Thursday, December 10, 2009

Five Models of Failure

In the last lectures of class, we discussed the "Five Models of Failure." These theories attempt to explain why some groups of students do better in school than others. This is really interesting because we often discuss groups that are "at risk" of failing. This can be a problem because we, as teachers, must be careful not to just write these children off and expect less of them. Although I do believe that there can be some truth within these theories, they are also not definite. We should encourage all students and not expect less because we are told by their IQ, family life, race, or social class that they are not able to succeed.

The first model we discussed was Social Darwinism. This theory is focused on the individual. Basically, this model believes that students fail because they are stupid and/or lazy. Any inadequacy lies within the individual themselves and not with their family, culture, class, or school system. This theory simply does not make a lot of sense and goes against almost everything we have learned throughout our education. Who defines what "being smart" is? When considering Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, we know that students learn and express their knowledge in different ways. The problem is that many tests that determine intelligence don't take this into consideration.

Psychological Deprivation was the second model we discussed. Basically, this theory states that students who come from poor homes are likely to fail because of lack of nourishment, role models and stimulation. At first I felt that this theory made the most sense. It is so hard for a child to learn when they are hungry and are basically taking care of themselves without a responsible parent in their life. We also know that students are more likely to excel when their parents take an interest in their learning and participate in learning activities with them at home. Even though I think that family has a big influence on their children, it does not mean that the children from poor homes are doomed. It is sad that a lot of teachers seem to give up on these students which is exactly the opposite of what they need.

The third model attempts to answer the question of why some families' values and attitudes are at odds with the school. This is called the Cultural Deprivation model. This model says that certain cultures are likely to fail. This is something that has come up a lot in education classes. It is not that certain cultures are less smart or less determined. It is that a lot of the measures of intelligence are biased towards white middle class culture. In addition, their first language may not be English which poses many challenges when entering school. What teachers can take away from this model is just to be aware of cultural difference. They should be embraced in the classroom. I think recently there have been some efforts to eliminate this problem such as ESL programs which is very important.

The Reproduction model was the next model to be discussed. This model looks at why only certain subcultures are at risk of failure. Central to this model is social class. It says that family transmits their values to their children and that these children are limited to their parent's occupational level - social class is reproduced. This can also be seen to an extent in our society. Some individuals may not attempt to go to university because they feel that they are not able to because no one in their family has. Experiencing large amounts of social mobility from parents is not very likely. However, hopefully with more and more educational opportunities available we can change this view. Teachers can encourage their students to pursue any interests they have and help them get there.

The final model of failure we discussed was the Administrative Model. This theory focuses on money and funding and the barriers individuals may face because of this. Advancing does cost money and it is often difficult to further one's education without loans, bursaries and part-time jobs. Because of this, educational advancement may not be available for everyone. There are ways to get there of course, but it can be a lot harder for certain individuals than others.

As Robert mentioned, the interesting thing about these models is that the teacher and school system are never blamed for the students' failure. I believe that what we need to take out of this discussion is that we should not subscribe to these models, even if we see truth in them. It is our job to help our students overcome these barriers. Of course, the student needs to want to succeed as well which is where other challenges may arise. Nevertheless, no child should be labeled as a "write off" and hopefully we never give up on or expect less of a student that falls into one of these models.

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