Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities / Edition 1

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The way race and racial inequality are reproduced in day-to-day interactions in American schools is frequently invisible to even well-intentioned teachers and administrators, argues Lewis (sociology and African American studies, U. of Illinois). She Pierre Bourdieu's notion of social capital as an analytical tool in her ethnographic study of three schools set in urban and suburban contexts. She describes how differing levels of social capital are reproduced by schools, thereby reproducing social inequality. Annotation ©2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813532257
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2003
  • Series: Series in Childhood Studies
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 417,384
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities by Amanda E. Lewis

Copyright information: http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/press_copyright_and_disclaimer/default.html
Five years after leaving a teaching-credential program and a commitment to teach in urban public schools, I walked back into elementary schools to begin the research for this project. What drove me out of urban schools or perhaps what drove me into graduate school is captured by one moment, one day, in a third-grade classroom.
Those who have spent time in classrooms know that despite our best efforts we sometimes forge deeper and stronger connections with some children than with others. These are often not children we choose but ones who choose us- those who because of temperament, interests, or karma attach themselves to us and capture our minds and hearts. These are not teacher's pets; at least in my case they have often been children who are always on the verge of mischief, who are bright and occasionally bored. After two and a half months of student teaching in this particular third-grade classroom, I had developed that kind of connection with a tall, articulate, sometimes mischievous African American boy named Kendrick Jefferson. I watched him daily, a bright child trying to keep up with his peers, who were the children of faculty members at the world famous university nearby. He was clearly as able as they were in all areas, but it was hard to compete with their access to computers at home and summer enrichment programs. Nevertheless, Kendrick spent his classroom "free time" with me playing a math game in which we challenged eachother with word problems. He was, at the risk of understating it, a curious and inquisitive child.
A detailed description of the school and class is unnecessary here, but a few details are important for this story. The classroom teacher was a charismatic and authoritative white woman who had a reputation as a successful teacher and who also, occasionally, did things that seemed supremely unjust. The midsize student body of this elementary school was approximately half white and half black. As is not unusual in this kind of desegregated space, the white children came from primarily middle- and upper-middle-class homes, while the black children were from primarily working-class or poor homes. The particular classroom where I was working had six African American boys, each of quite different appearance, temperament, family background, achievement level, and disposition. As I have said, Kendrick was tall, athletic, extroverted, and bright. Jesus was short, quiet, bookish, amiable, and round. Antoine was boisterous, fidgety, charming, and part of a program to mainstream children with special educational designations (in this case a severe emotional impairment). Taureen, Richard, and Percy were equally different.
One day near the end of the school year, I sat in the lunchroom with the teacher and principal while they talked about disciplinary referrals they had processed thus far that year. By the time they got to Jesus I was dumbfounded, realizing that they had named every single black male in our class. When I casually asked whether that was all the referrals, they declared proudly that it was (it was a relatively small total for the year), unaware that they had named all and only the African American males. "Even studious little Jesus?" I thought. Several days later Antoine threw a tantrum. It happened during an afternoon of activity; students were working in different parts of the room in small groups to finish an extended art project. What followed Antoine's tantrum was perhaps a series of small moments in the life of the class, but these events illustrate the complicated way race shapes understandings and interactions and also the real impact that it can and does have on students' schooling experiences. A series of children asked to go to the restroom-not unusual during post-lunch class time. Over an hour or so, every ten to fifteen minutes, several white students who asked were allowed to go to the bathroom, while the two black children who asked were told to wait. Throughout this time the teacher was carefully managing Antoine's temper, doing her best to keep the room and him under control.
After Gerald, the white son of mathematicians, returned, Kendrick asked to go to the bathroom. He had asked to go fifteen minutes earlier and had been told, like Taureen earlier, to wait. From ten feet away I watched his startled response as he was told, once again, no. His protestations and "buts" were cut off as he was sent back to his group. I witnessed his surprise and indignation, and as he walked back to his table, glancing sideways at Gerald, he swallowed so hard his Adam's apple moved visibly from the edge of his chin to the base of his neck. In an effort not to cry as tears accumulated at the edges of his eyes, he swallowed the incident whole.
Again, it was just a moment, and a relatively small one, in which the troubles of one black male-Antoine-became trouble for all of them. It was fairly clear at the time (and I asked some indirect questions about it later) that this was an unintended consequence. The teacher was busy managing the classroom moment to moment as teachers do. But watching that eight-year-old contend with too many moments of inexplicable injustice, watching his protests fall on deaf ears, and watching him literally swallow back his tears was in many ways the last straw for me. The series of events was so subtle that I do not think I would have noticed had I not been especially attuned to Kendrick. My response was one I would never recommend to any student teacher. I walked over to him and whispered in his ear to wait two minutes and then ask me whether he could go. Though it addressed his immediate needs, my action had the dual effect of undermining his teacher's authority (and in some ways mine) without necessarily confronting the heart of the injustice. I could not think what else to do at the time.
Drawn from my student-teaching experiences, the preceding story is one of bearing witness. It depicts racialized moments in a setting where race is purported to-is supposed to-not matter. The exchange between teacher and principal in the lunchroom was troubling because of the clearly racialized pattern in discipline it revealed, and it was especially troubling because of their total unawareness of the pattern they had just laid out. The classroom story helps us begin to understand how such patterns can emerge and make themselves felt-how race shapes classroom practices, how race is part of the daily experiences of students of color in school, how even the most well-meaning adults can perpetuate inequities without any awareness that they are doing so. This vignette also captures the usefulness of a particular kind of research methodology. These moments I had witnessed were not depicted, could not be described, in the statistics. Here was the process of disaffection in action. Here I had seen, in minute-by-minute school interactions, the generation of unintended consequences-evidence of the ways schools might not be serving all students equally. In this and similar interactions, I never perceived that the teachers involved were doing less than what they thought was best for the children involved. Why then was the outcome less than what they hoped for?
Researching the Role of Race in the Schoolyard
My own research has sought to find explanations for these paradoxical outcomes. Although much educational research has looked at race in relation to gaps in achievement, differences in discipline patterns, or disparities in test scores, these numbers do not capture the reality of race as a product of schooling, as part of the process of schooling. When studies ask why black chil- dren and white children achieve differently, they fail to ask what it means to be black or white in different contexts. These formulations miss the fact that for children like Gerald and Kendrick race is not a fixed characteristic that they bring to school with them and then take away unaffected and intact. Something happens in school, especially in elementary school, that forms and changes people in racial terms. Further, racial identities, both those assigned to children and those they choose, affect their schooling experiences.
How does this happen? Why, for instance, are there racial gaps in achievement? Given that racist theories of genetic inferiority have been thoroughly disproved, we must go beyond theories about innate abilities or capacities. Given a growing body of literature that shows racial minorities value education as much as their higher-achieving white peers,1 if not more, theories that suggest that gaps are due to family values are also inadequate. What goes on inside school buildings and in schoolyards? What kind of messages do students give and receive? What kinds of practices and institutional cultures and structures lead to these differences in outcomes?
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Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
1 Examining the Color Line in Schools 1
2 There Is No Race in the Schoolyard: Color-Blind Ideology at Foresthills 12
3 Struggling with Dangerous Subjects: Race at West City Elementary 39
4 Breaking the Silence: Race, Culture, Language, and Power at Metro2 87
5 Learning and Living Racial Boundaries: Constructing and Negotiating Racial Identity in School 128
6 Schooling and the Social Reproduction of Racial Inequality 154
7 Schools as Race-Making Institutions 188
App Research Methods: Stories from the Field 197
Notes 211
Bibliography 221
Index 235
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