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Is Your Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Is Your Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Ruby K. Payne, PhD

Is your glass half full or half empty? Do you look at what children can do and what they cannot do? The critics claim you can only look at what a student can do.

The deficit model is a theory that higher education can afford but K–12 cannot because of No Child Left Behind (2002). Most of the criticism is coming from non-tenured professors of higher education (who need to get published so they can get tenure) and a few practitioners who are firmly wedded to social determinism.

The deficit model is a theoretical construct that doesn’t have a statistical research base. It comes out of social determinism theory (who you are and what you can become is determined largely by society and the system) and has to do with the language that is assigned to something. For example, I can say the glass is half full, or I can say it’s half empty, but this doesn’t change the level of water in the glass. Social determinism is the primary theory of the multicultural and social justice departments of universities—the origin of most of the criticism. The biggest issue that they won’t say overtly is that I am white. They reference it as the “critical pedagogy of whiteness.” But 58% of Americans in poverty are white.

The issue in a nutshell is that social determinism doesn’t work in public education anymore because state tests and NCLB say this: We don’t really care whether you believe in genetic determinism or social determinism. Every child will learn to a level of proficiency against a standard knowledge and skills set. Period.

To get children to that level of proficiency, you have to know what they can do AND what they cannot do. To the critics, if you look at what a child cannot do, then that is deficit theory. According to Benjamin Bloom, one of the four characteristics of whether or not students do learn in school is whether or not the teacher provides feedback and correctives.

How many of you have heard this discussion of deficit theory, and what do you think about it? Leave your comments here!


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