A Change of Frame: From Deficit Ideology to Structural Ideology

When your kid is DXed as autistic, almost all of the professional advice you get from education and healthcare is steeped in deficit ideology. The unhealthiness, unhelpfulness, and disconnectedness of this worldview leads some to consult autistic adults. Then, you discover neurodiversity and the social model of disability. And then, maybe, intersectionality, design for real life, and equity literate education. And then you find yourself in the healthier framing of structural ideology that is better for your kid and better for the systems and institutions that you’re now trying to improve.

Reframe.

I used to tell my students that ideology never announces itself as ideology. It naturalizes itself like the air we breath. It doesn’t acknowledge that it is a way of looking at the word; it proceeds as if it is the only way of looking at the world. At its most effective, it renders itself unassailable: just the way things are. Not an opinion, not the result of centuries of implicit and explicit messaging, not a means of upholding a power structure. It just is.

Source: the shame is ours

structural ideology > deficit ideology

With this in mind, my purpose is to argue that when it comes to issues surrounding poverty and economic justice the preparation of teachers must be first and foremost an ideological endeavour, focused on adjusting fundamental understandings not only about educational outcome disparities but also about poverty itself. I will argue that it is only through the cultivation of what I call a structural ideology of poverty and economic justice that teachers become equity literate (Gorski 2013), capable of imagining the sorts of solutions that pose a genuine threat to the existence of class inequity in their classrooms and schools.

Source: Poverty and the ideological imperative: a call to unhook from deficit and grit ideology and to strive for structural ideology in teacher education

The Direct Confrontation Principle: There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity. There is no path to racial equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism. “Equity” approaches that fail to directly confront inequity play a significant role in sustaining inequity.

The “Poverty of Culture” Principle: Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems, not primarily cultural problems. Equity requires power and privilege solutions, not just cultural solutions. Frameworks that attend to diversity purely in vague cultural terms, like the “culture of poverty,” are no threat to inequity.

The Prioritization Principle: Each policy and practice decision should be examined through the question, “How will this impact the most marginalized members of our community?” Equity is about prioritizing their interests.

The “Fix Injustice, Not Kids” Principle: Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities. Equity initiatives focus, not on fixing marginalized people, but on fixing the conditions that marginalize people.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy

In the U.S., we have become so accepting of the fact that poverty is not a symptom of a grossly unequal economy, or the result of numerous systemic failures, or the product of years of trickle-down economics, but instead, that the only thing standing between a poor person and the life of their dreams is their own decisions, their own choices, and their own failures.

Source: If You’ve Never Lived In Poverty, Stop Telling Poor People What To Do

Disparities in Discipline at Your School

Samuel Sinyangwe has a Twitter thread on how to use the US Dept. of Education data on racial disparities to research discrimination against marginalized groups at your school.

Search for your district on this page, and then follow the link to its discipline report.

Here’s my school district, Dripping Springs ISD, and its discipline report.

 

Discipline Report
Screenshot of the first page of the discipline report for DSISD showing pie charts for enrollment, in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions broken down by race/ethnicity.

Black students are 0.7% of enrollment and account for 2.1% of in-school suspensions, 7.1% of out-of-school suspensions, 0% of expulsions, and 2.7% of referrals to law enforcement.

Hispanic students are 20.1% of enrollment and account for 28.1% of in-school suspensions, 21.4% of out-of-school suspensions, 50% of expulsions, and 34.2% of referrals to law enforcement.

IDEA students are 9.7% of enrollment and account for 36.5% of in-school suspensions, 42.9% of out-of-school suspensions, 50% of expulsions, and 31.5% of referrals to law enforcement.

Those IDEA rates are depressingly typical. Schools over-discipline disabled children. There is a discipline gap that’s both racist and ableist. Between compliance culture, deficit ideology, and classrooms hostile to neurodiversity, neurodivergent and disabled students face systems designed for burnout and exclusion.