After the crash: moving from a discourse of deficit to a discourse of potential.

Author:Delk, Jessica E.
 
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We enter movie theaters or push play on our movie viewing equipment, with an anticipation of fulfillment, pleasure, sadness, laughter, or any combination of expectations that we perceive will be gained from glaring at a screen of colors and depictions for approximately two hours. Many movies guide us through scripts that represent our realities and/or encompass our promised futures. C.L.R. James noted that "American popular cultural texts--popular film, popular music, soap operas, comic strips, and detective novels--offered sharper intellectual lines of insight into the contradictions and tensions of modern life in postindustrial society than the entire corpus of academic work in the social sciences" (as cited in McCarthy et al., 2004, p.164). One movie recently released not only captures our social reality and brings to the surface those ideas, conceptions, and acts we often dismiss, but it also parallels our discourse of deficit and the ongoing human crashes occurring between differing races, differing expectations, and differing ideals. These crashes create ongoing struggles and inevitable conflict.

It is now our responsibility as critical thinkers and democratic citizens to recognize the social and educational crashes that occur every day. We must then step forward to analyze the discourse of deficit under which our society operates and discover ways to model a discourse of possibility and potential. Finally, all unique human beings should work together to build a community of virtue that echoes through educational systems and society alike.

The Social and Educational Crash

While many movies depict social construction and interactions, Crash does not focus on surface realism, but instead it provides what appears to be an unbiased portrayal of various races and perspectives. A series of events unfold with numerous human crashes that capture what is below the surface but not often discovered. Not only does the movie highlight the idea that we all carry racial baggage, but it also reminds us that often our greatest fear is of the "other" (Orbe, 2005). It is this fear and our cultural stories and scripts that cause us to become actors and only recognize ourselves as a character whom learns his/her lines and performs for the external social world. In the words of Paul Laurence Duneier,

We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, This debt we pay to human guile; With town and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties. (Duneier, 2000, p.211) We wear our masks and become our characters to avoid revealing our true identities and beliefs. We try to all become the same; we buy into a morphed understanding that everyone is alike and differences do not exist.

It is this perception and a lack of respect for and understanding of the "other" that further promotes discrimination and never allows individuals to truly cross borders (hooks, 1994). These factors contribute to a society in which individuals lack compassion for others and seem to be driven by capitalism and individualism. In society we experience discrimination and oppression. Within the educational system, we experience tracking, inadequate assessment tools, and a lack of response to human needs, rights, and desires.

In short, we have created a society that shuns critical thinking and social responsibility. We no longer recognize the needs of students and of our fellow man/ woman. We have become so immune to feeling, empathy, and compassion that our interactions with others are not cordial, not magical, but instead--a devastating and inevitable crash. As our educational system mirrors our society, we find that violence in school rises, children fall farther behind, and teachers and educational leaders are handed the responsibility of saving our children and building a stronger future community and society.

Current Discourse of Deficit

The American society currently operates on what Pruitt (2004) terms a "discourse of deficit" (p. 236). It seems that everyday we are handed directions and ideals that encourage the minority to focus more on the world of the majority. The minority is expected to fit into the dominant system. I believe that individuals of all races are often treated as if they will struggle to find a fit in the greater system. The greater system is praised and held on high, providing a plateau that individuals must reach for and into which they must assimilate. The acts of discrimination, colorblindness, and underrepresentation are forms of discourse that are continuously spreading a message of deficit.

Discrimination and Colorblindness. Banks (2000) reminds us that racism and sexism are indeed "unconscious ideologies and integral parts of the American identity" (p. 222). Because discrimination is not just a surface level occurrence and it often stems from cultural beliefs and fearful perceptions of the other, the crashes are often not even recognized as racial conflict, but instead they are accepted as standard social interactions...

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