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Life is what you make it: African American students' self-practices in negotiating the curriculum of a majority-white high school

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This study enters on the heels of a trend of public school closures across the United States. Using qualitative methods, the study concerns the curriculum experiences of six African American

This study enters on the heels of a trend of public school closures across the United States. Using qualitative methods, the study concerns the curriculum experiences of six African American students attending a majority-white high school in a white, middle-class community in the Midwest, one year after the closure of their predominantly Black high school in their hometown.

The study draws from Michel Foucault’s philosophy on care of the self as an analytical tool to look at students’ care of the ‘racialized’ self, or more specifically, how African American students are forming a ‘self’ in a majority-white school in relation to the ways they are being racialized. Background of the schools and a description of the conditions under which the school change occurred are provided for context. Data collection involved conducting life history interviews with students, observing students in their classes, and shadowing students throughout their school day.

Findings show that African American student-participants are contending with what they describe as a “them”/“us” racial, cultural, and class divide that is operationalized through the curriculum. Students are in a struggle to negotiate how they are perceived and categorized as ‘racialized’ bodies through the curriculum, and, their own perceptions of these racializations. In this struggle, students enact self-practices to make maneuvers within curriculum spaces. A student can accept how the curriculum attempts to constitute her/him as a subject, resist this subjectification, or perform any combination of both accepting and resisting. In this way, a curriculum, with its distinctive and potentially polarizing boundaries, becomes a negotiated and contested space. And, because this curricular space is internally contradictory, a student, in relation to it, may practice versions of a ‘self’ (multiple ‘selves’) that are contradictory. Findings illuminate that in this complex process of self-making, African American students are producing a curriculum of self-formation that teaches others how they want to be perceived.

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Date Created
  • 2016