Approaching Marginalized Populations from an Asset Rather Than a Deficit Model of Education
Too often marginalized populations (e.g., some populations of people of color, students from lower economic communities) are approached with a deficit model. Attempts are made to instill in these groups of students the skills to make them successful at the Eurocentric education that dominates most schools in the United States.
The deficit model of education sees kids as
- lacking in some way
- needing to be fixed
- not as good as . . .
- needing to develop skills valued by mainstream society
And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at. We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. (http://practicaltheory.org/blog/2013/03/28/stop-deficit-model-thinking/)
Sadly, many educators and administrators aren’t even aware of the deficit model of education prevalent in many schools systems. It follows, then, that they are definitely not aware of the differences between deficit and asset models.
The differences between deficit and strength-based thinking help to explain why efforts to improve the public schools have often been counterproductive and certainly less than sustainable. Most elected leaders and educational bureaucrats tend to view the public schools in deficit terms and seldom focus on individual and school-wide strengths. (http://www.teacherdrivenchange.org/deficit-strength-difference)
The asset model of education approaches kids from marginalized populations as:
- having unique strengths, passions, and interests
- being competent and capable in settings that are important to the learners
- having their own personal powers
- having much to offer to other learners and their school communities
- sources for educating others about their communities and cultures
- thriving in a climate of differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning
- even though they are not marching to the beat of traditional school design, it doesn’t mean they are out of step
Every child has a gift; the challenge is helping them discover that gift. This strategy focuses on the students’ abilities rather than inabilities. As students understand what they have to offer, they can focus on their abilities to accomplish tasks in any subject area. (http://www.schoolimprovement.com/initializing-asset-based-education/)
There is a growing body of research that urges schools to acknowledge the social and cultural capital present in communities of color and poor communities (Moll & Greenberg, 1990; Gonzalez, 2005; Yosso, 2005). Tara Yosso (2005), for example, critiques static notions of cultural capital that fail to recognize what she refers to as “community cultural wealth” — characteristics, such as resiliency, that students of color and poor students often bring to school that should be recognized and built upon. Similar research by Wenfan Yan (1999) suggests that academically successful African American students bring unique forms of social capital with them into the classroom that are distinct from white, middle-class cultural models and that African American parents tended to contact their children’s schools regarding their teens’ future career aspirations and experiences in schools more than White parents. As this body of research continues to develop, schools and school agents may abandon deficit perspectives, affirm the cultural richness present in these communities, and implement more culturally responsive approaches aimed at improving the educational experiences and outcomes for students of color and students from lower socioeconomic strata. (http://www.education.com/reference/article/cultural-deficit-model/)
Of special interest is the current trend towards maker education in both formal and informal educational environments and insuring equity for all populations:
A huge part of trying to bring equity to every moment of tinkering is to see students as full of strengths from their home community, their families, and their experiences. Kids are brilliant and it’s our responsibility to notice their brilliance and deepen it. This perspective has allowed kids who don’t fit into traditional ideas about what it means to be smart, or academic, thrive in the tinkering space. (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/05/03/tinkering-spaces-how-equity-means-more-than-access/)
If we sincerely believe in creating school systems based on equity, then we need to design systems that honor and respect all students.