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:

LA Teacher's Teaching Was "Too Afro-Centric"

LA Public School teacher Karen Salazar's contract was not renewed because her teaching was too Afro-centric:
As a second year teacher, Ms. Karen Salazar has had a dynamic impact on the Jordan High School campus by connecting readings to the real lives and struggles that students go through. Her English Class has become a favorite among students on campus, where they regularly read and analyzed books and selected readings from people of color to whom the students can relate. Students, who typically skip some of their classes, show up religiously in Salazar’s English class. administrator criticized her for having students read The Autobiography of Malcolm X : As Told to Alex Haley, a Los Angeles Unified School District-approved text. When she objected to this criticism, she was told that her teachings where too “Afro-centric.” She was then told that the school would not renew her teaching contract for the upcoming school year.
A student says:
“The school knows that Ms. Salazar is a very passionate and good teacher, and yet they want to fire her. It is not fair because there are many other teachers who don’t teach anything, and they never get fired.”
Another says, "she teaches us how to be strong and how to not let nobody oppress us." Youth from the school have planned to protest. Here's a video of their meeting:

Are we afraid that students will actually learn to think critically?

Funny that we don't see too many teachers being fired because their teaching is to "white-centric." 



A press conference was held at Jordan High on June 11. Some highlights:

LA Times: School rallies around dismissed Watts teacher deemed too 'Afro-centric.'
About 60 students rallied Wednesday at the Watts campus, while a colleague of the fired teacher said he and 15 other instructors planned to resign or transfer to other schools to protest the dismissal of Karen Salazar, a second-year English teacher.
"You embody what it means to be a warrior-scholar, a freedom-fighting intellectual," she told students through a bullhorn in one video. "You are part of the long legacy, the strong history, of fighting back."

In another instance, Salazar rips the Los Angeles Unified School District, saying, "This school system for too long has been not only denying them human rights, basic human rights, but doing it on purpose in order to keep them subservient, to subjugate them in society."
Association of Raza Educators video and call for community support:

89.3 KPCC Radio Coverage

What you can do:

Send a letter or make a phone call in support of Salazar and her teaching.
"Ray" Cortines, Senior Deputy Superintendent (213) 241-0800
Richard Vladovic, Dist. 7 Board Rep. (213) 241-6385

Stephen Strachan , Principal (MAIN OFFICE) (323) 568-4100