WITS celebrates the strengths of our students and the communities we partner with. We commit to taking the structural view rather than the deficit view of educational disparities. It is not our students that need to be fixed. It is the conditions and systems in place that continue to reinforce education inequity that need to be addressed. The deficit mindset is an ideology that fosters negative stereotypes, creates false narratives, and puts a focus on fixing problems that do not exist. The deficit mindset reinforces negative stereotypes and leads to the creation of ineffective policies that particularly harm Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. At WITS, we continue to work towards remedying these structural inequities utilizing an equity-literacy framework.
The Principles of Equity-Literacy
The webinar “Understanding Equity Literacy” from the Equity Matters series hosted by Learning for Justice further explored these topics. The webinar was facilitated by Sara Wicht, an equity in education consultant. I learned about the four principles of equity-literacy as well the ideologies (like deficit mindset) that stand in the way of achieving a more equitable educational experience for all students. The four principles, listed below, are centered on what individuals in education can do within their institutions:
- Identify biases and inequalities
- Immediately respond to these biases and inequalities
- Redress them in the long-term
- Create and sustain their own bias-free and equitable learning environments
I appreciate the simplicity of this equity-literacy framework – an accessible process for people and organizations to adopt and repeat.
Structural vs Individual
I found the discussion about the ideologies helpful as WITS continues to approach our work with an antiracist and equitable lens. In addition to the deficit mindset, there are other persistent ideologies like the grit myth. This popularized the thinking that if students work harder and persevere through challenges they can succeed. This disregards the social, economic, and racial inequalities that exist outside the individual. Educational disparities are traced almost entirely to structural barriers in and out of school, not to perceived deficiencies within students and families.
Meeting WITS Students Where They Are
At WITS, we often talk about meeting students in our programs where they are. Sounds simple enough, but if you dig deeper into this concept, you will see it is rooted in equity. This is an equitable, and sometimes radical, approach to supporting students because it means that adults have to break down their pre-conceived notions of what educational success looks like. We reframe the narrative. Students are not ‘struggling’ or ‘at risk’ – they are young people who are persisting in the face of large-scale, institutional inequality. Meeting our students where they are requires working against stereotypes and implicit biases. Most importantly, it means really getting to know our students – their personalities, their interests, and their strengths.