Deficit thinking is a mindset and ideology that seeks to explain and justify existing social inequities by highlighting the inherent intellectual, moral, cultural, and behavioral deficiencies in certain individuals and communities (Yosso 2005). It blames the victim by placing the root cause of these inequalities within the community and individual, rather than in the systematic and structural inequalities in society (Weimer, 2006). In education, it holds disenfranchised students, families and communities responsible for academic failure and school problems. This perspective views cultural and ethnic differences as deficits that need remeding and thus efforts to address inequality focus on “fixing” these students and communities (Yosso, 2005).Deficit thinking is the result of complex social, political and cultural processes that assumes certain “truths” about society and the interactions that occur in it.
This ideology is borne out of racist assumptions that people of color were genetically and culturally inferior to whites. In the early 1900s, the hereditary notion that inferiority was inherited and the low IQ scores of minority groups, were used as proof of the genetic superiority of Caucasians and justification for the low quality education and segregation of people of color (Valencia, 1997). This genetic deficit model gave way to a complex cultural deficit model in the 1950s and 60s, which proposed linguistic, familial, communal and pathological deficiencies. Minorities are “culturally deprived” because they do not value education which stems from an anti-intellectual culture of poverty. The parenting methods lack intellectual stimulation and proper nurturance lead to cognitive and character defects (Valencia, 1997). Contemporary deficit thinking is a mixture of previous thought with renewed focus on “at-risk” and “underprivileged” students, as well as continued attacks on “inadequate parents, home, and child as the source of school failure” (Valencia, 1997, p.
14).This ideology is a part of schools and pervasive in society. Culture shapes an individual’s assumptions and dispositions and educators must recognize their own identity and culture to uncover any tacit assumptions they might have of students, based on their background or culture. As educators we must recognize how our biases affect our interactions with and expectations of our students. The classroom is often where students first feel and notice inequality, not in resources, but in treatment. Deficit thinking leads to a disproportionality in disciplining of minority students, special education referrals, underestimating student’s capacity, and negative ways of thinking and talking about students and their families.
It is important that teachers think about where the deficit truly exist: the disenfranchised, the schools, or in ourselves? Teachers should stop “fixing” students and confront the ways they perpetuate inequality. We must see students for who they are and what they have to offer, as well as recognize and make use of the community’s funds of knowledge and cultural wealth. Only then can we begin to appreciate and celebrate our students’ cultures and find ways to leverage and use it as a vehicle for learning.In this deficit framework students are seen as lacking in language, culture, and knowledge and the school’s responsibility to instill these in them. Learning occurs when students are able to memorize and regurgitate information as well as internalize, adapt and conform to the dominant culture’s norms, values and beliefs. This educational model is teacher centered, and sees teachers as the experts and students as passive absorbers of knowledge and information.
The deficit model maintains that students and parents are responsible for academic failure, because students do not possess the “cultural knowledge and skills” to succeed, nor do minority parents value or support education (Yosso, 2005, p.75). In her analysis and critique of Bourdieuan cultural capital theory, Tara Yosso identifies Bourdieu’s interpretation of capital value as the cultural capital of the White, upper and middle classes, which is of significant value, and the standard by which all other cultural groups are judged by and compared to (Yosso, 2005). Yosso’s Cultural Wealth model is a non-deficit, assets based perspective that expands and challenges this deficit view and focuses on the “experiences of minority students”, revealing “accumulated assets and resources in the histories and lives of Communities of Color” (Yosso, 2005, p.
77). Community cultural wealth is acquired through six types of cultural capital.Aspirational capital are the “hopes and dreams” students and their families have, despite continuing educational inequalities, to nurture and achieve a culture of possibilities. Linguistic capital refers to the various intellectual, social, language and communication abilities students possess entering higher education.
Familial capital are the social and personal assets students gain from their extended families and community networks. Social capital are the “networks of people and community resources” that act as support networks in life. Navigational capital are the “skills and abilities used to maneuver through social institutions, including unsupportive and/or hostile spaces”. Resistant capital are the “knowledges and skills developed through oppositional behavior that challenges inequality” (Yosso, 2005, p.
80).In order to better serve our students and communities, teachers should have more than rudimentary knowledge those they serve. Deficit thinking discards any previous pre-existing knowledge students might have and views students as empty receptacles.
Their knowledge is either devalued or completely unrecognized thereby limiting the intellectual potential of students of color. By knowing and understanding the social context of their students, educators are able to make their teaching more relevant and effective, establish deeper connections with their students and their families, and leverage these funds of knowledge to create more meaningful learning experiences. This knowledge refers to the “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being” (Greenberg, 1989; Tapia, 1991;Velez-lbfaez, 1988). Luis Moll confirms that Latino families poses diverse and abundant knowledge that are valuable social and intellectual resources for the classroom (Moll, 1992). Under this model, learning is a communal experience where the parents and students are active participants in the construction of knowledge, and the teacher acts as a facilitator and bridge between the student, the household and the classroom (Moll, et al.
, 1992). The classroom is then connected to the students experiences and becomes an extension of the real world. This student centered approach requires and builds confianza or mutual trust, which is reestablished or confirmed with every interaction, and promotes the development of long-term relationships and community (Moll, et al., 1992).