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[xmca] Dkiversity and Inequality

While we are waiting for the polls to close, the topic of diversity and
inequality being on my mind and my docket
I thought I would float out this article . My hope is that it may be
helpful in thinking about the historical
context in which we were working.
Title: : From ?Culturally Deprived? to ?At Risk?: The Politics of Popular Expression and Educational Inequality in the United States, 1960-1985
Teachers College Record logo

From ?Culturally Deprived? to ?At Risk?: The Politics of Popular _expression_ and Educational Inequality in the United States, 1960-1985

by Sylvia L. M. Martinez & John L. Rury

This article examines the terms ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? in light of their popular use in the sixties and following decades, particularly in the ethnic and mainstream press. These expressions represented an effort to explain differences in educational attainment and academic achievement along lines of social class, race, and ethnicity from an environmental, liberal viewpoint. We consider the use of such terms from the standpoint of both the African American and Mexican American communities at the time, representing perspectives from the North, South, and West Coast. In doing this, we document a national effort by educators and the concerned public to comprehend and address long-standing patterns of social and educational inequity. State and federal programs that used ?compensatory? and ?remedial? education to address the problems of ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? communities are also considered, along with political tensions within and between the African American and Mexican American communities over benefits to be gained. The use of these expressions was eventually marked by controversy as ethnic communities and academic critics labeled them a new form of prejudice, based on conceptions of cultural and academic inadequacy. While the terms fell out of favor, a new generation was left with the problem of explaining persistent differences in educational outcomes and academic achievement that marked children?s lives. The _expression_ ?at risk? was brought into the mainstream, and the academic terms ?social capital? and ?cultural capital? were introduced and gained currency. While these new terms have not sparked the controversies of the past, they fail to fully characterize the systematic educational disadvantages experienced by children from poor or minority backgrounds. The article closes with a brief discussion of the recurring dilemma of how best to describe persistently unequal educational outcomes, particularly when they continue to correspond to broad patterns of social and economic inequality in contemporary society.

Although terms such as ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? have become controversial in the United States, their use began in the latter 1950s in an attempt to emphasize the view that differences in educational performance were linked to environmental rather than genetic or other biological factors. As such, these expressions were introduced as a liberal reconceptualization of long-standing patterns of social and educational inequity. In this article, we examine how the use of these terms shifted during the decade of the sixties and beyond, and particularly how they changed in the ethnic and mainstream press. We consider the question from the standpoint of both the African American and Mexican American communities at the time, representing perspectives from the North, South, and West Coast. As such, we document a national effort on the part of educators and the concerned public to grapple with rather unambiguous trends in unequal educational outcomes and ways of describing and addressing them. Eventually, these expressions became points of controversy as frustration with the limits of educational change became increasingly evident. And as critiques mounted with the widespread use of these terms, ?deprivation? became less prevalent, although ?disadvantage? was considered a more acceptable term and sustained wider use in the press and in academic circles. Beyond this, such expressions eventually came to be emblematic of a new form of racial and ethnic prejudice, one based less on ideas of genetic or biological inferiority than on conceptions of cultural and academic inadequacy.

Despite this controversy, there remained the problem of identifying a conceptual framework for explaining persistent differences in academic achievement long after terms such as these fell out of favor. It was into this breach that the _expression_ ?at risk? and the academic terms ?social capital? and ?cultural capital? eventually were introduced. We close the article with a brief discussion of the recurring dilemma of how best to describe persistent distinctions in educational outcomes, particularly when they continue to correspond to broad patterns of inequality in contemporary society.


Although rarely used in public discussion of educational or social inequality today, expressions such as ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? are well known to many Americans. These are concepts that came of age during the 1960s and represented an effort to explain systematic differences in educational attainment and academic achievement along lines of social class, race, and ethnicity. The first documented use of these terms appears to have been an address to school psychologists at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in 1955, later published in High Points, a journal of the New York City Board of Education.1 Diane Ravitch has suggested that ideas of cultural deprivation and disadvantage came into wider view during the latter 1950s, when large-scale efforts at integration in the wake of the Brown decision highlighted the differences in academic performance of blacks and whites.2 In border cities such as Baltimore, Washington, Louisville, St. Louis, and Kansas City, it became clear that many African American students were ill prepared to compete with whites of the same age and grade levels. Similarly, the same concerns mounted between Mexican Americans and Anglo whites in the cities of the Southwest. As a consequence, extensive tracking programs were implemented in many such settings, effectively establishing racially or ethnically distinctive groups of students passing through nominally integrated schools. As a number of studies have documented, this was an institutional response to integration that represented a convenient, if ultimately unsatisfactory, response to well-established scholastic inequalities.3

The tracking of students according to real or supposed academic deficiencies, of course, was hardly a new phenomenon, and students from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds had long been subjected to such practices. Both African American and Mexican American students were required to enroll in lower ?ability? classes in schools across the country for much of the twentieth century, when they were not completely segregated from white Anglos. Systematic exclusion of minority children from high-status academic curricula and fewer available resources for their schooling were persistent features of school systems in all parts of the country. These practices, along with the relatively high levels of poverty and deprivation experienced by these groups, contributed to their generally inferior academic performance. As a number of observers eventually pointed out, their placement into lower-track classes constituted a type of self-fulfilling prophecy, a practice that eventually came under criticism from both the academic community and minority group community leaders.4

There remained the problem, however, of accounting for these differences in performance, both ideologically and, from the standpoint of reform, in theoretical terms that would point to the possibility of remedies. This had not been an issue in earlier times, as schools were widely segregated along racial and ethnic lines, either because of explicit policies or underlying residential segregation. Since schools were presumed to be generally equal with the advent of integration?or at least the idea of integration?there were two possible explanations of unequal outcomes, one biological and the other environmental. Given this choice, it is little wonder that most academic and educational commentators chose the latter. It was in this context that the ideas of cultural deprivation and disadvantage came into the forefront of a national dialogue about educational inequality, and reforms intended to address them.

In the latter 1950s, in that case, it became a decidedly liberal position to argue that black, Mexican American, and other lower-class minority children, as well as poor whites, did not perform well in school because they had been ?deprived? of opportunities to learn the foundational social and linguistic skills necessary for success in academic environments. Consequently, compensatory education was deemed necessary to provide positive stimulation to increase the cognitive abilities and moral sensibilities of ?disadvantaged? children who did not succeed academically because of the home and family environment.5 Such children, in this view, were disadvantaged by inadequate language development and an inability to grasp the significance of academic expectations, both considered products of impoverished living conditions.

In this respect, all poor people were considered to be fundamentally similar, irrespective of race. This line of thought was thought to be progressive in that it provided an explanation beyond genetic or natural inferiority. This was a debate that extended back to the twenties and thirties, as Barbara Beatty points out in her article in this issue.6 In perhaps the most liberal or environmentally oriented _expression_ of this way of thinking, Frank Riessman and other social scientists suggested that unequal education due to ?deprivation? of this sort was a matter of social class and not race or ethnicity per se.7 This also extended to the political arena, where leaders of the federal War on Poverty initially emphasized the fact that most poor Americans were white. As one noted in 1963, ?for most Americans the strongest visual image of poverty is that of the miners and hill folk of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.? Other voices concurred. In a 1964 address to the NAACP, Sargent Shriver emphasized the point that eighty percent of the poor were white.8 This no doubt helped to allay any potential public concerns that the Johnson Administration?s emerging anti-poverty initiatives would be directed principally to African-Americans or other racial and ethnic minorities. But it also highlighted the widespread conceptualization of disadvantage in universalistic terms at the beginning of the era.


It did not take long for these terms to find a receptive audience, particularly among academics and journalists investigating the often stark differences in academic performance between minority and Anglo white students. Minority group community leaders also used them, reflecting both the growing popular usage of the terms and sentiment that scholastic differences were attributable to the effects of poverty and linguistic differences rather than genetic disparities in ability. These two trends undoubtedly reinforced each other, with academic and journalistic sources implicitly encouraging community leaders to endorse this perspective, and the latter providing a degree of legitimacy to these terms for those outside of ghettos and barrios.

One barometer of popular sentiments regarding such terminology was its use in the mainstream press, both white and black. The term ?culturally deprived? first appeared in the New York Times in 1956, although it doubtless had been in circulation for some time earlier. It appeared in an article about enhancements to ?slum? schools, referring to programs designed to ?enrich the backgrounds? of students from poor areas by taking them to concerts and museums.9 Its matter-of-fact usage suggests that it had already become commonplace. Similarly, Atlanta?s principal African American newspaper, the Daily World, used the term in discussing a scholarship program aimed at ?economically and culturally deprived groups regardless of race.?10 The black New York Amsterdam News also used it in discussing a number of recommendations for schools serving black and Puerto Rican communities across the city.11 These were relatively minor articles, and even though the term had not been used before in these papers, it was introduced without any fanfare.

In 1958, former Lincoln University president Horace Mann Bond was quoted in the Baltimore Afro-American as critiquing the National Merit Scholarship Program as favoring middle-class students and ?against members of minority groups and ?poor whites? out of culturally deprived environments.?12 A year later, the Times used the same term in describing two special programs to assist minority students at schools across the city.13 Clearly, it was a way of conceptualizing the problems facing a certain group of students that had been established well before the start of the sixties. In the 1950s, however, it does not appear to have been linked primarily to the question of race.

The concept of cultural deprivation or disadvantage acquired a new level of recognition in the early 1960s with the publication of two treatments of the problem it represented, coupled with a series of recommendations for addressing it. The initial one was issued by the National Education Association (NEA) and entitled ?Education and the Disadvantaged American,? and the other was Frank Riessman?s book, The Culturally Deprived Child. The first was the product of the NEA?s Educational Policies Commission and, as Wayne Urban has demonstrated, largely skirted the issue of race in arguing that disadvantage in school performance was fundamentally linked to resources in the home, both academic and economic.14 The NEA report concluded with a series of recommendations to augment the educational outcomes experienced by children from poor or ?disadvantaged? households, recommending smaller classes for them, remedial education, special counselors, and better connections between affected communities and homes with the schools, among other things. In short, providing an adequate education for these students required additional resources.

Riessman?s book, while echoing many of the points in the NEA report, also offered an argument suggesting that ?culturally deprived? children needed certain approaches to education and certain types of teachers to realize their full potential.15 He maintained that working-class or lower-class children were not generally less able than their middle-class counterparts, but rather were less engaged in school and consequently less motivated to undertake the rigors of academically challenging curricula. The answer, in Riessman?s view, was not to offer them less demanding coursework, but rather to assign material that interested them and to employ teachers with the skills and enthusiasm to secure their engagement. He even went so far as to suggest that lower-class children exhibited a distinctive ?learning style,? one of the earliest uses of that term. But the bulk of Riessman?s argument treated the ?culturally deprived child? as a socioeconomic construct, and not one connected directly to race. The widely positive reception accorded his book in both academic and popular reviews helped ensure that the term embedded in its title would almost immediately become a popular euphemism for discussing issues related to the education of children from poor backgrounds.16

The idea of cultural deprivation caught on quickly in academic circles, resulting in a number of studies documenting the problems related to low income and social and economic status, and various educational outcomes, including achievement. Researchers such as Martin Deutsch from the Psychiatry Department of the New York Medical College conducted studies that described the many challenges that lower-class children posed for educators.17 Deutsch, for instance, reported ?an atmosphere of disorganization? in classrooms and cynical teachers concerned primarily with keeping order. This was also the time when so-called culture of poverty studies came to the fore, starting with Michael Harrington?s influential book, The Other America in 1962, and culminating in the publication of Oscar Lewis?s La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty?San Juan and New York in 1968, although Lewis had used the term more than a decade earlier.18

Although the intent of authors such as Riessman, Deutsch, and others was to emphasize the environmentally based and malleable qualities of the educational problems exhibited by the poor, it did not take long for concerns about stereotyping and labeling to appear. In 1961, a year before the appearance of Riessman?s book and the NEA report, the New York City Public Schools issued a pamphlet urging teachers and other school personnel to avoid terms that ?inadvertently suggest prejudice,? such as ?you people? or ?your kind.?19 In particular, readers were advised to avoid or to use with ?extreme caution? terms such as ?under privileged children, culturally deprived slum areas, (or) low socioeconomic.? They were urged instead to use more positive terms that suggested the potential of poor children to learn and grow despite ?modest finances of the family.? In describing the impulse behind the publication, the New York Times education reporter Fred Hechinger noted that ??culturally deprived children,? a term originally devised by educators as a substitute for ?poor,? becomes in the new glossary the term ?children whose experiences have been limited to their immediate environment.??20

Despite these concerns about the reaction of the potential constituents of urban schools, and the efforts of commentators such as the Times? Hechinger to lampoon the potential for cynicism in terms such as ?culturally deprived? or ?disadvantaged children,? the use of these expressions increased dramatically in the following decade.21 They were taken seriously enough, as Ravitch points out, for the U.S. Office of Education to convene a meeting of more than thirty prominent social scientists at the University of Chicago in 1964, focusing on the question of ?cultural deprivation.?22 In the words of a report written by Benjamin Bloom, Allison Davis, and Robert Hess, for such children, ?the roots of their problem may in large part be traced to their experiences in homes which do not transmit the cultural patterns necessary for the types of learning characteristic of the schools and the larger society.? The authors went on to make a number of recommendations, many quite similar to the NEA report two years earlier, and to suggest that a widespread program of compensatory education be focused on poor children, particularly in the early stages of their formal education.

An indication of how pervasive the use of these terms became in the sixties was their use in the press, often in connection with routine announcements of new programs sponsored by federal and state agencies or quoting officials. In 1964, for instance, the Times noted Secretary of Education Francis Keppel decrying the rising numbers of ?culturally deprived? students in the schools, especially in the cities, suggesting that they may soon constitute a third or more of the student population.23 A year later, the Chicago Tribune reported on the opening of Head Start programs around the metropolitan area, describing it as ?designed to prepare economically and culturally deprived children for entrance into kindergarten in the fall,? although it noted that some of the children served by a suburban Elk Grove center were from households above the poverty level.24 Similarly, the Times reported on a summer tutoring program that linked college students to ?exceptionally bright boys and girls of ?culturally deprived? backgrounds,? noting that black, white, and Puerto Rican children were involved.25 And while discussing reading scores across the city in 1966, the Tribune quoted Superintendent James Redmond suggesting that ?low achievement and less than average school learning ability are more prevalent in culturally deprived areas.?26

Similar usage was evident in the African American press, reflecting the extent to which reference to the ?deprived? and the ?disadvantaged? had become a part of the national discourse. In 1962, for example, the Chicago Defender quoted a black state representative, Charles F. Armstrong, who called for improved education as a strategy for moving families off relief rolls.27 Armstrong was quoted as declaring that ?we must stop educating the children of the disadvantaged and culturally-deprived as if they are expected to grow up and accept the same sub standards of life as their parents. We are educating them to become dropouts, delinquents and dependents.? Similarly, a year later, the Atlanta Daily World published a brief article reporting the challenges of ?culturally deprived children? in preschool settings, based on research conducted in Cleveland, and also pointing to the dire conditions affecting many children in the cities.28 It highlighted conditions underlying these challenges: ?Many of the children are exposed to violence not only through TV?but also in their daily living. Their vocabularies may be small but they often include a number of unprintable words. Poor housing and dreadful overcrowding proliferate problems that block our best educational efforts.? At the same time, the Cleveland Call and Post pointed to rising numbers of ?culturally deprived youth,? quoting one official as estimating that ?in Cleveland we?re talking about 80,000 youngsters, [who] will be deprived in 1970,? because ?home life continues to lag.?29

The theme of cultural deprivation appeared in the black press in other guises as well, occasionally in terms linked to the forward sweep of history. The New York Amsterdam News reported a 1964 talk by historian Charles H. Wesley, for example, which noted the positive effects of northern migration in providing ?culturally deprived? blacks from the South an opportunity for better quality education.30 At about the same time, the Chicago Defender featured a commentary by Reverend James Worthy, a black church leader and a director of the local Urban League.31 Worthy acknowledged the difficulties facing African Americans, a segment of the city?s population that ?has been economically and culturally deprived,? but he also argued that historical experience suggested that meaningful change was possible with sustained effort. And in 1965, the Baltimore Afro-American quoted Coretta Scott King (then known as Mrs. Martin Luther King) as ?relating that she had grown up as a culturally deprived child.?32 Acknowledging the encouragement she received from her parents, she told an audience of black college students of the struggles she endured in graduating from a white institution in the 1940s. The message was that cultural deprivation and disadvantage were obstacles that had been overcome in the past and, by implication, clearly could be surmounted in the future.

There were more discordant notes as well, however, especially as terms such as these increasingly became associated with African American and Mexican American children, a tendency that soon became evident in the mainstream press. The ?culturally disadvantaged? child was regularly described as minority, from broken homes, and from poor ?slum? environments.33 As reported by the Los Angeles Times, in 1963, California governor Jerry Brown put forth an educational bill aimed at providing ?cultural enrichment? to break the cycle of ?disadvantage? by increasing achievement and reducing delinquency in slum areas.34 This indicated a perceived need to acculturate and inculcate children with suitable Anglo middle-class mores, suggesting it was primarily minorities who lacked such values. With this sort of compensatory education, African American and Mexican American children could presumably avoid falling behind academically and dropping out of school.

Furthermore, in 1963, the Chicago Tribune published an article about local programs for city students, quoting one college leader as estimating that the most culturally deprived students were from minority groups.35 Highlighting this, the Times commented in the course of a story on a YMCA program for black dropouts that ?social workers have noted that Negro children from culturally deprived homes often lack simple communication skills?the ability to talk and read at a level equal to their intelligence.?36 A Tribune article in 1966 described a program to match suburban volunteers with ?culturally deprived? children in the city, picturing a young white woman reading to a black girl.37 The woman, said to be a high school senior from suburban River Forest, is quoted as describing participants in these terms: ?They?re a different sort of person I?m working with. These are children who don?t have the same kind of background, social and economic, as I.? While the concept may have been linked to poverty, the images were unquestionably black and white. At about the same time, growing controversy about standardized tests for IQ and various measures of academic achievement contributed to further racializing of the terms. A Times article by Hechinger in 1966 weighed the ?pros and cons? of IQ such tests, noting that ?disadvantaged minority students? often perform poorly because of the ?culture bound? quality of most measures of IQ.38 In the years to follow, even greater controversy would be attached to the question of race and IQ, reinforcing the idea that cultural deprivation was a concept associated clearly with African American students.

This was a time of rapidly growing African American and Mexican American school populations in many of the nation?s largest cities, with a growing number of districts becoming primarily minority by the latter 1960s. It is no accident, in that case, that references to the ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? in the popular press increasingly featured discussions of minority students, with pictures revealing black and brown faces. It was also well known that the lowest-performing schools in most cities were those serving large numbers of minority students.39 It was a short logical leap, in that case, to the general impression that expressions such as these were principally employed in reference to black students or members of other minority groups, especially as the numbers of Anglo white students declined precipitously in large urban districts.

A culmination of sorts was reached in Lyndon Johnson?s widely celebrated speech at Howard University in June 1965. Responding in part to growing urban unrest among African Americans and to advice from advisors such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the president argued that black poverty and deprivation was unlike the disadvantages suffered by other Americans, and called for a special response, programs, and opportunities targeted to help African Americans to overcome the accumulation of obstacles that they faced. This found _expression_ in the term ?affirmative action.? Historian Gareth Davies has suggested that it was a telling moment in the national turn to viewing poverty and its associated problems increasingly in racial terms.40 From that point forward, antipoverty initiatives would be linked in many people?s minds with African Americans, especially in urban settings. This undoubtedly contributed to the growing perception that terms such as ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? were more appropriately used with regard to racial and ethnic minority groups.


The 1960s were years of expanded state and federal programs in education, with considerable attention devoted to ?compensatory? or ?remedial? education to offset the effects of poverty and underfunded schooling on students, especially those in largely minority urban communities. Most of these new resources came from the federal government, either through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, or various antipoverty programs launched as part of the Johnson administration?s ?War on Poverty.? These policy initiatives reflected the logic of identifying certain children as ?disadvantaged? because of their immediate social and economic circumstances. While proponents used the language of ?cultural disadvantage? in the early years of their development, eventually such references to culture were dropped in favor of an emphasis on economic status.

Community responses to these developments varied from one setting to another. For the most part, African American leaders were firm supporters of remedial education programs designed to boost the academic performance of inner-city students. While such programs were rarely focused exclusively on black students, African Americans were typically the principal beneficiaries in larger urban school districts, where they represented the majority of students from poverty backgrounds by the latter sixties. African American newspapers were consistent supporters of remedial reading programs and often ran stories focusing on the need to raise reading proficiency among black students.41

On the other hand, African American leaders also were somewhat ambivalent about programs focused largely on black youth because supporting such initiatives could be interpreted as tacit approval of racial segregation in schooling. For this reason, integration generally stood as the principal ?compensatory education? program for most black educators and community leaders, although black nationalists favored the development of separate institutions and agencies.42 While it was acceptable to endorse remedial education within integrated schools to assist students whose academic performance was deficient, it was another question altogether to suggest that such programs should in any sense be race specific.43

This did not mean that black communities shunned programs to assist their children?s success in school, as there was a lively debate on these questions. With the passage of new federal and state legislation in the middle of the decade, including Lyndon Johnson?s War on Poverty, the pace and scale of efforts to encourage and facilitate educational attainment in urban neighborhoods increased substantially. Many such programs were based in the schools, but others were conducted by community groups and other organizations.44 Antipoverty programs often included provisions to assist dropouts in returning to school or to counsel students to remain enrolled.45 Alternative schools, sometimes called ?street academies,? were established to help dropouts meet requirements for graduation or, increasingly, to obtain a GED. These programs were widespread in African American communities by the mid-sixties and were undertaken by other minority communities as well. The vast majority shared the premise that ?disadvantaged? children and youth needed assistance in realizing their potential through education.46

Attitudes among Mexican American community leaders were somewhat different from those of African Americans on many of these questions. Because of the popularity of the terms ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged,? the Mexican American community also assumed use of these expressions to establish both procedural recognition of their cause and access to resources. The language was used to underscore the need for compensatory education programs to promote changes in pedagogy and services that adhered to Mexican American educational interests, especially regarding language. The Mexican American community was concerned that all too often, schools claimed that the home environment bred language disadvantages, which resulted in a ?massive handicap? to Mexican American schoolchildren?s speaking and reading abilities.47 To curb this ?handicap,? California?s superintendent of public instruction, Max Rafferty, stated that ?Preschool education is the only answer for the language difficulties of Mexican-American children,? a perspective that found considerable support in the Mexican American community, reported by the Los Angeles Times.48 Additionally, Mexican Americans generally endorsed literacy programs for ?culturally deprived? children that used books focusing on ?sounds that are difficult for Spanish-speaking children? in experimental programs.49 Despite support for these efforts, however, such programs left many community members feeling labeled as ?culturally inferior? and somewhat shamed by attitudes regarding bilingual education as a form of compensatory schooling.50

Consequently, both Mexican American community leaders and scholars offered administrative recommendations to reverse the impact of Mexican Americans? ?disadvantaged? status. Their principal point of emphasis was the need for a greater cultural understanding between the schools and families. Miguel Montes, president of the Latin American Civic Association (LACA), stated that teachers simply did not understand the needs and dynamics of bilingual schoolchildren.51 According to Los Angeles Times reporters Paul Weeks and Kenneth J. Fanucchi, most of these recommendations dealt with the recruitment of Mexican American teachers and the promotion of Mexican Americans to administrative positions in the mid to late sixties.52 It was believed that a transformation of the teaching force and administrators would lead to changed attitudes about Mexican American children, changes that would reestablish credibility with the community and instill faith in the school system. By extension, many felt that if community relations improved, communication between families and the schools could be enhanced, ending the cultural conflict experienced by so many Mexican American children in schools.53 All too often, such discontinuities resulted in negative teacher attitudes about the learning abilities of Mexican American children, leaving students excluded, overlooked, and discouraged. In 1965, Wilson C. Riles, director of compensatory education in California, was quoted as saying, ?The teacher must believe first that the youngster can learn and succeed. The second thing to do is to give help,? in reference to minority schoolchildren.54

Programs in the states varied from one setting to another, but California?s initiatives were emblematic of the reasoning typically applied in such efforts: culturally disadvantaged children required cultural enrichment. One of the state?s first attempts at this was funded by Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and was called the McAteer Act.55 The goal was to end the achievement differences between ?advantaged? and ?disadvantaged? students by raising reading and verbal performance and improving students? attitudes about schools and themselves. Although children targeted for these programs included poor Anglo whites, much of the attention was given to schools with large Mexican American and black populations. With respect to the Mexican American community, programs to provide preschool education and special teaching for Spanish-speaking children were priorities, linking ?disadvantaged? status with children not receiving the proper academic and language preparation for school at home.56 This theme continued into the 1970s, when Title III funds were specifically earmarked for ?culturally deprived? students; in California, these project funds were aimed at assisting Mexican American students to recognize the importance of school attendance and graduation.57

Despite efforts to academically and culturally engage Mexican American students, these programs favored a curriculum and pedagogy immersed in the ?Anglo American way,? often creating cultural conflicts for minority schoolchildren.58 In 1972, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found evidence of a clear superiority-inferiority relationship between Anglo whites and Mexican Americans in the school system: ?The dominance of Anglo values is apparent in the curricula on all education levels; in the cultural climate which ignores or denigrates Mexican-American mores and the use of the Spanish language; in exclusion of the Mexican-American community from full participation in matters pertaining to school policies and practices.?59 There was also debate in Los Angeles about whether Anglo children were ?deprived,? since they had little opportunity to learn about or from minority cultures because they were isolated in middle-class suburbia.60 This discussion, although limited, made it clear that in programs for ?deprived? children, minorities were the logical targets. The ?deprived? status of Mexican Americans and other minorities led them to be vulnerable to the middle-class Anglo values and assumptions of the public schools, which threatened the self-esteem of minority children as they attempted to achieve on those terms.61

The middle-class white child was often held up as an example for African American students as well, either implicitly or explicitly, throughout this period. An embedded goal of school integration, after all, was to enable black children to achieve the same educational outcomes as whites, both academic and behavioral. Equal education left little room for cultural differences associated with race, and the influence of white middle-class role models extended even to compensatory education. In 1965, the Chicago Defender ran a five-part series on compensatory education, pointing to its necessity in light of the many disadvantages suffered by black children living in ghetto communities. Reporting on a study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago, the Defender noted that while as many as a third of black students were ?at least equal to Anglo white norms of educational development,? much remained to be done to bring others to the same level. In short, as the very name ?compensatory? education implied, the goal of these programs was to bring the educational performance of African American students in line with prevailing standards established by the white middle class, representing the majority of students in public schools. Despite their eventual ambivalence about the concept of cultural disadvantage, the Defender and other black newspapers remained consistent supporters of compensatory and remedial education programs throughout this period.

To access decision-making opportunities that would enhance Mexican American children?s educational experiences, ethnic political and educational groups began to apply for federal grant money to run their own programs for ?disadvantaged? Mexican American schoolchildren. The Los Angeles Times highlighted one such organization, LACA, which sponsored a Project Head Start program to prepare ?economically disadvantaged? students for kindergarten, targeting Mexican American neighborhoods throughout Southern California in 1965.62 The language used by LACA associated poverty with ?disadvantage? rather than with culture. At the same time, African American community organizations also received federal funding to support compensatory education programs. In most of the nation?s large cities, community-based agencies representing one or another minority group became important partners in the growing remedial education enterprise.

Occasionally the question of compensatory education led to political disagreement between minority groups. Although federal money was funneling into special programs for ?disadvantaged? students, Mexican Americans in California felt their needs were not being met because greater attention was given to the black community. In the mid-1960s, Mexican American political organizations began to make the argument that they were more ?deprived? and ?disadvantaged? than African Americans and deserved a greater proportion of educational aid.63 In 1965, leaders of LACA and the Council of Mexican-American Affairs contended that Mexican American poverty areas were just as ?disadvantaged? as black areas, if not more so because of linguistic differences, yet they were being ignored even though they outnumbered African Americans in the state.64 Disputes ensued over educational formulas that seemed to favor black neighborhoods over Mexican American neighborhoods for distributing monies.65 This debate also trickled into higher education; for example, Mexican American students at San Jose State felt that black students were getting larger shares of freshman class openings and scholarships. Competition for Equal Opportunity Program money became fierce in certain instances.66

The rivalry for resources between the Mexican American and black communities escalated as the federal government continued to group their issues together, and Mexican Americans contended they had ?unique? needs. Leo Grebler, UCLA academic and Mexican American Study Project director, stated that federal government programs were unprepared to deal with the growing requirements of the Mexican American community.67 He contended in a letter to the Los Angeles Times in 1966 that Mexican Americans, the second largest ?disadvantaged? group in the nation, encountered ?astonishing ignorance, indifference, and insensitivity.? Federal authorities, in his view, were ?preoccupied by their concern over Negroes,? and ?have yet to awaken to the presence of over 4 million Mexican Americans in our midst.? Like other commentators, he argued that while both groups were ?disadvantaged,? their ?specific difficulties? were not the same. While there was a tendency to view the question of Mexican American status as a regional problem, he argued that it was an issue of national proportions.

Sentiments such as these reflected the growing tensions that became associated with the politics of disadvantage in the midst of federally sponsored War on Poverty programs that targeted spending on groups that were seen as ?deprived? in one way or another. As John Skrentny has argued, the designation of ?official minorities? linked to federal antidiscrimination and antipoverty programs often led to heightened political conflict for access to such resources.68 At the same time that groups jockeyed for position, however, many were becoming ambivalent about the very terms of the struggle they were engaged in. As suggested earlier, programs designed to ?compensate? for ?disadvantage? or ?deprivation? implied a common standard against which all minority groups were being compared. Whether everyone accepted these norms and the assumptions that underlay them was another question. As the limitations of programs intended to promote ?integration? of minority-group children into the social and cultural mainstream became increasingly apparent, many observers began to wonder whether even pursuing such goals was worthwhile.


An unmistakable turning point was reached in 1965 with the public airing of Daniel Patrick Moynihan?s federal memorandum, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (also known as the Moynihan Report).69 The report noted a high rate of single-parent households in black communities, which resulted in a high probability of black children dropping out of school and engaging in deviant behaviors. Describing black poverty and a battery of associated conditions as ?a tangle of pathology,? this document was widely interpreted as reflecting long-standing stereotypes about African American social behavior and values. This made the question of ?cultural deprivation? all the more sensitive, particularly with reference to describing the condition of black children.

Given these developments, along with growing uncertainty about integration to begin with, it is little wonder that a significant push-back against the concepts of cultural deprivation and disadvantage quickly emerged in the African American press. Although the terms were not explicitly linked to the Moynihan Report, sensitivities about the depiction of children were already running high. Writing in the New York Amsterdam News in 1965, for instance, teacher Barbara McKinnon criticized her colleagues in the city?s schools who ?hardly recognize the potential of their pupils? because of stereotypes about their backgrounds.70 ?Children who have been called ?underprivileged,? ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged,?? she wrote, ?are still at the mercy of the presupposing, all assuming, self imposing middle class dogma of their teachers and school administrators.?

Similarly, in 1967, Reverend Arthur Zebbs of Columbus, Ohio, published a column in the Cleveland Call and Post describing the term ?culturally deprived? to be an ?unfortunate euphemism? that prevented many educators from assuming responsibility for teaching children the skills and knowledge needed for success in college and the job market.71 He found it particularly glaring that school administrators brushed aside the low national achievement test scores of black students when parents registered shock at their children?s low performance, implying that national measures of achievement were not important. And in 1968, both the Pittsburg Courier and the Chicago Defender carried stories about Professor Paul McStallworth of Central State University in Ohio, who argued that Anglo whites were culturally deprived because of their lack of knowledge of African American history and culture, essential elements of American civilization.72

Like McKinnon, Zebbs, and many other commentators at the time, McStallworth questioned the assumption that a single standard existed for evaluating the social and cultural background and knowledge of lower class, predominantly African American inner-city students. This was a view that would gather force in the years to come.73 This was reflected in a variety of ways, ranging from widely publicized efforts to create an ?alternative IQ test? that measured knowledge of ideas and facts linked to African American and urban experience, to scholarly research that challenged the idea that a deficit in linguistic stimulation was developmentally harmful to children. In the latter 1960s, Adrian Dove, a federal employee, devised a standardized test of ?the culture and knowledge of the Negro slums? called the Dove Counterbalance General Intelligence Test or Chitling Test.74 Promoted nationally in a ?half serious? fashion, it was intended to make the point that so-called intelligence tests were based on ?white culture? and thus biased against African Americans and members of other minority groups. At the same time, researchers in linguistics and child development argued that there was no clear evidence that learning standard English as a very young child was developmentally superior to other forms of the language.75 This, of course, was a direct challenge to one of the cornerstones of the deprivation thesis: the idea that children from poor or minority backgrounds suffered significant delays in their intellectual growth because of the linguistic environment of their homes.

Many in the Mexican American community were similarly critical and viewed terms such as ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? as simply new expressions of ethnic inferiority. As a result, the terms were resisted early on. Ruben Salazar, famed Los Angeles Times Chicano journalist, maintained that it was ?peculiar pedagogical language? to use in connection with impoverished Mexican Americans in an editorial in 1963.76 He argued that Mexican Americans have not only a rich culture but one that is protected by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which guarantees Mexicans who become U.S. citizens the right to retain their language and culture. Interestingly, Salazar refused to accept the label of ?culturally deprived,? yet his is one of the first instances of the term?s use in the Los Angeles Times, suggesting that it was already in widespread use. Salazar?s article also argued that Mexican Americans are advantaged by their ?unique? bicultural tradition. Community leaders such as Marcos de Leon, bilingual education scholar, saw Anglo children as the ?disadvantaged? because Mexican Americans were fortunate to have a bicultural and bilingual heritage.77 He stated, ?The Mexican American, with his biculturalism, should be a national treasure, to be nurtured and preserved.? Yet, rather than Mexican culture being respected and valued in the educational system, it was admonished and excluded.78

The growing controversy over the concept of cultural deprivation reached a head in 1971, when Kenneth Clark, the renowned psychologist who had testified in the Brown case some seventeen years earlier, issued a sharp attack on the use of the term and similar expressions.79 Clark had long been critical of this terminology, but his statement in this instance was pointed and forceful. In a widely cited address to a publishers editorial board, he declared that the most pressing need of urban students ?is to be free of this type of label; to be free of fashionable categorizing and educational stereotyping which subordinates their individuality to this catchall phrase, ?the disadvantaged.?? He did not dispute the idea that children from poor, urban backgrounds often lagged behind their middle-class suburban peers academically but rejected the proposition that disadvantages such as these made children in these circumstances ?uneducable,? a term gaining favor among some educators. Clark suggested that this may reflect a subtle form of racism, wherein educators shift expectations for ?darker skinned? students from poor backgrounds, after providing opportunities for generations of poor urban whites in the past.80

Clark?s statement received wide attention and was arresting in its eloquence and clarity, but it reflected a line of argument that had been unfolding for a number of years. As the population of major urban school systems shifted to a majority of black (and later Hispanic) students, the terms ?deprived? and ?disadvantaged? had clearly come to be associated with African Americans, Mexican Americans, and members of other low-status minority groups. The ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? paradigm resulted in the argument that differences in achievement and attainment were a result of a home life that failed to impart the proper values, stimulation, and socialization experiences that children need to be successful in school. While these explanations represented a liberal shift in attitudes, social scientists such as Conant, Riessman, Harrington, and Lewis made the case that the culture of ?disadvantaged? families explained the poor behaviors and values of low-income communities, and, by extension, culture explained differences in attitudes and performance in schools.81 Thus, middle-class values were painted as advantageous qualities that low-income families simply did not have, consequently leaving them ?deprived? and ?deficient.?

These arguments contributed to widespread belief that black and Mexican American students were ?culturally deficient? in the values leading to academic achievement, such as positive expectations regarding school attendance and graduation.82 Educators and administrators blamed families for inadequately preparing students for school, citing their indifference to education as one of the largest inhibitors of minority group achievement and attainment.83 Also, these families often were accused of failing to provide the necessary values, language, and cognitive skills to be successful in school. Many argued that these issues needed to be addressed in early schooling through social and academic stimulation.84 These viewpoints suggested that poor and minority children should be changed to acquire the skills, knowledge, and attitudes of the white middle class. The socialization and stimulation they received at home was presumed inadequate, and adhering to the assimilation process in schools was believed to be their only hope.85


The idea of ?disadvantaged? or ?culturally deprived? children started as a seemingly race-neutral attempt to express the impact of poverty and low social status on the educational readiness of students in American schools. It was informed by experiences of African Americans and Mexican Americans, but also by those of poor whites, who suffered one form or another of social discrimination and exhibited low levels of academic achievement. In the changing context of urban education of the 1960s, however, these terms eventually came to be used more readily and regularly with reference to minority groups in the cities. This understandably provoked a reaction, particularly among African Americans, but other groups as well. Within two decades of its first appearance in the popular press, the _expression_ ?culturally deprived? had fallen largely into disuse, at least in the dominant public discourse. The _expression_ ?disadvantaged,? less linked to the politically sensitive topic of culture, remained in use, although it appeared considerably less frequently in the 1970s. With the development of ?Black Pride,? ?Chicano Pride,? and other more nationalistic perspectives in and around the schools, it is little wonder that concepts such as these fell out of favor. It is not clear, however, that more useful or less offensive ideas and terms could have been developed to replace them, given the history of controversy surrounding them.86

In the mid-1960s, ?culturally different? began to gain attention, which still offered a cultural explanation for low achievement?minority cultures were simply different, not inferior? leading to the development and growth of multicultural and culturally responsive educational pedagogies.87 The ideology of ?difference? demonstrated a greater sensitivity to stereotyping poor children and minorities. One of the first times this new term was used in the Los Angeles Times was in a quote in 1968 by Julian Nava, academic scholar and U.S. diplomat: ?Because of cultural differences the Mexican-American and Negro need special programs to meet their differences.?88 He advocated new pedagogical approaches and changes in teachers? attitudes to capitalize on students? cultural strengths, rather than overlooking them because of their ?differences? from Anglo culture. With this change in language from ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged,? Nava put the responsibility on schools and teachers to end achievement differences, rather than narrowly and patronizingly blaming the cultural and family backgrounds of minority students for inadequate mental stimulation and poor educational socialization.

This new sensitivity to the use of ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? and the fear that they had developed into a new set of labels to identify children who could not be expected to excel was a point of concern to the academic community, journalists, and minority-group leaders.89 Consequently, the use of the terms dropped significantly in the 1970s, as a number of publications registered criticisms of their use. Topics in teacher education and curricular reform, particularly concerning compensatory education programs, were examined in this light. A popular collection of readings titled The Disadvantaged Child, first published in 1966, was reissued in 1971 featuring articles critical of ?cultural deprivation? as a concept. As the editors noted, ?the currently popular label for the poor, ?culturally disadvantaged,? is certain to be denounced, along with ?culturally deprived,? as technically inaccurate and descriptively derogatory.? While they lamented the controversy over terminology, they also acknowledged a need for greater sensitivity in dealing with these issues.90 As these questions gained currency, the academic community responded by shifting the terms used to discuss issues of poverty and inequality.

At the same time, debate occurred in black communities across the country regarding the virtues of integration and separate schooling as strategies for enhancing the educational experiences of African American students.91 Additionally, Mexican American communities were attempting to garner the political clout to address the unique educational problems their children faced in school, hoping to enter the national dialogue on minority schooling.92 As grassroots ethnic consciousness was raised with the Chicano movement and the civil rights movement, a new level of activism emerged as Chicanos secured legal recognition of their minority status. This led to increased resources and programs that were designed to serve the cultural and linguistic needs of Mexican American children. It was a time of turmoil and conflict on many fronts, and there was little agreement on the best way to address the needs of children underprepared to compete for educational credentials, not to mention the skills and knowledge required to succeed in a rapidly changing economy.93

Broad trends in the use of these terms can be identified in Figures 1 and 2. They represent the number of articles published in each decade up to and including the year indicated on the bottom axis. Two groups of newspapers are featured in Figure 1, one representing the mainstream national press, specifically the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, and the other the black press, the Chicago Defender, Pittsburg Courier, and the Atlanta Daily World. There are two lines for each group of papers, one reflecting the appearance of the _expression_ ?culturally deprived? and the other the term ?disadvantaged? in connection with children or students. The general shape of the distributions in each instance is quite similar, with peak usage of both terms evident in the decade of the 1960s. Both begin with little or no mention in the fifties and end with substantially reduced or minimal usage in the eighties. Given these patterns, it hardly would seem to be an exaggeration to say that both of these terms were characteristic of the 1960s.

Figure 1. Number of Articles Using Each _expression_, by Source and Decade


Note: Calculated with data obtained from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Digital Archive

Examining the trends for each group of papers, clear differences are evident, even if the general direction of change is similar. Some of this is due to the fact that the mainstream papers were bigger and offered correspondingly more stories, but it also reflects differences in the use of these expressions. It is noteworthy, for example that the term ?culturally deprived? appeared only once in these three black papers after 1970, while it appeared more than seventy times in the mainstream papers (principally the more conservative Chicago Tribune). This suggests a greater sensitivity to questions such as those raised by Clark and other commentators with regarding the danger of stereotyping black and poor children with the use of such labels, opening the door to new forms of discrimination in the wake of advances made by the civil rights movement. Even use of the term ?disadvantaged,? seemingly innocuous by comparison, dropped precipitously after reaching a high point during the sixties.

Compared with the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times rarely used ?culturally deprived? and ?disadvantaged? with respect to Mexican Americans during the 1960s and 1970s. Figure 2 represents the number of articles published in each decade, up to and including the year indicated on the bottom axis, using each _expression_ in connection with Mexican American children and students. The general shape of the distribution is quite similar to the trends found in Figure 1, with peak usage of both terms in the 1960s. Both begin with little or no mention in the 1950s and demonstrate reduced usage in the 1970s.

Figure 2: Number of Articles Using Each _expression_ with Mexican American Children and Students, by Source and Decade, Los Angeles Times


Note: Calculated with data obtained from Proquest Historical Newspapers Digital Archive

In the end, as Kenneth Clark observed, it was an undeniable fact that African American, Mexican American, and other poor minority students did not perform as well scholastically as white middle-class students. The terms ?deprived? and ?disadvantaged? helped to represent this situation in a manner intended to encourage a positive response from educators and school systems. Into the 1970s, ?economically deprived? and ?economically disadvantaged? became the more common terms. The shift in focus to poverty factors as an explanation for differences in educational outcomes highlighted a growing sensitivity to racial or ethnic and cultural explanations of low achievement, and the problematic implications of ?cultural deprivation? theories. Nonetheless, once these concepts fell into disuse, alternative ways of systematically expressing these achievement and attainment gaps did not appear until much later, in the popular term ?at risk? and the academic terms ?cultural capital? and ?social capital.?94 It was also during these years, following 1980, that African American and Mexican American attainment levels and (a little later) achievement levels began to slowly decline, following years of steady improvement. Whether these developments are somehow linked is an open question, but one well worth contemplating as yet another generation of African Americans and Mexican Americans continues to lag behind the academic achievement levels of their Anglo white peers.


Even though popular use of terms such as ?cultural deprivation? declined precipitously during the latter 1960s and 1970s, many of the problems of inequity in American education have changed relatively little in the intervening years. As we have noted, following a period of rising graduation rates and improving test scores, educational inequality began to widen again during the 1980s. It was during that decade that the term ?at risk? was introduced as a manner of describing children from poor or minority backgrounds with respect to their prospects of educational success. This, no doubt, was influenced by the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, the report of a ?National Commission on Excellence in Education? appointed by President Ronald Reagan.95 As the titled implied, the risk was one of failure in educational and economic terms, and it did not take long for the use of the _expression_ to be applied to particular groups of students. In 1985, a report from the National Coalition of Advocates for Children, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation and titled ?Barriers to Excellence: Our Children at Risk,? extended the concept to ?the poor, minority or learning disabled or disadvantaged? children. The worry at the time was that a renewed emphasis on academic excellence in the wake of A Nation at Risk would shift attention away from the problems faced by children from ?disadvantaged? backgrounds.96

The term ?at-risk student? or child became widely used in the years to follow and remains a popular convention today in discussion of urban school reform. From the standpoint of controversies of the past, it has the advantage of not directly suggesting that the individual (or group) in question is somehow deficient or lacking in certain respects. Rather, it merely indicates a greater likelihood of failure due to circumstances that are beyond the child?s (or group?s) control or that represent potentially debilitating influences to one degree or another. Of course, behind this _expression_ is the very clear inference of disadvantage, perhaps because of discrimination or exploitation, or because deprivation of one sort or another has limited the possibility of learning and productive human development. In short, ?at risk? implies disadvantage and perhaps also ?cultural deprivation? even if it does not express it directly. This is certainly true insofar as the term has become almost exclusively used in reference to groups and individuals who are labeled ?poor? and ?minority? and who were described as ?deprived? in the past.97 In this respect, the new expressions can be seen as simply a somewhat more polite way of denoting the controversial ideas of the past. It is revealing, in that case, that it has not become the object of controversy in the way that earlier terms had during the sixties and seventies.

The problem, of course, is that the need for language to express the fact that important differences in the life chances of children living in different social settings continued to be plainly evident, even after the older terms had fallen into disuse. A critical reexamination of the uproar over the Moynihan Report and the use of terms such as ?culturally deprived? has emerged lately, suggesting that the controversy deterred researchers from carefully examining problems of inequality related to race, poverty, and the inner city. As William Julius Wilson has recently written, ?in the aftermath of this controversy and in an effort to protect their work from the charge of racism or of ?blaming the victim,? many liberal social scientists tended to avoid describing any behavior that could be construed as unflattering or stigmatizing to people of color.?98 Historians have also recently suggested that Moynihan?s argument was taken out of context, that the report was never meant to be public, and that subsequent developments in the lives of inner-city black communities have confirmed many of his concerns at the time.99 So when researchers returned to these questions, new terminology had be to found or developed. The challenge was to find a way to represent the idea of a systemic disadvantage without invoking the possibility of stereotypes, especially in connection with race, a long-standing source of stigma and discrimination in American society. It is a problem that has yet to be completely resolved.

It is telling, in light of this, that the concepts of cultural and social capital have become so widespread among academics studying these questions in the past two decades.100 Developed after the controversies of the sixties and early seventies, these terms have marked advantages over the older ones, as they do not designate disadvantage in absolute terms. For the most part, however, their use has been restricted to the scholarly world; they have not received widespread use in the popular media. There are also differences in their definition and use that have helped to make them more acceptable than the language of ?deprivation? from the early 1960s. Still, at root there are some fundamentally parallel dimensions of their meaning and employment that demonstrate the continuing problem of finding a language to describe and comprehend differences in educational performance without appearing to label or otherwise denigrate certain students in favor of others.

A crucial difference between concepts such as ?cultural capital? and ?social capital? and earlier terms using the language of deprivation and disadvantage is that the former do not entail implicit or explicit assumptions about a preferred hierarchy of values or behavior in schools or other settings. Rather, the social scientists who coined and use these concepts typically refer to ?dominant? social values and networks of prestige and influence. Social or cultural capital, in that case, is situation specific and conceivably can vary significantly from one setting to another. It is possible, indeed likely, that one set of values will be associated with greater status (and thus be a form of ?capital?) in a predominantly poor neighborhood and an altogether different set of values in a largely middle or upper-class setting. This is the argument made by Annette Lareau and others in recent studies of childhood and schooling.101 While such research clearly points to certain ?advantages? enjoyed by children raised in middle-class households with well-educated parents, they also suggest that working-class childhood has its rewards as well. In short, the academic conceptualization of social and educational differences does not admit dominance or inferiority in theorizing the impact of culture and community on school success.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world is far less circumspect in dealing with these questions. There clearly is a dominant culture in American society, and its middle-class values predominate in the schools. Children without this background often struggle, as has been documented in a large body of research. Given the controversies of the past, however, conversations about factors contributing to such ?disadvantages? have been muted. This has been noted in a number of commentaries, perhaps most comprehensively and eloquently by William Julius Wilson.102 Many educators and academics continue to employ the somewhat ambiguous term ?at risk? to discuss the problems of children whose backgrounds have not left them well prepared for school. But this is an awkward and unclear designation and does not convey a sense of the problems that these students encounter. Given this, perhaps it is time to resurrect expressions such as ?disadvantaged? to highlight the plight of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods and in other settings demonstrably ill-suited to educational success. While the term ?cultural deficiency? is clearly problematic, suggesting deficits in behavior and ability linked to fundamental beliefs and traditions, it is also wrong to pretend that some children do not suffer in educational terms because of their out-of-school circumstances. Perhaps it is time to revisit some of the debates?and many of the programmatic responses?to poverty and racial discrimination of the sixties and seventies, with an eye to helping children to overcome the ?disadvantages? that continue to stymie their fullest development.


1. Norman L. Friedman, ?Cultural Deprivation: A Commentary in the Sociology of Knowledge,? Journal of Educational Thought 1, no. 1 (August 1967): 88?99, republished in Joe L. Frost and Glenn R. Hawkes, The Disadvantaged Child: Issues and Innovations (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1971), 5?17.

2. Diane Ravitch, The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945?1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 153.

3. Ruben Donato, The Other Struggle for Equal Schools: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights Era (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997), chap. 1; Guadalupe San Miguel Jr., ?Let all of Them Take Heed?: Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational Equality in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), 188.

4. On tracking, see Gerald K. LeTendre, Barbara K. Hofer, and Hidetada Shimizu, ?What Is Tracking? Cultural Expectations in the United States, Germany, and Japan,? American Educational Research Journal 40, no. 1 (2003): 43?89; For a classic statement on this concept, see Ray C. Rist, ?Student Social Class and Teacher Expectations: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Ghetto Education,? Harvard Educational Review 40, no. 3 (1970): 411?51.

5. Benjamin S. Bloom, Allison Davis, and Robert Hess, eds., Compensatory Education for Cultural Deprivation (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1965).

6. Barbara Beatty, ?The Debate over the Young ?Disadvantaged Child?: Preschool Intervention, Developmental Psychology, and Compensatory Education in the 1960s and Early 1970s,? in ?Rethinking Compensatory Education: Historical Perspectives on Race, Class, Culture, Language, and the Discourse of the ?Disadvantaged Child,?? ed. Barbara Beatty, special issue, Teachers College Record 114, no. 6

7. Frank Riessman, The Culturally Deprived Child (New York: Harper, 1962).

8. The first quote is from Willard Wirtz, and both are cited in Gareth Davies, From Opportunity to Entitlement: The Transformation and Decline of Great Society Liberalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996), 45.

9. ?Better Schools in Slums Urged,? New York Times, November 19, 1956, 49.

10. ?Integration Can Work, National Scholarship Organization Finds,? Atlanta Daily World, October 2, 1957, 2.

11. ?Jansen Reports on Progress to Integration,? New York Amsterdam News, November 16, 1957, 1.

12. Edward Peeks, ?On the Inside with ?The 300,?? Baltimore Afro-American, May 24, 1958, 20.

13. Leonard Buder, ?Pupils in Capital to Get Special Aid,? New York Times, August 16, 1959, 76.

14. Wayne Urban, ?What?s in a Name? Education and the Disadvantaged American,? Paedagogica Historica 45, no. 1/2 (2009): 251?64.

15. Riessman, The Culturally Deprived Child.

16. Dorothy Barclay, ?Challenge to Education: The Poor,? New York Times, June 3, 1962, 231.

17. Martin Deutsch, The Disadvantaged Child: Selected Papers of Martin Deutsch and Associates (New York: Basic Books, 1967).

18. Oscar Lewis, Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty (New York: Basic Books, 1959); Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in the United States (Baltimore: Penguin, 1962); Oscar Lewis, La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty?San Juan and New York (New York: Random House, 1966).

19. ?Pamphlet Advises on Racial Terms,? Cleveland Call and Post, October 28, 1961, 1C.

20. Fred M. Hechinger, ?Teachers Advised on Racial Terms,? New York Times, October 4, 1961, 47.

21. Fred M. Hechinger ??Never Call a Spade a Spade,?? New York Times, November 26, 1961, SM55.

22. Ravitch, Troubled Crusade, 152?53; also see ?Urge Schools Push Work to Aid Deprived,? Chicago Tribune, January 18, 1965.

23. Robert H. Terte, ?Keppel Demands Teaching Reform,? New York Times, January 11, 1964, 24.

24. ?Culturally Deprived,? Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1965, NW1.

25. Tania Long, ?City Youths Meet World of Books,? New York Times, July 30, 1964, 29.

26. ?City?s Pupils Lag in Reading, Redmond Says,? Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1966, B10.

27. ?Legislator Cites Strong Link between Schools, Relief Rolls,? Chicago Daily Defender, December 19, 1962, 9.

28. ?Culturally Deprived Children Subject of Halsey Article,? Atlanta Daily World, September 22, 1963, A4.

29. ?Rejected Once,? Cleveland Call and Post, April 13, 1963, 11C.

30. Charles H. Wesley, ?The Treatment of the Negro in the Study of U.S. History,? New York Amsterdam News, March 14, 1964, 1.

31. James C. Worthy, ?Equality in Chicago Far Off, But It Is Worth Fighting For,? Chicago Daily Defender, May 21, 1964, 17.

32. ??I was a Deprived Child??Mrs. Martin Luther King,? Baltimore Afro-American, December 18, 1965, 13.

33. Jerry Gillam, ?Negro Educator Named to State School Post,? Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1965, E2.

34. Ibid.; Irving Ramsdell, ?New Look Is Needed on Juvenile Delinquency,? Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1963, B4.

35. Clay Gowran, ?Roosevelt Entry Policy Aims at ?Culturally Deprived,?? Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1963, 10.

36. ?Language Skills of Negroes Aided,? New York Times, July 7, 1963, 43.

37. Carolyn McGuire, ?C. A. L. M. Opens Doors for Deprived Children,? Chicago Tribune, June 26, 1966, P6.

38. Fred M. Hechinger, ?Education: More Pros and Cons on Value of IQ Tests,? New York Times, February 6, 1966E9.

39. For an overview of this process, with relevant bibliography, see John L. Rury, ed., Urban Education in the United States: A Historical Reader (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), Part IV: The Postwar Era.

40. Gareth Davies, From Opportunity to Entitlement: The Transformation and Decline of Great Social Liberalism (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press), chap. 3.

41. Such items appeared on a regular basis. See, for instance, ??Book A Week? Program Set,? Chicago Daily Defender, June 25, 1964, 31; ?After School Education Shows Huge Enrollment,? Chicago Daily Defender, February 22, 1966, 7; ?Parker High Extended Day Is Outlined,? Chicago Daily Defender, April 26, 1966, 13; ?Program Is Launched to Improve Kids? Reading,? Chicago Daily Defender, June 20, 1967, 6.

42. On this tension in the movement, see Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890?2000 (New York: Penguin, 2002), chap. 14.

43. ?Civil Rights Fight Has Just Begun, Young Blacks Declare,? Chicago Defender, December 9, 1975; also see Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting ?Till the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: Holt, 2006), chaps. 6?7.

44. ?Boys Club Receives Funds for Dropouts,? Chicago Daily Tribune, September 20, 1964, N1; ?Culturally Deprived Youth Studying in Special Schools,? New York Amsterdam News, October 9, 1965, 34; ?Dropout Centers Approved by Board,? Los Angeles Sentinel, January 4, 1968, D2.

45. ?Job Corps: New Hope for Dropouts,? Chicago Daily Defender, April 27, 1965, 15; ?Groom Dropout Pupils to Enter King Center ?Work Study? High School,? Chicago Tribune, August 7, 1966, T4; ?New Programs Offered for High School Dropouts,? Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1968, S4; ?Jaycees Program Saves Would-Be Dropouts,? Chicago Daily Defender, January 9, 1969, 10; ?Atlanta Urban League?s School to Industry Program Involves High School Youth,? Atlanta Daily World, October 17, 1971, 9.

46. ?How ?Tender Loving Care? Changes Harlem Dropouts,? New York Amsterdam News, June 29, 1968, 28; ?Learning to Learn?That?s What Is Happening at ?Drop-Out? School,? Chicago Daily Defender, March 4, 1969, 19; ?New Academy Opens for H.S. Dropouts,? Chicago Daily Defender, May 17, 1969, 33; ?New Approach to Education Brings Students into Classes from Streets,? Pittsburgh Courier, December 13, 1969, 16; ?Concerned Clubs to Stage Street Academy Benefit,? Atlanta Daily World, July 3, 1970, 2; ?Cabrini Green Alternative School Gives Dropouts Chance to Avoid Streets,? Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1971, N3.

47. Gillam, ?Negro Educator Named to State School Post,? E2; May Y. Seagoe, ?Educating the Undereducated,? Los Angeles Times, September 10, 1967, C36; ?Funding Found for Bilingual Project,? Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1969; see also Herman Sillas, ?The Latest Controversy: Student ?Tracking?: Chicanos vs. the Educational Establishment,? Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1974, B7; Lewis, Five Families; and Audrey James Schwartz, ?A Comparative Study of Values and Achievement: Mexican-American and Anglo Youth,? Sociology of Education 44, no. 4 (1971): 438?62.

48. ?Rafferty Urges Added School Aid to Ease Tax Load,? Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1967, DB.

49. ?Cartoon Books Used in School Experiment,? Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1964, H7.

50. Paul Weeks, ?Neglecting of Latins in Poverty War Charged,? Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1965, 34; Kenneth J. Fanucchi, ?Dr. Nava Stresses Needs of Minority Students,? Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1968, A1.

51. Weeks, ?Neglecting of Latins in Poverty War Charged,? 34.

52. Ibid; Fanucchi, ?Dr. Nava Stresses Needs of Minority Students,? A1.

53. Herman Wong, ?Young Mexican-American?s Problems: Conflicts of Bicultural Life Told,? Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1968, B4E; Sue Reilly, ?Education: Study in Frustrations,? Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1971, F1.

54. Gillam, ?Negro Educator Named to State School Post,? E2.

55. Robert Braund and Others, Compensatory Education in California, 1966-67. Summary of the Annual Evaluation Report (Sacramento: California State Department of Education, 1968).

56. ?List of Goals Set by Latin American Unit,? Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1964, S4.

57. C. Thomas Nelson, ?Project Designed to Help Truants Recognize Importance of School,? Los Angeles Times, August 27, 1973, OC7. See also Thomas P. Carter, Mexican Americans in School: A History of Educational Neglect (New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1970).

58. Weeks, ?Neglecting of Latins in Poverty War Charged,? 34; Daryl Lembke, ?Latin Culture Excluded in Schools, Panel Says,? Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1972, A3; Sandra Haggerty, ?Back to School,? Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1973, C7.

59. Lembke, ?Latin Culture Excluded in Schools,? A3.

60. Jack Jones, ?East L.A. Big Brothers Fulfill Summer Pledge,? Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1969, J6; Haggerty, ?Back to School,? C7.

61. Weeks, ?Neglecting of Latins in Poverty War Charged,? 34; ?Ruben Salazar?His Goals Remain,? Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1970, B6.

62. ?Schools to Lease Space to ?Project Headstart.?? Los Angeles Times, July 1, 1965, SF5. ?Southland,? Los Angeles Times, February 17, 1966, 2.

63. Jose Antonio Villarreal, ?Mexican-Americans and the Leadership Crisis,? Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1966, W44.

64. Weeks, ?Neglecting of Latins in Poverty War Charged,? 34; ?Encouragement in Numbers,? Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1972, G2.

65. Robert Fairbanks, ?Brown School Reform Plan Strikes Snag,? Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1977, B3.

66. William Trombly, ?Chicano-Black Rivalry Rises at San Jose State,? Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1969, B6.

67. Leo Grebler, ?Letters to the Times: Neglect by the Federal Government of Mexican-Americans Deplored,? Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1966, B4.

68. John D. Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), chaps. 4?7.

69. Lee Rainwater and William L. Yancey, The Moynihan Report and The Politics of Controversy; A Trans-Action Social Science and Public Policy Report (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1967); also see Alice O?Connor, Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy and the Poor in Twentieth Century U.S. History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), chap. 8; and James T. Patterson, Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America?s Struggle over Black Family Life from LBJ to Obama (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

70. James L. Hicks, ?Ghetto School Teachers,? New York Amsterdam News, November 20, 1965, 17.

71. Rev. Arthur Zebbs, ?Inside Columbus,? Cleveland Call and Post, May 20, 1967, 5B.

72. ?Whites also Denied Equal Cultural Diet,? Chicago Daily Defender, August 24, 1968, 11; ?Culturally Deprived Whites Study of Central St. Prof,? Pittsburgh Courier, September 14, 1968, 12.

73. See, for example, ?Chicago Schools Seen Teaching Negroes to be 2nd-Class People,? Chicago Daily Defender, September 19, 1963, A3; and ?City Limits,? Cleveland Call and Post, June 3, 1967, 3A.

74. John Kifner, ?Intelligence Test on Culture of Negroes is Devised,? New York Times, July 2, 1968, 16.

75. Susan H. Houston, ?A Reexamination of Some Assumptions about the Language of the Disadvantaged Child,? Child Development 41, no. 4 (1970): 947?63.

76. Ruben Salazar, ?Mexican-Americans Have Culture Protected by 1848 U.S. Treaty,? Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1963, A1.

77. Kenneth J. Fanucchi, ?Bilingual Talents Stressed,? Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1966, A1; see also Carter, Mexican Americans in School.

78. On this point, see Donato, The Other Struggle for Equal Schools, chaps. 1?2; Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., Brown, Not White: School Integration and the Chicano Movement in Houston (College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press, 2001), chap. 2; Rubén Donato, Mexicanos and Hispanos in Colorado Schools and Communities, 1920?1960 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), chap. 4; and Richard Valencia, Chicano Students and the Courts: The Mexican American Legal Struggle for Educational Equality (New York: New York University Press, 2010 ), chaps. 1?4.

79. Kenneth B. Clark, ?How Children Living in Ghettos Should Be Taught,? Chicago Tribune, September 11, 1971, 10. For an earlier critique, see Kenneth B. Clark, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1965), 129, 130.

80. Ibid; Joan Beck, ?Compassion, Minorities and Subtle Racism,? Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1971, A1.

81. Oscar Lewis, Five Families; James B. Conant, Slums and Suburbs: A Commentary on Schools in Metropolitan Areas (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961); Riessman, The Culturally Deprived Child; Harrington, The Other America; Lewis, La Vida.

82. See Carter, Mexican Americans in School; Raymond Buriel, ?The Relation of Anglo- and Mexican-American Children?s Locus of Control Beliefs to Parents? and Teachers? Socialization Practices,? Child Development 52 (1981): 104?13; Concha Delgado-Gaitan, ?School Matters in the Mexican-American Home: Socializing Children to Education,? American Educational Research Journal 29, no. 3 (1992): 495?513; and William A. Sampson, Black and Brown: Race, Ethnicity, and School Preparation (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004).

83. See James G. Anderson and Frances B. Evans, ?Family Socialization and Educational Achievement in Two Cultures: Mexican-Americans and Anglo-Americans,? Sociometry 39, no. 3 (1976): 209?22; and Richard R. Valencia and Mary S. Black, ??Mexican Americans Don?t Value Education!??On the Basis of Myth, Mythmaking, and Debunking,? Journal of Latinos and Education 1, no. 2 (2002): 81?103.

84. Ibid; see also David Ausubel, ?How Reversible Are Cognitive and Motivational Effects of Cultural Deprivation? Implications for Teaching the Culturally Deprived,? Urban Review 1 (1964): 16?39; and Bloom, Davis, and Hess, Compensatory Education for Cultural Deprivation.

85. Thomas P. Carter and Roberto D. Segura, Mexican Americans in School: A Decade of Change (New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1979).

86. This is evident in their continued use by some, such as editorials in the Pittsburg Courier, one of the nation?s premier black newspapers, to describe the academic difficulties of poor African American students. See ?School Textbooks,? Pittsburgh Courier, February 26, 1972, 8; ?Why Johnny Black Can?t Read,? Pittsburgh Courier, April 1, 1972, 6; and ?The Scholarship Awards,? Pittsburg Courier, June 2, 1973, 7.


87. James A. Banks, ed., Multicultural Education (New York: Routledge, 2010).

88. Fanucchi, ?Dr. Nava Stresses Needs of Minority Students,? A1.

89. Joseph Durham, ?Riddle of Compensatory Education Is Explored,? Baltimore Afro-American, April 15, 1972, 75; ?Teachers Often Lack Human Touch, Educator Claims,? Chicago Daily Defender, March 6, 1971, 15; ?Debilitating Labels Used to Cancel Out Kids of Low Incomes,? Pittsburgh Courier, January 15, 1972, 26.

90. Frost and Hawkes, The Disadvantaged Child, 1.

91. See, for instance, Charles V. Hamilton, ?The Nationalist vs. the Integrationist,? New York Times, October 1, 1972, SM36.

92. San Miguel, Brown, Not White.

93. F. Arturo Rosales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 1997), chaps. 12?13.

94. On this, see the articles in Annette Lareau and Dalton Conley, eds., Social Class: How Does It Work? (New York: Russell Sage, 2008), Part II: Social Class in Daily Life: How Does it Work?

95. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk: The Full Account (Cambridge, MA: USA Research, 1984).

96. Matthew Feldman, ?Excellence for Everyone,? New York Times, May 19, 1985, NJ24.

97. See, for instance, Kathy R. Thornburg, Stevie Hoffman, and Corinne Remeika, ?Youth at Risk; Society at Risk,? Elementary School Journal 91, no. 3 (1991): 199?208; and Larry Cuban, ?The ?At Risk? Label and the Problem of Urban School Reform,? Phi Delta Kappan 70 (1989): 780?801.

98. William Julius Wilson, More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City (New York: Norton, 2009), 99.

99. Patterson, Freedom Is Not Enough, Preface.

100. Annette Lareau and Elliot Weininger, ?Cultural Capital in Educational Research: A Critical Assessment,? Theory and Society 32, no. 5/6 (2003): 567?606.

101. Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

102. Wilson, More Than Just Race, 133?55.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 6, 2012, p. 8-
http://www.tcrecord.org/library ID Number: 16691, Date Accessed: 6/6/2012 3:11:53 PM

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