Structural Ideology and Contemporary Progressive Education

Structural ideology is common ground for neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literate education.

For me, to be progressive is to get structural. Contemporary progressive education—such as Timeless Learning (selected quotes)—is distinguished by structural ideology and systems thinking. Personalized learning, to be something more than just a new behaviorism for monetizing kids, requires structural ideology and equity literacy.

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

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

In politics our frames shape our social policies and the institutions we form to carry out policies. To change our frames is to change all of this. Reframing is social change.

When we successfully reframe public discourse, we change the way the public sees the world. We change what counts as common sense. Because language activates frames, new language is required for new frames. Thinking differently requires speaking differently.

Source: The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

Equity Literacy in Diversity and Inclusion Statements

Our diversity and inclusion statements need to get structural, get social, and get equity literate. Use them to directly challenge the meritocracy myths, deficit ideologies, and politics of resentment that are toxic to culture, teams, and collaboration.

I evaluate D&I statements by the extent to which they acknowledge and represent these ideas:

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

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