Mindset marketing is no threat to inequity and injustice. It’s bikeshedding of the same old deficit ideology. It flakes off quickly.
A big influence on me is Paul Gorski of the Equity Literacy Institute. I wish every educator with growth mindset, grit, SEL, and PBIS in their social media bios would take Gorski’s equity courses. Our SpEd family and other marginalized families would appreciate not having to do that reframing work over-and-over again for free.
Image description: Shiny Thing Racial Equity Arithmetic: Racism + diversity programming + an anti-bullying program + Kindness Matters + SEL, PBIS, and restorative practices + grit and growth mindset = Racism
Their tagline at the Equity Literacy Institute is “Learning to be a threat to inequity in our spheres of influence”. That distills what we must do. Mindset marketing ain’t it. Get structural, and get equity literate.
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.
We must avoid being lulled by popular “diversity” approaches and frameworks that pose no threat to inequity—that sometimes are popular because they are no real threat to inequity. The basic principles of equity literacy help us ensure we keep a commitment to equity at the center of our equity work and the broader equity conversation.
The Direct Confrontation Principle: The path to equity requires direct confrontations with inequity—with interpersonal, institutional, cultural and structural racism and other forms of oppression. “Equity” approaches that fail to directly identify and confront inequity play a significant role in sustaining inequity.
The Equity Ideology Principle: Equity is more than a list of practical strategies. It is a lens and an ideological commitment. There are no practical strategies that will help us develop equitable institutions if we are unwilling to deepen our understandings of equity and inequity and reject ideologies that are not compatible with equity.
The Prioritization Principle: In order to achieve equity we must prioritize the interests of the students and families whose interests historically have not been prioritized. Every policy, practice, and program decision should be considered through the question, “What impact is this going to have on the most marginalized students and families? How are we prioritizing their interests?”
The Redistribution Principle: Equity requires the redistribution of material, cultural, and social access and opportunity. We do this by changing inequitable policies, eliminating oppressive aspects of institutional culture, and examining how practices and programs might advantage some students over others. If we cannot explain how our equity initiatives redistribute access and opportunity, we should reconsider them.
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” students and families who are marginalized, but on transforming the conditions that marginalize students and families.
The One Size Fits Few Principle: No individual identity group shares a single mindset, value system, learning style, or communication style. Identity-specific equity frameworks (like group- level “learning styles”) almost always are based on simplicity and stereotypes, not equity.
The Evidence-Informed Equity Principle: Equity approaches should be based on evidence for what works rather than trendiness. “Evidence” can mean quantitative research, but it can also mean the stories and experiences of people who are marginalized in your institution.
Briefly, deficit ideology is a worldview that explains and justifies outcome inequalities- standardized test scores or levels of educational attainment, for example-by pointing to supposed deficiencies within disenfranchised individuals and communities (Brandon, 2003; Valencia, 1997a; Weiner, 2003; Yosso, 2005). Simultaneously, and of equal importance, deficit ideology discounts sociopolitical context, such as the systemic conditions (racism, economic injustice, and so on) that grant some people greater social, political, and economic access, such as that to high-quality schooling, than others (Brandon, 2003; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Gorski, 2008a; Hamovitch, 1996). The function of deficit ideology, as I will describe in greater detail later, is to justify existing social conditions by identifying the problem of inequality as located within, rather than as pressing upon, disenfranchised communities so that efforts to redress inequalities focus on “fixing” disenfranchised people rather than the conditions which disenfranchise them (Weiner, 2003; Yosso, 2005).
At the core of deficit ideology is the belief that inequalities result, not from unjust social conditions such as systemic racism or economic injustice, but from intellectual, moral, cultural, and behavioral deficiencies assumed to be inherent in disenfranchised individuals and communities (Brandon, 2003; Gorski, 2008a, 2008b; Valencia, 1997a; Yosso, 2005).
And this is the surest sign of deficit ideology: the suggestion that we fix inequalities by fixing disenfranchised communities rather than that which disenfranchises them. This, then, is the function of deficit ideology: to manipulate popular consciousness in order to deflect attention from the systemic conditions and sociopolitical context that underlie or exacerbate inequities, such as systemic racism or economic injustice, and to focus it, instead, on recycling its own misperceptions, all of which justify inequalities (García & Guerra, 2004; Jennings, 2004). It deflects our scornful gaze from the mechanisms of injustice and the benefactors of these mechanisms, and trains it, instead, on those citizens with the least amount of power to popularize a counter-narrative, just as the dominant “achievement gap” discourse draws attention away from underlying systemic conditions, such as growing corporate control of public schools, and pushes it toward “at-risk” youth from “broken” homes whose “culture of poverty” impedes them from “making it.” Deficit ideology defines every social problem in relation to those toward the bottom of the power hierarchy, trains our gaze in that direction and, as a result, manipulates the popular discourse in ways that protect and reify existing sociopolitical conditions (Brandon, 2003; Yosso, 2005).
- Attend to the practices, policies, and aspects of institutional culture that traumatize children at school
- We must infuse trauma-informed education with a robust understanding of, and responsiveness to, the traumas of systemic oppression
- Dislodge hyper-punitive cultures and ideologies
Being trauma-informed means consciously cultivating space in our mental models so that, even if we know nothing about a particular set of circumstances, we avoid the temptation to mindlessly apply rules.