Confronting the Discourse of Deficiencies

Curt Dudley-Marling, Patricia Paugh


A body of scholarship has challenged the narrative of learning disabilities as a story of progress focused on the needs of individual students. In this alternative formulation, learning disabilities reinforces a pernicious discourse of deficiencies that sustains the dominant myths of schooling while absolving schools, teachers, and (some) parents of responsibility for educational failure. In this paper we discuss excerpts from an inquiry project involving four teachers, each of whom worked with students who had acquired a special education label. The goal of the inquiry was to challenge the teachers to shift their gaze from what students who struggle academically cannot do to what makes them smart. The teachers had little difficulty taking up a social constructivist frame but readily defaulted to the language of deficiencies when discussing their own students. Arguably, challenging deficit discourses challenged the dominant discourse of schooling and threatened their status as teachers.

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Copyright (c) 2010 Curt Dudley-Marling, Patricia Paugh

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)