Midterm exam

1) Describe and Discuss the EMERGENT PARADOX (educational access vs educational outcomes). Begin by describing the demographic makeup of CHS (students, administrators, teachers), and how a H.S. diploma substantially yields different consequences by class, race/ethnicity, & gender.


During Fine’s study, Comprehensive High School (CHS) had on register 3200 students and according to one estimate operated at 144% capacity.  The mean reading level of entering 9th graders was 7, and math 6.8, lower than any other HS in Manhattan.  In Fine’s words, “At CHS, the school administrators were almost exclusively white.  The teaching faculty was largely white, with some Latinos. Six or seven of the more than 120 teachers were African-American…. CHS reported a relatively high drop-out rate: 20.5%, compared with 11.4% citywide [annually].  483 CHS students were expected to enter their senior year; by the next June, however, fewer than 70% remained.  Eventually, only 60.7% of the senior class earned their way to June graduation.”


The paradox is that we as educators describe access equity – “Everybody can go to college…” – but the results of many people’s high-school experience refutes this.  In other words, for the roughly 40% of the population who drop out or are otherwise “discharged,” college is no longer a possibility.  Even within the population of graduates, the outcomes are unfairly distributed.  The high-school diploma yields for white, men, and upper-middle class students consistently more per additional year than it does for African-American and Latinos, women, and working class or low-income students, respectively.  In terms of  hiring power, having a high-school diploma, according to Fine, “yields substantially different consequences by class, race/ethnicity, and gender. … Having a diploma yields much difference within groups, but it doesn’t turn an African-American woman into a white man.”



2) Describe and Discuss the policies, practices & ideologies of SILENCING and NOT NAMING. Who does Silencing protect? What are the practices by which they are institutionalized? How does this undermine a project of educational empowerment?


According to Fine, silencing protects the teachers and administrators at CHS: “Silencing is about who can speak, what can and cannot be spoken, and whose discourse must be controlled.  To not name systematically alienates, cuts from home, from heritage and from lived experience, and ultimately severs these students from their process.”  Fine says that this silencing effect “shapes low-income public schools more intimately than relatively privileged.”  In other words, inside public schools, particularly low-income schools, there exists a systematic commitment to not name those aspects of social life or of schooling that activate social anxieties.


Fine describes a consensus among the students, implicitly confirmed in conversations with teachers, administrators, and parents, that there exists on the campus an unwritten policy that precludes official conversation about controversy, inequity and critique.  This occurs in classrooms, in meetings with administrators, and in student publications.  (In 1998, the Supreme Court upheld schools’ right to censor student publications: schools may censor student speech that is inconsistent with the mission of the school, even though governments may not censor similar speech outside the educational system. ) “Silence,” says Fine, “signifies a terror of words and fear of talk.”



3) Describe and Discuss the policies, practices & ideologies of DISCHARGE and CHOICE. Whom do they protect? What are the practices by which Discharge is institutionalized? How does this undermine a project of educational empowerment?


At CHS, there is a policy of exit interviews (supported by state law) for all students being discharged (exited without a diploma), but the practice of discharge includes coercion and “push-outs.” Policy states students are required to be given alternatives during exit interview, but these don’t always happen, setting up false choices.  Fine describes a conspiracy of administrators, counselors, GED “bounty hunters,” and teachers who pressure students to drop out.  In some cases, this is caused by a common perception (false, according to Fine’s evidence) that GED was an easy way out.  Many parents  participated, actively or passively, in the conspiracy to move credit-deficient or distracted students from high school to GED, although some expressed confusion about effects on Welfare eligibility and other consequences.  Students are misinformed by the adults in their life and hence lose power over their own educations.


In Fine’s assessment, this pressure to be discharged has several causes.  Possibly the most powerful cause is the extreme overcrowding at CHS.  Evidence for this is provided by several interviews with administrators, as well as the significant timing of discharges: students are allowed to remain on the roster until the Nov. 1 census, at which point the school has earned their state funds and “the purge begins.”

5) Describe and Discuss the three IDEOLOGICAL FETISHES that surround the problem of high dropout rates, with respect to how they order the experiences, beliefs, rituals, and behaviors in schools.


Fine describes three ideological “fetishes” (which might also be called belief systems or dogmas), ingrained in the CHS culture.  The first is the myth of universal access to higher education and universal usefulness of that education to those who do have access: “We find dreadful discrepancies that fall along the contours of social class, race and ethnicity, and gender.  Those who begin school already privileged end up that way – only more so.”  The second ideological fetish is that of “good intentions”: Fine describes a massive educational system that is rigged against lower-class adolescents, and she claims that the implementation and maintenance of all the unfairness in the system is “by well-meaning, underpaid, often quite caring women and men.”  The third fetish is the belief that the school exists in a public sphere, the public-private split being a false construct “that preserves the influence of private and corporate interests [e.g., military recruiters] inside schools and excludes private and family interests inside those same institutions.”


According to Fine, these three fetishes “are born of privilege.  Only persons who have access to opportunities that do pay off and who live in a world in which their private interests are represented in their public sector” – not the constituents of CHS, that is – “could argue uncritically that access to public education is universal, that good intentions are enough, and that the split in spheres is natural.”  She says these fetishes “eclipse alternative formulations of problems.”



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