deficit theory & classism

I have been doing research on diversity and educational equity.  One particular section/component that I am especially interested in is educating students that live in ‘poverty’ or have low socioeconomic status (SES).  I think it’s important to think about your views on diversity because often we believe stereotypes that our culture prescribes to us without actually thinking them through ourselves.

I stumbled on Paul Gorski’s website today and some of what I read definitely made me stop and think.  Wow!  I recommend checking it out and consider what the impact of our stereotypes might have on the people we know, especially the people that we teach.  Have a read of his article called “The Myth of the Culture of Poverty” and ask yourself if you had ever believed in any of the 4 myths that he discusses.

Do students living in poverty get a fair Educational chance in Australia?

“The most destructive tool of the culture of classism is deficit theory. In education, we often talk about the deficit perspective—defining students by their weaknesses rather than their strengths…The implications of deficit theory reach far beyond individual bias. If we convince ourselves that poverty results not from gross inequities (in which we might be complicit) but from poor people’s own deficiencies, we are much less likely to support authentic antipoverty policy and programs. Further, if we believe, however wrongly, that poor people don’t value education, then we dodge any responsibility to redress the gross education inequities with which they contend. This application of deficit theory establishes the idea of what Gans (1995) calls the undeserving poor—a segment of our society that simply does not deserve a fair shake.” (Gorski, 2008).

Gorski, P. (2008). The myth of the culture of poverty. Retrieved on 25 March, 2012 from

3 comments on “deficit theory & classism

  1. Sue Petersen says:

    I hope this link works. It is a fascinating article about the Finnish school system and how their focus on educational equity has put them into the top OECD scoring countries.


  2. DrEMiller says:

    Personally, I think the deficit theory needs to be put out of its misery. What works not only in education but in life is focusing on the positive. Almost no one improves because someone keeps pointing to their defects; people rise because someone found an asset to explore.

    Diversity’s positive aspects should be celebrated, with any negatives serving as historical learning points.

    Best wishes on your research!


  3. angelita33 says:

    I totally agree that the deficit theory have to retire. Society in general is already very pessimistic and likely to follow negative remarks rather than looking beyond fear. History showed this in so many ways. Yet, people’s inclination is to believe on negative remarks, be highly critical in one thing someone done “wrong” instead of celebrating in 100 good things that person might have done “right”. Sadly bad impression last, don’t really know why…

    Good luck with your research, I do believe whether children is or not exposed to computers, if they want to learn, they will find a way. Yet, society have to improve children’s possibility to access a computer or iPads. Only computer for instance, could be recycled and sent to families who cannot afford one. I passed my old yet very good computer to a child who I knew would appreciate it. The way I see, if you have it and don’t use, pass it on to someone who will. So many are threw away, its time to make use of them in more productive way.

    Universities for instance, have equity computer scholarships in which they give one. It may be an used one or a brand new one. Each Australian University is different…

    Good luck on your research 🙂

    Angelita Mello


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