Cultural identity and third space: an exploration of their connection in a Title I school

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Implementing an assimilative agenda within the traditional U.S. education system has prevented the authentic inclusion, validation, and development of American Indian students. The enduring ramifications, including the loss of cultural

Implementing an assimilative agenda within the traditional U.S. education system has prevented the authentic inclusion, validation, and development of American Indian students. The enduring ramifications, including the loss of cultural identity, underscored the critical need to decolonize, or challenge, the historic assimilative agenda of the school space. The purpose of this action research study was to examine the connection between the cultural exploration activities of Culture Club, cultural identity, and the creation of a Third Space to serve as a decolonizing framework for this Indigenous program conducted within a school space.

The epistemological perspective guiding this study was that of constructionism. The theoretical frameworks were post-colonial theory, Indigenous methodology, and, most prominently, Third Space theory. A thorough review of Third Space theory resulted in deduction of four criteria deemed to be necessary for creating a Third Space. These four theoretically-deduced criteria were (a) creating new knowledge, (b) reclaiming and reinscribing hegemonic notions of identity and school, (c) creating new or hybrid identities, and (d) developing more inclusive perspectives. The criteria were employed to create the Culture Club innovation and to determine whether a Third Space was effectively created within Culture Club.

This qualitative action research study focused on the Culture Club innovation, an after-school, cultural exploration, extracurricular program for sixth-grade American Indian students, at a Title I school in a large southwest metropolitan area. The participants were five, sixth-grade American Indian students. The role of the researcher was to facilitate a Third Space within Culture Club, as well as collect and analyze data.

Data were collected using semi-structured interviews; recorded Culture Club sessions; phase 3, and research journal entries. Once the data were transcribed, eclectic coding methodology, consisting of open, descriptive, and in vivo coding was employed and interpretive analysis procedures followed.

Findings showed modest changes in participants’ cultural identities but confirmed the creation of a Third Space within Culture Club. Findings have important implications for both practice and future research. Recommendations for improving and sustaining the decolonizing framework of Culture Club to create safe spaces for American Indian students and their explorations of their Indigeneity are also proposed.