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Posted April 6, 2009
In Keepin' it Real: School Success Beyond Black and White, Prudence Carter brings cultural identity and education into conversation with critical examination of the complex and multifaceted ways in which racial and ethnic identities shape the experiences and achievement patterns of minority students. Carter opens her text with an introduction aimed at defining why so many African American and Latino students are performing "less well" than their Asian and White counterparts. (4) With ostentatious gentility, Carter, rightfully, makes a bold assertion that contemporary social scientist concerned with the minority achievement gap have left culture out of its discourse, more importantly, they have failed to highlight the cultural constraints that have severely caused and ever widening achievement gap between the privileged (think "Cultural Capital") and nonprivileged. The book is a compelling, and at times, prophetic study that details the story of several young, low-income black and Latino students in Yonkers, New York striving for success in school and the wider social society. Cater, a professor at Stanford University, compiles her research in a qualitative format, in which she has gathered her findings over a period of 10-months, in the early 1990's. (53) Although her time frame is very questionable; remarkably, she finds an unswerving pattern of beliefs that seems to translucently connect these students' convictions concerning education and career successes. Carter opens her text by defining the phrase "acting white, "a term which resurfaced in Franklin E Frazier's classic, "The Black Bourgeoisie."
In contemporary era, the "acting white" moniker still has not lost its resonance. As the argument goes Black and Latino youth have chosen to define their identities in opposition to whiteness by refusing to speak standard English, do their schoolwork, earn high marks, or fully engage in school because they do not want to be seen as embracing behaviors that they label as "acting white" (Fordham and Ogbu1986; Lewin 2000; McWhorter 2001; Gates 2004) (Pre1)
Carter contends that the students she examined believed that educational success is not a "white thing," and sanctioning others for "acting white" is used for "group solidarity purposes," not to oppose conventional formulas of success. What becomes profound is that Carter presents a shift in thinking about racial inequality and culture as it is related to achievement patterns. She further elucidates her arguments by acknowledging the previous explanations of school success and failure, which has been at the forefront of social science research for many years. What is fundamental (although not original) about her shift in thinking is that rather than revealing the monotonous stereotypes of dysfunctional behaviors by minority students, she preens readers into discovering how the ethnic and racial cultures of these students can work as a source of strength versus a simple reaction to their position in a society that has created socioeconomic boundaries.
What I have discovered in this research is that students use culture as a vehicle to signal many things, ranging from the stylistic to the political. The oppositional culture framework, however ignores the full spectrum of why and how culture becomes a social and political response to schooling by discounting the positive values and functions of these students' culture, instead focusing on their culture as a maladaptiv
Posted October 7, 2005