Troubling social justice in a single-sex public school : an ethnography of an emerging school culture

Date
2011-05
Authors
Mansfield, Katherine Cumings
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Abstract

This ethno-historical undertaking captures the story of the implementation of one major US city's first and only single-sex public school and the consequent shaping of the school culture according to its unique context. A comprehensive literature review demonstrates race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, and other contextual factors are important considerations when probing educational access and achievement and the development of school cultures. Moreover, principals -- their individual attributes and the cultures they create -- are key to understanding and interrogating equitable practices in schools. Findings substantiate the complex interface between historical, political, and socio-cultural contexts, stakeholder decision making in the ethnographic present, and the enactment and negotiation school culture vis-à-vis the intersectionalities of student identities. Findings suggest the conditions that facilitated the high achievement of the students in this study might be transferred under the right conditions including: a balance of strong leadership and principal and teacher autonomy; the enduring belief that any student can and will learn; a rigorous, non-segregated, college prep program, and; an informal curriculum that prepares students for academic and professional cultures. Findings also bring to the fore important considerations that must be addressed by practitioners and policymakers alike; specifically, students' difficulties concerning the "burden of acting white" and the "burden of acting straight." Finally, findings from this study suggest single-sex public options can be done legitimately and effectively but additional safeguards must be implemented by the US Department of Education to ensure both male and female students' civil rights are protected. Additionally, while some magnet schools such as the one studied are local sites of resistance that play a liberatory role for those distinctively involved, one cannot surmise that such local efforts -- which may be viewed by some as a site of relative privilege -- can alone overcome the serious striations that exist in the greater society.

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