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«Toward Positive Youth Development, Transforming Schools and Community Programs Shinn, Marybeth (Editor), Professor of Psychology, New York University ...»

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Indeed, using such aggregated or hyperaggregated terms can actually prevent precise needs analysis. For example, general talk about “needy” students in school settings can supplant discussion of the needs of specific subpopulations, such as English language learners (see also Olsen, 1995). General aggregated talk about a district or school’s population as “at-risk” or “disadvantaged” can also gloss over talk about the specific risks or disadvantages that some students experience in their actual lives. While a school community might quickly be described in the aggregate as “low income,” for example, some students may actually be living in stable housing, while some may be living in foster care and some might actually be homeless. Some students will have employed parents or guardians and some will not.

These differences will affect what assistance students need to succeed in school. Some talk of student needs will need to consider the needs of individuals, some of subgroups, and so on. Individuals always have individual needs, but subpopulations also sometimes have shared needs.

The answer in some cases is to talk about racial groups’ needs. Some needs might be shared, on average, by members of a particular racialized group: on average, one school’s Latino students might live in one area that lacks a community center open after school, while another school’s black students on average might lack access to preschool. Similarly, some life experiences might be shared by a racial group at a school: a program for “Latinos” at one school might be useful to many of its Latino students if it affords them a safe space to analyze a shared experience of being “Latino” at the school, in the city, or in the United States (Gándara, 2008).

end p.106

Yet other overarching claims about “Latino” needs might be too imprecise to serve a school’s smaller subpopulations (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001). A school’s Salvadoran students, on average, might need particular psychological supports to weather families’ experiences of political violence; Brazilian immigrants may require a particular set of language supports. Urban Chinese immigrant students’ math preparation may far outweigh that of Hmong students coming from rural areas, making talk of “Asians” and their needs too imprecise (Wang & Wu, 1996). The particular needs and circumstances of recent Filipino immigrants in a school may never be discussed in a conversation about “Asians,” or even a conversation about “Filipinos.” In order to serve student needs precisely, educators must describe and analyze student needs precisely. The educator thus needs to ask, repeatedly, whether discussions are pinpointing in sufficient detail which students need what from the school. One superintendent I met in a professional development setting spoke importantly of needing to provide a “smorgasboard” of programs designed to meet the various needs of various subpopulations and of the student population as a whole.

When discussing student needs, educators can draw a “number line” (that follows this paragraph) and ask the following questions about their ongoing conversation. Which needs are shared by subgroups, larger groups, or all our students? Where on this spectrum does our current talk about the needs of students fall? Are we describing student needs precisely enough?

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Educators Can Pursue More Precise Talk About the Causes of Racial Disparities In school settings, educators routinely try to analyze the causes of the racial disparities and patterns they see around them. Imprecise race talk is talk that analyzes such causation only partially. For example, teachers I analyzed in Colormute often remarked privately that the student population wandering in the hallways during class was disproportionately black. They then explained this disparity only partially, in part by proposing assumptions as facts: they would explain that the pattern was caused by black students’ “attitudes,” or black parents’ “values,” or, less frequently, by the administrators or security guards who did not stop black students from wandering.

In this partial and imprecise analysis, speakers failed to pinpoint other acts and actors contributing to the pattern’s production. They rarely noted that they themselves were often ejecting black students disproportionately from their classes into the hallways. They rarely asked whether black students might be disproportionately disengaged from particular teachers’ classes and thus disproportionately wandering the PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2003 - 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/oso/public/privacy_policy.html).

Subscriber: Indiana University - Bloomington; date: 12 September 2011 Toward Positive Youth Development, Transforming Schools and Community Programs Shinn, Marybeth (Editor), Professor of Psychology, New York University Yoshikawa, Hirokazu (Editor), Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education Print publication date: 2008, Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2010 Print ISBN-13: 978-0-19-532789-2, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327892.001.0001

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nonblack students tended to stay home from school altogether when they wanted to cut class. Black students seemed to stay in the school hallways when cutting class as a visible protest of their situation, suggesting that different groups of students might be disengaging in different manners. In discussing only partially what “caused” the hallways’ demographics, educators missed a chance to fully understand and improve their own interactions with black students.

Any precise analysis of a racial disparity needs to go beyond quick statements about one isolated group of people producing the disparity and instead thoroughly analyze the various people and acts involved in producing the racial disparity. (Precise analysis also has to go beyond simply stating a disturbing pattern. The teacher simply remarking upon black students’ overrepresentation in the hallways may well clue in her peers to notice the pattern, but she will not provide them with any tools for figuring out how to dismantle it.) The same thing can be said about educators’ analyses of “achievement gaps,” which, like many public explanations, 5 often boil down the analysis to incredibly reductive causal statements. Educators are increasingly asked to explain racial achievement patterns publicly in the era of No Child Left Behind, since they now have to analyze the achievement data of racial and ethnic subgroups in their schools (see Losen, 2004). Such causal analysis can often become dangerously reductive. For example, a common too-quick explanation analyzed in research (Carter, 2005) is that black and Latino students simply refuse to achieve for fear of alienating their same-race peers. Such quick causal claims attributing achievement outcomes to peer interactions alone remove all sorts of contributing actors and actions from the analysis. Speakers fail to analyze, for example, educators’ role in tracking many young black and Latino students to low “ability” groups (see Tyson, 2008), or even the role of educators’ instruction (Ferguson, 2008; Rubin, 2008; Weinstein, this volume, chapter 5). They fail to analyze how parents may lack knowledge of available educational opportunities (Mickelson & Cousins, 2008). They fail to analyze the complex “outside” opportunity systems denying children of color key early opportunities to learn or to be healthy (Noguera, 2003; see Rothstein, 2004), and so forth.

Educators trying to analyze racial achievement patterns are analyzing one of the most complex social problems in the nation. They need to be very careful about too-quick or too-shallow causal analyses that only scratch the surface of the problem’s complexity. The “achievement gap’s” causation can never be boiled down to one set of actors’ actions. When educators talk as though it can, this imprecise analysis actually can harm both young people of color and themselves, since actors and actions that could help close the “achievement gap” are left out of both analysis and interventions.

end p.108

Another way that educators reduce the analysis of racial achievement patterns is by arguing quickly that the presumed “cultures” of particular racialized/ethnic/national-origin groups “cause” their achievement. Imprecise talk about “culture” often particularly implicates racial-ethnic group parents as somehow single-handedly responsible for student achievement. Such imprecise talk fails to analyze how parents, in interaction with school people, neighborhood people, larger opportunity systems, and their children, play a role in producing children’s performance. For example, Louie (2004) shows that Chinese parents (routinely the subject of quick “cultural” statements about “valuing education”) do not directly “cause” their children’s achievement through “caring” about it. Rather, through a complex set of interactions with other parents, school enrollment systems, neighborhood services, educators, and their children, Chinese parents acquire and share knowledge about how to push their children through the school system toward college, and then push their children in ways received favorably by schools (see also Zhou, this volume, chapter 13). In imprecise “culture” talk, educators fail to analyze the many, many actors that influence how any young Chinese American person achieves, including the educators who presume Chinese American parents and students to be “model minorities” (Louie, 2004). No child lives in a “group” bubble only influenced by people just from her ethnic-racial “culture.” Children are raised by home adults, but those adults interact with educators and administrators in schools; children interact not just with their guardians and peers, but also with teachers and principals and security guards and neighbors and the media.

Imprecise analysis of the causation of any racial pattern misses drawing players into the solution. Educators can talk more skillfully about racial disparities by investigating how various players might help dismantle the racial disparity under discussion. Whenever talking about racial disparities, educators can ask: Are we considering and including all the actors who contribute to producing these disparities? Do we really have evidence for the contributions we’re naming? Who else needs to be pulled in to help dismantle these disparities?

The goal in such conversations is not to demonstrate which actors or acts contribute more but rather to fully analyze all of the acts that produce the disparity being considered. Educators must take great care to also include their own acts when analyzing the production of the disparity as the typical tendency is to delete oneself from the analysis (Diamond, 2008; Pollock, 2004a, 2008a). Further, to avoid an unproductive blame game, facilitators should explicitly point out that the goal is to analyze distributed responsibility for social problems (Stone et al., 2000). I have called this pursuing “an urgent language of communal responsibility” (Pollock, 2001).

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2003 - 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/oso/public/privacy_policy.html).

Subscriber: Indiana University - Bloomington; date: 12 September 2011 Toward Positive Youth Development, Transforming Schools and Community Programs Shinn, Marybeth (Editor), Professor of Psychology, New York University Yoshikawa, Hirokazu (Editor), Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education Print publication date: 2008, Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2010 Print ISBN-13: 978-0-19-532789-2, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327892.001.0001

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This final issue is extremely important. Much scholarship proposing ways to assist students of color in schools never takes the time to guide educators through the details of such attempts at equitable practice. Instead, scholarship offers educators shorthand, vague, and imprecise strategies (“celebrate diversity,” or don’t be “colorblind”) that never precisely pinpoint which specific acts are actually helpful and harmful to students of color in which situations and why.

Imprecise talk about helping students of color can actually backfire on equity efforts. For example, a teacher urged to use a film or book or poster about “other cultures” to “diversify” her curriculum can easily use such a text in ways that oversimplify, stereotype, or misportray the people portrayed (Abu El-Haj, 2008; Chadwick, 2008; Deyhle, 2008; McCarty, 2008; Sharma, 2008; Sleeter, 2008). Educators need to talk more precisely about which pedagogical strategies engage diversity thoroughly. Similarly, an educator urged vaguely to “connect to the community” can easily do so clumsily and promote more shallow visions of communities (such as a quick bus tour that rolls without stopping through a school’s most impoverished enrollment area, a tactic I myself have experienced). Rather, educators need to talk far more precisely about how to forge deeper connections with actual community members (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992; Wyman & Kashatok, 2008).

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