|It's "Aoooow" and "Garn" that keep her in her place. |
Not her wretched clothes and dirty face.
Consequences of deficit gaze on families, communities, and a democratic society
In Annie Proulx’s (1994) novel, The Shipping News, Quoyle, the main character, shares his worries about his daughter, who is about to start school, with his aunt, to which she replies:
Why don’t you just wait, Nephew. See how it goes. I agree with you that she’s different, you might say she is a bit strange sometimes, but you know, we’re all different [but] we learn how to disguise our differentness as we grow up. Bunny doesn’t do that yet. (p. 134)We all learn to hide many of our idiosyncrasies, but the deficit model demands more – much more. For many non-middle-class Americans, cultural and linguistic differences are constructed as deficiencies that must be overcome – or fixed – by learning the appropriate or correct cultural and linguistic practices of the middle-class. For these students, the price of success in school (and in society more generally) is rejection of the language and culture of their communities and families.
For many non-middle-class students, this is too high a price to pay for school success (Ogbu, 1999). Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) identified respect – for students, for their families, and for their cultures – as a fundamental trait among successful teachers of African American students. Characterizing students’ ways with words and their ways in the world as deficient is a quintessentially disrespectful act. To quote Geneva Smitherman: “[W]hen you lambast the home language that kids bring to school, you ain just dissin dem, you talking bout they mommas!” (in Wheeler & Swords, 2004, p. 472).
Finally, deficit approaches to education that aim to remake poor and minority children in the image of the dominant, middle-class are antithetical to fundamental principles of a participatory democracy. A US Department of State website offers the following observation about the relationship between diversity and democracy. Democracies make several assumptions about human nature. One . . . is that any society comprises a great diversity of interests and individuals who deserve to have their voices heard and their views respected. As a result, one thing is true of all healthy democracies: They are noisy. (US Department of State, International Information Programs, online)
Political philosopher Chantal Mouffe (2006) argues that democracies are necessarily noisy – and messy. For Mouffe, democracies are characterized by intense, vigorous clashes among various ideas and values. A leveling of cultural and linguistic differences – in the name of school success – undermines the schooling of poor and minority children as it does violence to democratic participation. From this point of view, providing rich, engaging curricula that is respectful of the linguistic and cultural backgrounds of all American school children is in everyone’s interest.