"A good student, trapped": Urban minority males and constructions of academic achievement

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This article centres on the findings of an interpretive case study conducted at a college preparation program at a prestigious university in a major U.S. city that is grappling with a high attrition of poor and working class African American and Latino young men. The purpose of the study is to examine the underlying assumptions about equity and opportunity in the design of the program and to understand how this approach to increasing educational opportunity plays out in the lived experience of the students served. Using the framework of interpretive interactionism developed by Norman Denzin as well as the critical theoretical works of welfare economist, Amartya Sen and educator, Paulo Freire, this case study reveals the underlying belief systems that inform the program development and intended outcomes. Through this interpretive case study, we capture the voices, emotions, and actions of those studied as they strive to succeed in an educational program that is designed to serve them. In this case study we achieve greater insight into why young men of colour may be opting out of this program in large numbers. The major findings are that the assumptions underpinning the design of this program mirror the assumptions undergirding the curriculum and high-stakes testing environment prevalent in public schools. As a result the young men feel overwhelmed, academically. Furthermore, the overemphasis on academic achievement in the program leaves no room to address the young men's concerns with safety, alienation on a white university campus and the family and personal struggles which, at points, impact their academic progress and college aspirations. The findings of this study raise serious questions about the efficacy of the overtly academic turn that has taken place in our schools and, increasingly, in college preparation programs, while ignoring the diversity and social needs of urban African American and Latino students and families. Furthermore the findings serve to inform the development of education programs intended to increase access to higher education for students of colour from poor and working class communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-82
Number of pages12
JournalPerspectives in Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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