Colonization 2.0: the evolution of inequality in a South Texas School District




Barnes, Michael Christopher

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In “Américo-Paredes” Independent School District (APISD), there is a prevailing sense of unity and pride, represented by a popular phrase: ¡Somos familia! While some organizations seek to cultivate a sense of ‘family’ to strengthen organizational cohesion, in APISD this notion is derived from a common set of cultural experiences. Most of the educational community—from teachers, to administrators, to school board members—attended the district as students, at times representing families with multiple generations of participation.

For elder “Hispanics” (Mexican Americans), shared experiences include being subjected to punishment from “Anglo” (White) teachers or principals who swatted students’ hands (and rears) when they spoke Spanish. This system of abuse, rooted in racism, was symbolically challenged during a student walkout in 1968. The ensuing political conflict accompanied a steady decline of jobs and sustained White flight that gradually reduced the Anglo population of APISD’s twin cities. Effective political organizing increased the power of Hispanic school board members who soon attained an enduring majority. However, decades later, performance outcomes for Hispanic APISD students (99% of students) continue to lag behind more affluent, White peers statewide.

Despite Hispanic board members’ historically under-examined role in the academic literature, research affirms their performance has a significant effect on student achievement. For APISD, I conduct a critical ethnography (Foley & Valenzuela, 2005) rooted in a series of transcribed life histories of Hispanic members of the school board past and present (1960-2016), and former classmates. I find that while Whites may have left Américo-Paredes in increasing numbers after 1968, Whiteness remained.

My research questions include: (a) To what extent do life histories of board members and classmates reflect a narrative of oppressive schooling? (b) What systems of power, leadership, and schooling, both historical and contemporary, affect troubling events that transpire at APISD? (c) Do these factors contribute to schooling as a sustained cycle of socialization?


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