In an attempt to understand widespread school failure among children of color and children from low-income backgrounds, dominant discourse points to pervasive deficit ideologies that blame a student’s family structure, cultural and linguistic background, and community (Dudley-Marling, 2007; Valencia, 2010; Weiner, 2006). By accepting such a simplistic explanation of blaming the child for a lack of success without examining systemic inequities, deficit thinkers ignore real and complex issues of structural inequity. We agree with Pearl (1997) who argues that deficit thinking ignores “external forces— [i.e.], the complex makeup of macro- and micro-level mechanisms that help structure schools as inequitable and exclusionary institutions” (p. 151). Systemic inequities in the U.S. have manifested themselves in a variety of ways— for example, in matters of racial profiling and restrictive housing contracts for people of color. In schools, practices such as academic tracking, disproportionate funding, and the overrepresentation of Black and Latino children in punitive school disciplinary procedures contribute to the maintenance of structural racial inequality and social reproduction (Gregory, Skiba, & Noguera, 2010; Kozol, 2005; Oakes, 2005). In reference to these and similar trends, researchers argue that children of color are not dropping out of school; rather, they are being pushed out through the presence of a school-to-prison pipeline that criminalizes Black males in particular—and prepares them for incarceration (Ferguson 2000; Wald & Losen, 2006). Viewing students as summarily deficient has long been deeply embedded in the culture of urban and low-income schools.



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Journal of Educational Controversy


Woodring College of Education

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