Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version

February 2005


Published in Journal of Educational Change 6 (2005), pp. 195–200. Copyright © 2005 Springer. Used by permission. HREF=""


The title of this book is a shorthand play on words. It is derived from the concept of “the culture of poverty,” which, as author Sandra Stein demonstrates, provided important discursive underpinnings for the original Title I Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the U.S. in the mid-1960s; it is essentially “the culture of policy arising from the culture of poverty.” The book describes how the work of social scientists such as Oscar Lewis was utilized by legislators in the U.S. Congress as a means of persuading their colleagues to agree to federal funding for schools. As picked up and interpreted through policy, the “culture of policy” premise begins with a notion that people in poverty have their own culture, which disadvantages them socially and economically; that this might be ameliorated through reculturation in schools; that race and immigrant status are conflated with poverty and that racial minority and immigrant children are therefore de facto “culturally deficient”; and, ultimately, that people in poverty, by virtue of their culture, are unable to make good use of educational opportunities offered to them. This chain of logic, Stein argues, emerged from a lack of knowledge and conceptual clarity among those who crafted the legislation. Further, she charges, by failing to identify the kinds of remediation that might truly compensate for educational disadvantage, by establishing compliance mechanisms that encouraged educational segregation, and by creating a situation where schools and school personnel became dependent on Title I funding, this logic resulted in practices that perpetuated inequality of opportunity for poor students, students of color, and students from immigrant families. Thus, Stein claims, Title I policy language set in motion compliance processes that have resulted in actual school practices that paradoxically run counter to its original intentions, essentially engendering a durable educational underclass rather than leveling the academic playing field.