…[The] major explanation for such school failure is that these students of color, especially those from a low-socioeconomic status (SES), are themselves the cause of their academic shortcomings. Also, the culture and families of these struggling students are often implicated in their school failure. The basis of this attribution lies in the construct of deficit thinking, an endogenous paradigm founded on race and class bias. Deficit thinking blames the victim for school failure, instead of examining structural factors, such as segregation and inequities in school financing, that prevent low-SES students of color from optimally learning (Valencia, as cited in Banks, 2012)
I’m fortunate to work with folks who believe in mutual accountability. Mutual accountability cannot exist without the development and support of open, caring and trusting relationships. This year I have come to the realization that there is power in being on an equity team with the teachers on my grade team because it allows us to face the reality of racism in action. Though we are actively involved in different subcommittees, the work at its core is developing a stance of antiracism. It is imperative that teachers work collectively and individually on building a framework on what it means to actively oppose racist pedagogy and the insidious ways in which it shows up in classrooms, hallways, gym classes, and the offices of administrators. Combatting deficit thinking is all of our work. It begins with shifting the language we use.
The complex becomes simple when the effects of societal systems, and infrastructure are pushed to the periphery due to the manner in which language is applied in schools. Students, more often than not, these are kids of color, operate within the competing dichotomy of “haves” and “have-nots”, “smart” versus “not smart” demonstrate the impact of deficit-based thinking and language versus strengths-based thinking and language model of education. The language of labels, or identifying students by particular traits, also perpetuates the practice of segregation; this engenders a culture of dehumanization. This deficit model of youth “shapes our vocabulary about the behaviors prototypic of young people results, then, in an orientation in America to discuss positive youth development as the absence of negative behaviors” (Lerner et al, 2013).
My call is for educators to examine the ways in which they view student behavior. I have drawn the conclusion that if student behavior is viewed through the lens and goal of mentorship, a strengths-based model will develop over time. What is a mentoring relationship? “The mentoring relationship is usually described as one in which there is an emotional connection and in which the mentor offers guidance and others forms of support to the young person” (Dubois and Kircher, 2014). Not all educators will be mentors, but all mentors can be educators, if and when they are operating within the framework that teaching is not exclusive of learning.
Therefore, I propose that educators become mentor-educators and as such critically reflect by asking, “Do I use words such as ‘troubled’ to define and limit a student’s humanity?” The word “troubled” is particularly contentious because it implies “a deliberate refusal to conform to behavioral expectations”, posing the problem: whose expectations are we asking students to meet (Klinger, 2006)? Why is it that the behavior of some students is not perceived as a result of things “beyond the child’s control” or “normal responses to adverse circumstances” (Klinger, 2006, p. 146)?
Ms. St. Jean
Native New Yorker teaching and living the middle school life, using this site to keep it 100. My students are the embodiment of joy.