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Reconstructing 'Dropout'

Reconstructing 'Dropout': A Critical Ethnography of the Dynamics of Black Students' Disengagement from School

George J. Sefa Dei
Josephine Mazzuca
Elizabeth McIsaac
Jasmin Zine
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Reconstructing 'Dropout'
    Book Description:

    Based on the narratives of Black and non-Black students, teachers, parents, and community workers, this book examines the dilemma of African-Canadian students who lose interest and leave school.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7907-8
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    John U. Ogbu

    It is common knowledge, supported by a large body of research, that in Canada and the United States, Black students constitute a disproportionate number of those who leave school prematurely. This book is an important study of the problem in the Ontario public school system in Canada.

    The work examines how institutionalized structures and processes of schooling lead to premature school-leaving of Blacks, from the perspectives of Black school drop-outs, Black students, Black parents, non-Black students, and school personnel. For Dr Dei and his team of researchers, a major problem in conventional study of school drop-outs is methodology. The field...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Chapter One Introduction
    (pp. 3-30)

    In the 1990s North American society is facing the challenge of providing education for an increasingly diverse population. This challenge is neither new nor insurmountable. However, the challenge is compounded by the fact that we live in an epoch which is radically different in its celebration of subjectivity, cultural diversity, and social difference. In our classrooms today are students who increasingly reflect the diverse mix of racial, ethnic, religious, class, gender, and sexual differences and interests in society. This is a healthy sign. Such diversity must be viewed as a source of strength rather than as social and cultural baggage...

  7. Chapter Two Research Methodology
    (pp. 31-45)

    In this chapter we will outline and defend our general research methodology and research process. We begin by exploring the potentials that qualitative research methods presented in the design stage of our study, and in the resulting methods of data collection and analysis. We then outline the specific ethnographic methods of interviewing, observation, and surveying employed in the general research process, including preliminary research objectives and the determination of both the number and profile of informants. After laying the foundation of the research, we detail the considerable process of gaining entry into schools and school boards. Following issues of entry...

  8. Chapter Three The Social Construction of a ′Drop-out′: Dispelling the Myth
    (pp. 46-63)

    The narratives assembled in this ethnography draw from experiential frames of reference to give meaning to the term ′drop-out.′ The collective meaning which emerges is a composite of behavioural traits, attitudes, and socially constructed notions which are often at odds with one another. These notions speak to the fact that the term ′drop-out′ represents different things to different people, all of whom speak from particular vantage points. The various perspectives which emerge emanate from specific ideologies and world-views, including some which challenge the ′conventional wisdom′ regarding drop-outs and others which reinforce standard misconceptions. By employing race as a factor, the...

  9. Chapter Four Understanding Student Disengagement
    (pp. 64-84)

    This chapter will examine the various factors identified by students, drop-outs, parents, and teachers as contributing to student disengagement. The narratives point to the ways in which school structures and policies can facilitate a student′s decision to leave school. It will further illustrate the difference between students who leave school prematurely because of pragmatic reasons, such as pregnancy or the need to work, and those characterized as ′push-outs′: students who, for various reasons, feel forced out of school.

    Student narratives are further examined in terms of the positive and negative experiences of school they relate, and the implications these experiences...

  10. Chapter Five Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender
    (pp. 85-105)

    Race, class, and gender represent the basis for some of the multiple social identities which students bring with them into their educational experiences. Positionality is an important factor in locating the experience of individuals within both schools and society. Schools are specific sites where social location can mediate educational outcomes and the reproduction of status roles in society. Race, class, and gender, then, are inextricably linked to how social realities are experienced and negotiated.

    This chapter explores the intersections of race, class, and gender as they relate to the realities of Black students and to the issue of student disengagement....

  11. Chapter Six Authority, Power, and Respect
    (pp. 106-114)

    All students have ′problems′ dealing with school authority. However, it is apparent that Black/African-Canadian youths are generally having a ′tough time′ dealing and/or coming to grips with authority structures in the school system. They perceive these power structures as intended to subordinate them further. Problems of authority, power, and respect are interwoven throughout the narratives of the students. Students generally related issues of authority and power to teachers and administrators in the school, as well as to police. Consistently, Black students linked issues of authority and respect. They held firmly to the belief that authority figures (e.g., teachers, principals) must...

  12. Chapter Seven Streaming and Teacher Expectations: Social Change or Reproduction?
    (pp. 115-136)

    As ′front line′ workers in the education system, teachers were considered by students and parents as critical to the schooling process. Teachers′ styles, personalities, and skills were closely scrutinized by their students, who looked to them for guidance and knowledge. They felt their teachers could make a real difference in their education, and, whether positive or negative, teachers′ influence was seen as lasting. In this chapter, we examine how teachers′ practices in regards to labelling and streaming are experienced by Black students.

    Labelling students according to characteristics other than ability is one aspect of how labelling and streaming can impact...

  13. Chapter Eight Curriculum: Content and Connection
    (pp. 137-149)

    This chapter will examine the relevance of curriculum content to the lives of Black students. Students unable to find relevance to their own lives in the curriculum find it difficult to connect with the educational experience. Black students see a lack of curriculum content devoted to their history and experiences. For example, Black students had strong feelings about how the inclusion of Black history in the mainstream curriculum would enrich their educational experiences. Students suggested that including Black history might mitigate the boredom experienced by some students. Debbie, a grade 10 student, made the following connection between a friend′s decision...

  14. Chapter Nine Framing Issues of Identity and Representation
    (pp. 150-168)

    The issue of Black representation in the school curriculum is fundamental to developing an inclusive school environment. It is no exaggeration to say that Black students and parents are generally critical when discussing their reflections on the Canadian school system, particularly of the fact that not all world experiences are represented in classroom instruction, discourse, and texts. At the core of the issue of Black identity is the well-articulated concern that there are gaps in curricular content. Black contributions are not included with enough sophistication and centrality to reassure Black students that their race and the achievements of their forebearers...

  15. Chapter Ten The Colour of Knowledge: Confronting Eurocentrism
    (pp. 169-188)

    The issues of identity and representation for Black students have been examined in terms of how students are and are not able to construct their individual and group identities and develop these within the current educational system. Problems of representation, whether with respect to the absence of role models or in the abstract production of knowledge, and issues of identity are closely tied to the process of disengagement, and as such require closer analysis. As students, parents, and educators reflect on questions of identity and issues of Eurocentrism within schools, they explore alternative visions for the delivery of education.


  16. Chapter Eleven Family, Community, and Society
    (pp. 189-198)

    To this point, much attention has been paid to the structures within schools which contribute to processes of disengagement for Black students. While schools play the most direct role in affecting the educational experiences of students, including those experiences which contribute to a process of disengagement, schools do not operate in isolation. Students are profoundly affected also by broader social conditions. Schools serve the families and communities that make up our society. As such, these stakeholders also have responsibilities and identifiable roles to play in the delivery of education.

    In the last chapter, visions of alternative educational practices were articulated...

  17. Chapter Twelve Visions of Educational and Social Change
    (pp. 199-219)

    It is important when examining the relations of oppression and injustice within society and the structures which produce and reproduce these relations, that the ways in which subjects act and have agency are also highlighted. As we develop our understanding of the relations between oppression and agency, we are able to see glimpses of possibilities for social change. In the study, students, drop-outs, parents, and teachers were asked about how they understood student input within schools, the social limits faced by students, concerns which face youth, the future of Black youth in the school system, and possibilities for change. This...

  18. Chapter Thirteen The Missing Link
    (pp. 220-254)

    Our intellectual and political objective is to move beyond a deterministic and causal, as well as classist and structuralist, explanation for ′school drop-outs.′ In doing so, we join many critical educators in challenging the fairly insular and isolationist conceptions of schools as playgrounds unto themselves, apolitical and unaffected by the larger fabric of society. Schools reflect the inequalities and inequities of society. A critical perspective on Black youth disengagement from school examines the ′inside/outside′ split as a method for understanding ′dropping out.′ A critical approach to understanding ′dropping out′ must focus on the structures and forms of students′ resistance, life...

    (pp. 255-268)
  20. References
    (pp. 269-280)
  21. Author Index
    (pp. 281-284)
  22. Subject Index
    (pp. 285-288)