Saturday, May 15, 2010

MacLeod, J. (2004). Ain't No Makin' It. Boulder: Westview Press.

Chapter 11
An ethnographic study focused on youth in Clarendon Heights, a low-income housing development in a “northeastern city,” Ain’t No Makin’ It illuminates a culture stripped of hope and devoid of aspiration. MacLeod looks to two groups of boys in these “projects” to explain the process of social reproduction- why working-class children tend to end up in working-class jobs. His initial study took place when the boys were teenagers, ranging from sixteen to nineteen years old, and he came back to these boys eight years later when they were in their early to mid-twenties. In the final chapter of this book, Macleod reflects on all he has learned from his experiences with the boys, and makes some closing remarks about the fate of these boys and many others like them. Of particular interest to me were his personal take-aways and recommendations for education with regard to working-class children.

Macleod feels strongly that our social structure is hugely to blame for the reproduction of classes. He cites several instances in education, the labor market, and our economy that perpetuate the social structures in the U.S. He also realizes that a person’s culture can also play a large role in the failure or success to cross social classes. Blacks, Hispanics, and women struggle to climb the ladder more than others. Additionally he adds that personal choice cannot be left out of the equation when trying to find the ultimate causes of social reproduction. Every person makes a choice about the direction their life will take, but he continues to argue that the social structure from which a person comes plays a large part in their perception of the choices available to them.

Relevant Quotes:
“Families at the top of the social structure can use their superior status and resources to stay there, while other families, low on options, languish at the bottom. We are all born into a social class, and most of us die in the one into which we were born.” (240)

“opting out of the contest--- neither playing the game nor accepting its rules--- is not a viable option. Incarceration and other less explicit social penalties are applied by society when the contest is taken on one’s own terms.” (240)

“Slick’s passing reference to roaches touches on an important dimension of lower-class life often missed by outside observers: what Wacquant calls the “demoralization effects” of life in intense poverty and permanent material insecurity. …[it] tends to eat away at a person’s energy and insides over time.” (253)

“roles of structure , culture, and agency in the reproduction of social inequity.” (253)

Middle-class would have been more successful, peer group interests, choices
Leveled aspirations
Does Super deal drugs because he was born at the bottom of a class society … or because does he choose to deal drugs because he can’t be bothered to work his way up legitimately? He was pushed from behind by forces that he wasn’t even aware of.
“Super was handicapped in school by the effects of cultural capital, tracking, and teacher expectations.” (255)

“The social universe people inhabit isn’t simply received as a gift from without; rather, it is produced and constructed anew by agents.” (256)

“These boys, all of them, desperately want to be somebody, to make something of their lives. By denying them the opportunity, by undercutting their very aspirations and reducing them to hopelessness at the age of sixteen, or by trapping them in the secondary labor market and leaving them disillusioned but still dreaming at twenty-four, the economic and social system causes untold misery, waste, and despair.” (260)

“The familiar refrain of ‘behave yourself, study hard, earn good grades, graduate with your class, go on to college, get a good job, make a lot of money’ reinforces the feelings of personal failure and inadequacy that working-class students are likely to bear as a matter of course. By this logic, those who have not made it only have themselves to blame. Because it shrouds class, race, and gender barriers to success, the achievement ideology promulgates a lie, one that some students come to recognize as such. For pupils whose own experiences contradict the ideology—and in an urban public high school there are bound to be many—it is often rejected, and rightly so. Teachers are left with nothing to motivate their students, and it is no wonder that “acting out,” aggressive disobedience, and unruliness dominate. School officials can round up the offending students and label them “slow,” “unmotivated,” “troubled,” “high risk,” or “emotionally disturbed” and segregate them, but the problem is much more deeply rooted.” (262)

“If students like the Hallway Hangers are to be motivated to achieve in school, it must not be at the expense of their self-esteem, but in support of it. Schools serving low-income neighborhoods must help students build positive identities as working-class, black and white, young men and women. Rather than denying the existence of barriers to success, schools should acknowledge them explicitly while motivating students by teaching them, for example, about historic figures who shared the students’ socio-economic origins but overcame the odds. Success stories can be important motivators so long as emphasis is put on the obstacles against which these figures prevailed. Teachers can also strive to include material about which the students, drawing on the skills they have developed in their neighborhoods, are the experts. If the school could believe in the legitimacy and importance of students’ feelings, perceptions, and experiences as working-class kids, the students themselves might come to do the same, thereby giving them a positive identity and a dose of self-confidence as a foundation for further application in school.” (263)
“In my experience, academic rigor itself demands that the curriculum meet the needs and concerns of working-class and minority students. If the curriculum is made responsive to student needs, the gap between academic skill and maturity can be bridged.” (263)

Younger brothers of the Hallway Hangers did a project about prison life, from books, movies, slides, seminars, field trips… 30 page anthology of interviews with former inmates.
“Their achievement, Behind Bars, demonstrates what can be gained in educational terms when local history and culture are taken seriously and when students are actively involved in thinking and doing rather than being passively exposed to textbook material. These would-be Hallway Hangers did not memorize rules of punctuation, spelling, capitalization, subject-verb agreement, and other mechanics of grammar Rather, they used them time and again in the process of putting together their magazine. Connecting the curriculum with the interests of pupils like the Hallway Hangers can be done; it only requires a commitment—both attitudinal and material—to meeting the needs of working-class students.” (264)

“When their passions and intellects are stimulated by indignation, youths are often moved to challenge heretofore hidden social, political, and economic forces that weigh so heavily upon their lives. For some, this means an intensely personal drive and ambition. Others begin struggling to create a better world. In still others, these impulses coexist; such youths work for social, political, and economic reconstruction as well as personal transformation. For all of them, in contrast to the boys in this study, education has recovered its mission: It has become emancipatory."265)

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