Toxic SchoolsHigh-Poverty Education in New York and Amsterdam

Toxic SchoolsHigh-Poverty Education in New York and Amsterdam

Bowen Paulle

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226066387

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Based on nearly six years of fieldwork in and around high poverty secondary schools on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, this book uses the tools of the teacher-ethnographer to take on questions touching us all: Even if they “know better,” why do so many adolescents frequently get caught up in the situated destruction of non-selective big city schools? Although putatively of the same race as many of the other students wrecking their educational environments, how do some male students self-identifying as black avoid the seductions of “street” ways of being and, in extremely rare cases, develop capacities for emotional self-control and concentration great enough to allow them to use their “failing ghetto schools” as launching pads into elite colleges? Inside their classrooms, why is it so difficult if not impossible for most teachers to consistently reproduce the triumphs of a handful of their colleagues rather than contribute, more or less forcefully, to their own “burn outs”? As the vignettes and biographical case studies woven into the empirical chapters reveal, adequate answers to these questions require that we move away from romanticized notions about resistance, disembodied fantasies about explicit cultural interpretations preceding real time actions, and essentialist assumptions about (the perpetual salience of) blackness and other seemingly discrete ethno-racial categories. Developing a fundamentally new way of thinking about everday dealing and self-destruction in fiercely segregated, physically unsafe, and emotionally toxic schools can help us avoid more pseudo-interventions and finally get serious about reforming the educational experiences of the poorly born.