because of their own shortcomings ignores the impact of rising costs of health care, gasoline, housing, utilities and food.

"These costs affect everyone, but they most greatly affect the poor," Gorski said. "You have to ignore all the structural conditions and pretend they don't exist and you must ignore every influence that might be contributing to keeping the cycle of poverty in place."
The message:
To change, Gorski said teachers must understand how race, gender, disabilities and other factors interrelate and accept there is inequity and oppression and understand them as systemic and not individual acts.
More on Gorski:

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