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Although a deficit mindset may have a background of good intentions of benefiting the minor, it ends up causing damage to the students due to its basis in stereotypes and prejudice.

Imagine a mother of a boy who is told by his teacher to not try to push him hard to get better grades. 

This sentence may sound good until we know why the teacher said so.

An anecdote was shared by Lisa Delpit in her book. An African American mother, who regularly checked with his son’s teacher on his progress at school, was given satisfactory feedback every time she visited. To her surprise, her son’s final results came back terribly low, something she never expected after hearing a positive record from his teacher. She inquired, why were the results so bad when he was doing good in school? One way or the other she heard the same reply, you shouldn’t be upset. A-C grade is great for him. Do not try to push him hard!

It wasn’t because her son couldn’t get good grades, but it was because of the deep-rooted mindset of the school’s personnel who thought that people of color are working from a deficit because of who they are, and must never be compared with the standards of whites.

Principal Kafele Writes:

DEFICIT speech in schools that reflect DEFICIT thinking produce a DEFICIT culture that puts children at a DEFICIT.”

What is a deficit mindset:

As described by Richard R.Valencia, “It is the process of blaming the victim.” People who are already marginalized are blamed for their identity, for who they are. Their ethnicity, race, social status, or lifestyle matter more than the fact that they are human. The perception is that they are deficient in some way. It is embedded deeply in our culture that often we start dehumanizing people who are (in any way) different and treat them as below us. 

Deficit Thinking Model:

Deficit thinking is a perspective that minorities lack in the various functions of life because they belong to communities different than the norm. It claims that minorities are deficient, and they underachieve because of their culture. 

According to the deficit thinking model, a student who fails in his school is only doing so because of the inner deficits that he possesses as a result of his class, culture, or genes, and not because of external deficits that may come from his school or the educational system. 

Deficit perspective:

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A study showed that white teachers explicitly blamed the educational deficiency of students of color on their communities instead of the injustice done by the institutions. 

Deficit thinking is deeply rooted in the history of humanity. 

Often practiced by people in power, it assumes that the behavior is because of the student or the family, and it is that which needs to be “fixed”. 

Teachers with deficit perspectives take the minority student as a project that needs a makeover. It is a perspective that forces minorities to adopt the native culture and forget their own values and principles. They are often asked to stop speaking their native language and adopt the language of natives. 

Deficit mindset in education:

A deficit mindset in education neglects marginalized students and causes more damage. 

Expectations of a teacher are very low because of their mindset when they believe that their students lack potential, and this results in a decreased outcome.

A student coming from a poor background is expected to achieve lower grades than other students. It is assumed that they lack potential, and they are measured on a lower scale than the standard one.

The student is held back by having a transition from “norm” – to the set standards. Although a deficit mindset may have a background of good intentions of benefiting the minor,  it ends up causing damage to the students due to its basis in stereotypes and prejudice. 

Asset-Based Mindset:

In contrast to the deficit, the mindset is the Asset-based Approach, which puts every student on the same scale, without any biases, and only approaches what’s right.

It lets teachers think that every student has the potential; they have the motivation to grow and produce higher outcomes. 

Rather than concentrating on what they are deficient in, it focuses on what they already have and how can they improve.

The asset-based approach helps educators focus on students’ strengths, potential, and capability, and treat them with equality. 

Shifting from a deficit mindset to an asset-based mindset can contribute to creating great value in the classroom, as each student has a different yet diverse experience to share, which can promote a positive, enthusiastic, and sympathetic learning environment.

Deficit mindset

Impact of Deficit thinking on Students: 

A deficit mindset can greatly impact the growth of students. It puts the minority student on the edge of dropping out. 

A study shows that Minority students, due to a lack of diversity, often remove themselves from higher education programs because they think they “don’t fit” there. 

High school teachers believe that poor students (53%), black students (47%), and Hispanic students (43%) are less likely to achieve their college degrees as compared to their rich and white peers. 

These deficit perspectives are a great threat to growing and learning minds.

Beyond the Deficit mindset

Deficit mindset is a form of oppression,” says Richard. 

Deficit mindset

Deficit thinking confines our minds and forces us to view each task as a problem instead of an opportunity – an opportunity that can change lives, an opportunity for changing the way we perceive situations.

Sometimes, we are too concerned about our setbacks and lack of resources that we miss the opportunity to grow. We set our standards too low, thinking we are deficit. When, in fact, all we lack is imagination, desire, and big dreams. 

Let’s just sit back for a moment… try to go beyond the deficit mindset.

And think about a world where we have no boundaries, no confinements, no restrictions, no criticism from people for what we think, what we desire, and what we want to achieve…

Come out of the mindset that traps us in the zone of negativity. Come out of the world where we feel we are not enough, or others are deficient. Think beyond this imprisoned mindset. We can see a whole new world full of opportunities. 

Developmental Mindset:

All we need is to come out of a deficient mindset, a mindset full of stereotypes and prejudice, and move to the mindset that changes the perspective with which we view this world – A Developmental mindset. 

Deficit mindset

Ask yourself a few “ifs” before you judge someone based on who they are. 

  • What if the student who wore a torn bag had enough money but he donated?
  • What if the black student who failed the exam is intelligent but he panicked during the exam? 
  • And, What if the janitor who seemed rude is the kindest man but had a rough day?

Just a few “Ifs” and our perspective can go from extremely negative to extremely positive.


One way or another, we all have deficit mindsets embedded within us. But we humans have the capacity to adapt and evolve. We already have lots of negativity around us, and we certainly do not need more. We can change the way we think with some practice, and empathy for the deficient, for ourselves, and for people around us. This will open the door to happiness and an optimistic world full of positive energy and enthusiasm that promotes growth.

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