The Poverty of Culture

Gloria Ladson-Billings

What is The Poverty of Culture?

“So at the same moment teacher education students learn nothing about culture, they use it with authority as one of the primary explanations for everything from school failure to problems with behavior management and discipline.” - Gloria Ladson-Billings

Ladson-Billings calls this problem with teacher education “the poverty of culture.


Self Esteem Problems

“I worked hard to get to know D'Andre. He is a bright boy but he has so many problems. Chief among them is his low self-esteem. I try to do things that will help him feel better about himself. I feel that if he had higher self-esteem he could experience more success in the classroom.” (Billings).


This was the answer from a student teaching a classful of kids. Billings asked every student teacher to tell someone who was “difficult”. He learned that kids just need to have a higher self esteem in the classrooms.

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Have you ever had to deal with a "difficult" person in a school setting or at work?

Examples of Self Esteem Problems

Billings explains that the self-esteem problem is used to make problems internalized instead of focusing on the external elements that contribute to the problem. She uses examples such as “I overeat because I had self-esteem” and “I allowed my partner to abuse me because I had self-esteem”. Billings hopes for the day that instead of using the term “self-esteem” as an excuse, people actually look at the outside forces causing the issue.

The "Culture" Answers

Answers we have to the culture problem includes giving prospective teachers the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures and having them interact with students outside of what they are comfortable with. Teachers should also be prepared to become careful observers of other cultures. Just giving the opportunity to teachers to participate in programs like study abroad in college, so that they could have exposure to cultures outside of the western one, and use it to help them understand the importance of it.


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What possible behaviors could someone blame on your "culture"?

Examples of "Culture" Answers

“The black kids just talk so loud and don’t listen.” “Why?” “I don’t know I guess it’s cultural”


People are so quick to put the blame on someone’s culture. They tend to think that people are the way they are strictly due to their culture.

So What Do We Do?

1. Do not allow blame to be put on "self-esteem"

2. Do not allow yourself to use "culture" as an easy way out of a situation

3. Look past culture - it goes so much farther than the classroom

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