The Deficit Gaze

It's "Aoooow" and "Garn" that keep her in her place.
Not her wretched clothes and dirty face.
This excerpt is taken from an article by Curt Dudley-Marling from the Journal of Educational Controversy called The Return of the Deficit .

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.

3 comments:

LambentGal said...

Thanks for posting this!

So wonderful to read a hopeful, positive, forward-thinking work. A much-needed antidote to the fear-mongering finger-pointing that seems to drive adult literacy policy these days...

katenonesuch.com said...

Many adult learners are troubled by friends and families who say that they will become “high and mighty” if they carry on with school, that they will be too stuck up to keep old connections. As a result, when we insist that learners use standard English “because it is correct,” we put them in an untenable position.

Of course they resist the idea that they and their families are sub-standard. If they have to choose between us and their community, they will find it a difficult choice to make. They want the education we offer, but they may not be willing to pay such a high price.

http://katenonesuch.com/2012/08/13/standard-english/

katenonesuch.com said...

Many adult learners are troubled by friends and families who say that they will become “high and mighty” if they carry on with school, that they will be too stuck up to keep old connections. As a result, when we insist that learners use standard English “because it is correct,” we put them in an untenable position.

Of course they resist the idea that they and their families are sub-standard. If they have to choose between us and their community, they will find it a difficult choice to make. They want the education we offer, but they may not be willing to pay such a high price.
http://katenonesuch.com/2012/08/13/standard-english/

Kate Nonesuch