Thursday, December 04, 2008

Deficit Model of Schooling

I just read a truly fascinating article by Kyunghwa Lee, entitled "ADHD in American Early Schooling: From a Cultural Psychological Perspective." There is a lot to think about in this essay, including the relationship between No Child Left Behind policies and the unbelievably high rates of ADHD diagnoses and consequent Ritalin use among young school children, specifically in the United States. Lee discusses the role that teachers play in prompting parents to think about bringing their disruptive, distractable, or boisterous child to a physician for a diagnosis. Lee points out that what leads teachers, albeit ambivalently, to consider a child ADHD is how often the child distracts the teacher from the rest of the class. And, the most important insight, to me, that Lee has is that this model of distraction only makes sense in a larger model of early child schooling where the goal is to emphasize word use over bodily motion. Our schools, especially if they are overcrowded, rely on children sitting quietly, listening to the teacher and completing their tasks. Lee quotes L. Bresler ("Dancing the Curriculum"): "a moving body in school is typically regarded as disruptive."

What I want to focus this post on, following on the heels of yesterday's post, is the other valuable insight that American schools operate on a "deficit model." Quoting Bill Ayers (To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher): "We start with what kids can't do and don't know. It's as if we brainstormed a list of each of them . . . that we figured out hat they don't understand or value, what they feel incompetent or insecure about, and we then developed a curriculum to remediate each deficiency. The curriculum is built on a deficit model; it is built on repairing weakness. And it simply doesn't work."

Wow, that really grabbed my attention. While the focus of this article is on very young children, I can't help but note how often I hear colleagues frame their exprience with college students this way. The whole process seems like one of punishment and submission. Education is about smacking around young people who don't want to work hard and buckle down (like we did). No wonder students groan and panic when we mark up their papers and find not one shred of something positive to say. Who would be enticed to go on.

And, we also have a whole lot of college students turning to amphetamines, such as Ritalin, to buckle down the way we want them to and get properly disciplined.

What do you think?

P.S. I realize, by the way, that my excited endorsement of Bill Ayers' view of the deficit model is likely to elict all sorts of ire from the wingnuts out there. But, fuck 'em.

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