Beyond the Discourse of Deficit: An Educator's Alternative in Pursuit of Social Justice


The popular model of “deficit thinking” in education blames students’ family structure, cultural and linguistic background, and community for the disparities in rates of success. 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. In this paper, we share an ethnographic account of Mrs. Bentley, a teacher who has worked with students who have historically floundered in school, as she reacts to and resists deficit thinking. This account is complemented by a critical, conceptual philosophical analysis of Ms. Bentley’s views and practices towards suggesting alternatives to the deficit model for educators, teacher educators, and policymakers, alike.

Publication Date



American Educational Research Association

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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