This Is How I Learn: Co-Creating Space for Students' Voices

This Is How I Learn: Co-Creating Space for Students' Voices

Jessica H. Burbach, Staci B. Martin, Javonta Arnold-Fowlkes, Johnathan Sakaith, Cheyenne Julius, Andrew Hibbs
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0897-7.ch009
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This chapter presents research on how Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching (CRMT) and a critical hope framework can be used as learning tools in the alternative high school classroom. Our study shows how 12 high school students and two teachers, one in high school and one in post-secondary, can work together to nurture students' personal and collective identity, agency, and hope. We use the concept of the “six words” from the Race Card Project (Norris, 2015) to co-create spaces that question the dominant narrative, which describes students as dropouts, and that offer spaces of hope and solidarity. As researchers, we believe without student collaboration in the research process itself, their voices will be muted in the academic language describing them and the dominant narrative that disempowers them. We believe that we have not achieved a true social justice curriculum until there is action where hope can surface (Freire, 1970).
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The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how learning tools such as Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching (CRMT) and a critical hope framework can support the co-creating of spaces for youth who have been pushed out of school to reengage in education and nurture personal and collective identities. While the voices of these youth are often silenced (Fine, 2003), our youth asked to be a part of the research process itself. As a result of the collaboration, we found our students’ voices amplified, affirmed, and critical of the dominant narrative that pushed them out. As teachers, we attempted to co-create spaces that offered counternarratives of hope, strength, and agency in an alternative high school setting. In light of this unique partnership, this article is written in the form, language, and position that it is accessible to our students, as well as teachers, learners, and researchers.

In the United States, approximately 1.3 million students do not graduate from high school each year. This means that a staggering seven thousand students drop out of school every day (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2010). The state where this study was done has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation: 68.7% (DePaoli et al., 2015). Consequently, one in seven youth in the state are disconnected from their education and the labor force (Oregon Youth Development Council, 2014).

In light of these statistics, as researchers, we wanted to ask why it is difficult for some Americans to relate or empathize with the population of high school “dropouts” trying to reengage in their education. Some leaders and policymakers ask, “Why should I invest in or take responsibility for the mistakes of youth who drop out of high school?” There is blame put on the individual students for their choice to drop out, instead of looking at the bigger picture. We, along with other researchers (e.g. Avilés, Guerrero, Howarth, & Thomas, 1999; Fine & Weis, 2003; Noguera, 2008; Tuck, 2012), seek to look at the systemic, underlying factors leading populations of students to feel pushed out of mainstream high schools.

The rate of high school non-completion in the U.S. is a complex, yet important issue of the education system with broad social, racial, and economic impacts. A disproportionate number of students who drop out of high school are from low-income families and more than half of the students that drop out are students of color (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2010). As the population of school-age children becomes increasingly diverse, both culturally and linguistically, there is also a growing segment of the population that has no school-age children. Fowler (2013) states that one of the implications of these demographic trends is that it will be hard for some Americans to identify with today’s children and feel responsible for their education. By focusing on how best to support this often forgotten population of students who are returning to school for high school completion, we can encourage economic growth within communities that have long been subjected to income inequities. Steinberg and Almeida (2012) argue that “a concentrated effort focused on this large, growing, historically neglected population is essential to the nation’s economic well-being and the health of our communities” (p. 3). Young people who do not graduate are more likely to be unemployed, have less job security, or work for minimum wage. In fact, given the number of students who are dropping out each year, it costs the U.S. more than $337 billion in lost wages over the course of these students’ lifetimes (Alliance for Education, 2010). Hence, the dropout rate is a significant problem that contributes to the growing economic divide in this country. Investing in youth who are returning to school means investing in youth of color and working class youth; and, will mean these populations are more likely to be employed, earning living wages, and paying taxes, thereby supporting the economy and health of historically vulnerable communities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Agency: The belief you can make a difference in the world.

Critical Hope: Critical hope is a pedagogical tool that addresses unjust systems through meaningful dialogue and empathic responses ( Zembylas, 2014 ).

Counternarratives: Counternarratives are narratives that counter the dominant narrative and take into account the social and political context within which the dominant narrative is made ( Peters & Lankshear, 1996 ).

Culturally Responsive Education: Culturally responsive education helps students to develop more than just academic skills; it also helps students develop social consciousness, cultural integrity, a stronger sense of self-worth and ability, and a value in community ( Gay, 2010 ).

Pushout: There is a distinction between “pushout” and “dropout” since dropout implies that leaving school was the students’ decision, while pushout implies that leaving school was the result of the actions of others ( Tuck, 2012 ).

Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching: CRMT is the promotion of in-depth mathematical thinking, understanding, analysis, and communication while integrating it with language, culture, and social justice ( Aguirre & Zavala, 2013 ).

Identity: Identity is the stories that people tell about themselves and the image that they present to the world ( Aguirre et al., 2013 ).

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