The fine line: deficit perspectives in education

supply_chain_risk“Just know what you’re in for”, the qualifier often attached to teaching low-income students, at risk-students, urban students, phrase it how you like but it all means the same thing “black, brown, & poor”. And of course there are white students who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage but the numbers don’t lie–minority students make up a large portion of the pie chart.

The problem with constantly adding these qualifiers isn’t that they’re completely unfounded. Schools with low SES students will face different challenges than schools with high SES students. But the fact is, every school will face different challenges; every school has established its own culture that students will react positively or negatively to. Thus, when you make it a point to warn me before I teach minority and/or low income students you are merely reinforcing stereotypes. And, on an even more frustrating level:

You are warning me of myself. 

I am a lower middle class Latina. My parents are blue collar to their bones.They did not help me pick my high school; they did not help me pick my college.

I have always been a hungry learner and am doing exceptionally well in undergrad. Still, I am seen as successful in spite of not because of. I am the outlier you delete from your data. A case too special to cross your mind before you roll out your blanket statements.

Whether or not I pay full price for my lunch does not indicate my love for learning. No one read me books before bed or drove me around during my teen years; this does not make my home life horrible–just, perhaps, different than yours.

So when I go tutor students who are “low-income” do not tell me “you may be the only stable thing in their lives”. I’m not suggesting we become ignorant to our students lives’ or the hardships they may face; rather, we have to be aware that everyone has different backgrounds. The second we begin emphasizing the need to have a heightened awareness when it comes to a “specific type of student” is the second we begin developing deficit perspectives and they are hard to unlearn.

I am no savior. The only thing I’m “in for” is the wide variety of challenges that come with being in secondary education. I refuse to let census data select the lens through which I view my classroom.


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