Cultural Deficit Perspective

Adapted from: Sarah Kozel Silverman (2011). Cultural Deficit PerspectiveEncyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development.  pp 446-447.

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Employment of a cultural deficit perspective places the burden of underachievement on the culture rather than the social institutions in which underrepresented minorities do not succeed. As a result, the employment of such a paradigm in the study of child development may hinder rather than enhance a teacher’s, or other community member’s ability to work towards achievement of equity for all individuals, regardless of cultural group membership.

For children in learning situations, the environment may include the learning context such as the safety or comfort of a classroom, the teacher’s presentation of new material, and other external school factors.

Some cultural groups have been highly susceptible to cultural deficit explanations of their relative underachievement in academic settings whereas other groups have been stereotypes as consistent high achievers.

Cultural deficit models have been used in a variety of ways. Public policy reports provide an apt illustration. Although these models are often presented in an effort to explain socioeconomic or educational disparities, they can ultimately be harmful to children of non-European ancestry because they impede efforts to promote equality [1].

A report by U.S. Senator and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 sparked debate in the United States regarding the role of the federal government in promoting equality between Black families and White families [2]. Although Moynihan’s report was designed to provide solutions for strengthening the often poor African American family, it suggested the “disintegration” of the family was to blame for inequity. Later in Great Britain, controversy over the treatment of Afro-Caribbean children in the British education system led to the development of the Swann Report of 1985 [3]. The Swann report concluded that it was neither the students themselves nor the experiences of their cultures that led to low achievement. Instead, it was implicit stereotypes on the part of the education system, such as teacher expectations of failure or mediocrity and other race-based bias.

Sarah Kozel Silverman (2011). Cultural Deficit PerspectiveEncyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development.  pp 446-447.