87 16.6: Creating a Paradigm Shift

A paradigm is the assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that influence how people view the world. Paradigms have been shaped over a lifetime by many influences that include families, schools, social and professional experiences, and the media. Each of us constructs our paradigms. Paradigms around diversity are often deficit-oriented, focusing on problems and vulnerabilities in the population being considered. These place emphasis on what people and families in that population are lacking.

Too often, children and their families in minority populations are considered “at risk” by policy makers, educators, and the media rather than “placed at risk” by a system that has historically viewed them from a deficit paradigm (Boykin, 2013). Scientific paradigms influence the ways that researchers in child development, often done by those in privilege and power, think and conduct their work. For example, research on minority children often employs a deficit perspective, and as a result, the knowledge base highlights the adversity and maladaptation of the minority children (Cabrera, 2013 a). Therefore, more is known about the problems than the positive qualities and strengths of the minority groups being studied. And this biased information leads many professionals to conclude that children from minority families are “at risk” and that they have many deficits to overcome in their learning and development.

But paradigms are not set in stone and for sure, the deficit-oriented paradigm needs to be turned on its head. A shift in mindset – a paradigm shift – is often experienced as a revolution or a transformation. It does not just happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change who might be families, community advocates, political leaders, researchers, educators, as well as other professionals. Ideas and activities in this resource also might trigger a paradigm shift in how you view those that are different from yourself.

As the research community shifts its deficit paradigm and redefines its research agenda, the knowledge base will expand to highlight successes and assets of children and their families. And this will lead high-quality program planning and implementation of effective strategies to promote all children’s learning and development. [268]


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