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"Playing school": Latinos and role performance as students




Dollar, Nathan Tilghman, author
Hempel, Lynn M., advisor
Brouillette, John R., committee member
Taylor, Peter L., committee member
Felix, Oscar, committee member

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This thesis explores the educational experiences of Latino high school students at South Carmen High School. The research presented in this thesis contributes to the large body of literature that attempts to explain why Latino high school students graduate at much lower rates than their white counterparts and other immigrant groups. Specifically, this study examines how Latino students, administrators, and their teachers interact, how these interactions are perceived, and what happens when these interactions fail. Data from this thesis are drawn from an ethnographic case study of the educational community of South Carmen High School. Data was collected using a combination of participant and non-participant observations and 28 in-depth interviews. Interviews were conducted with administrators (n = 5; including one counselor), Latino students (n = 7), parents of those students (n = 8), and teachers (n=8). The data from this study indicate that educators and Latino students and their families at South Carmen High held sharply contrasting interpretations of their interactions with one another. The educators interviewed in this study indicated a key reason that many Latino students are less successful than their white counterparts and other immigrant groups is because Latino students are unable or unwilling to "play school" according to a standard script adopted by educators. However, the Latino students that were interviewed expressed that they knew how to play school and had attempted to perform their role, but were often unsuccessful. The inability or unwillingness to play school was often perceived by educators as a lack of cultural capital on the part of Latino students and their families. This thesis examines how educators' conception of cultural capital differs from that of sociologists' by comparing and contrasting the work of Ruby Payne and Pierre Bourdieu. Drawing on Bourdieu, I argue in this thesis that the concept of cultural capital in the field of Education, which is heavily influenced by the work of Ruby Payne, lacks a sufficient discussion of power, leaving unexplored more foundational issues of how the rules by which we "play school" get defined and who gets to define them. The work of Bourdieu is drawn on because it helps us understand the relationships of power between different agents (e.g. Latino students and educators), but it does not help us explore the interactions between agents whose relationship is characterized by power. The work of Erving Goffman is drawn on to fill this gap and explore the interaction order at South Carmen High. Drawing on Goffman, I argue in this thesis that Latino student-teacher interactions often fail because the obligations and expectations that govern these interactions are not met.


2010 Summer.
Includes bibliographical references (pages 70-72).

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