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Breaking Out of the Box: A Grounded Theory Study of Urban High School Students

This grounded theory attempts to explain the behaviors of urban high school students.

Rodney Libert

on 4 November 2012

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Transcript of Breaking Out of the Box: A Grounded Theory Study of Urban High School Students

Breaking out of the box Inside the box Living inside the box is placing oneself or finding comfort in a restricted area that defines the boundaries of one's existence. It is not only physical boundaries, but extends to beliefs and customs. It is a culture defined by the members of the particular box community. The community is a safe haven. Forced into the Box Those forced into the box were bullied, observed others being bullied, or were made to believe that they belong in the box. They may have been bullied by their peers or by some adult in their lives. Moving into the Box Those moving into the box do so to be safe from being picked on and bullied for not conforming. Trapped in the Box Those trapped in the box know there is a better life out there. They want to move out but feel trapped because of adult and peer pressures and the cycle of delinquency. Fitting-in in the Box Thriving in the Box Those who thrive in the box use their knowledge and experiences of the box culture to prey on others inside and outside the box. they do not want to move out into unfamiliar territory. Those fitting in are going with the flow of the culture inside the box while secretly planning a way out of the box. Moving out of the Box Those moving out of the box have a desire to succeed and begin to act on this need. Factors affecting those inside the Box Social Factors Social Status In this case, primarily a change of residence, sometimes a change country. Students meet a strange new culture, a strange new education system. They need to deal with both. Some have to learn math all over, from metric to imperial. Added to this is the unfortunate fun students have with accents and the false belief that newcomers know very little. New immigrants and refugees are therefore treated as social outcasts, a reminder of the days of categorizing immigrants. Peer Pressure Pressure to be cool; to be one of the crowd. If you are not in with the crowd, you are an outcast. When the cool kids are going to the movies, you go too; if the cool kids are cutting class, you cut too; if the cool kids are wearing Sean John tees with Jordan kicks and driving a fast whip, it does not matter who is drinking and who is driving, you go with your best kicks. Making a wrong decision with peers is much easier and socially safer than thinking independently. Sociologists call it collective behavior. Gang Influence Gang behavior is a type of collective behavior. It is not peer pressure. Usually, it is older adult members who recruit younger ones who are lonely and lacking familial interactions, believing that family members do not care about them. The gang becomes the family. Cultural Factors Urban schools have more cultures than the average person imagines. Culture is transmitted from generation to generation via language. Within Jamaica, for example, there are different accents, syntax, customs and of course, cultures. Trinidad & Tobago is one country, two islands and four main cultures divided into many sub-cultures. The native Tobagonian sounds more like a Jamaican than a Trinidadian and some Trinidadians sound more like St. Lucians. Every Caribbean country has a different culture. Many Black, urban students are of African heritage but varied cultures, just like the 54 countries of Africa have about a thousand different cultures. However, all Black students are placed into one category by the powers that be and treated as one. Cultural Identity Students try to maintain their identities and the more they are pressured into doing something they feel is counter cultural, the more they reject it. This cultural identity combined with peer pressure keeps them in their specific box. Cultural Expectations Students do what is expected of them so if a cap is put on their abilities, this is where they will reach. If one repeatedly tells children that they are stupid, they believe in you and would therefore really believe that they are stupid. As soon as something challenges them, they will give up because they believe it is useless trying if they are stupid. Gender Socialization Generally girls are doing better in school than boys. Culturally, parents allow their boys to roam the community while girls are kept at home to help with the chores. Girls therefore learn responsibility earlier than boys. They learn how to work together to achieve something. Boys learn the neighborhood and who lives where. In their spare time, girls read. Boys play pranks on each other. Boys see reading as a girl thing and therefore resist doing it. For this reason, girls are more proficient in reading and writing than boys are. Gender Identity There is a theory that states that Black males inherited their sexual behaviors from their ancestors being mistreated when they were enslaved. Black men were treated as less than men and Black women were used by the masters. Black men's manhood was taken away since they no longer had responsibility as head of the home/tribe; no power to make decisions. Many generations later and Black men assert manhood by having relationships with as many women as possible - at the same time - and go around having as many children as possible. Since some believe that is what a real man is, they reject a male teacher's directive because he is not a real man, he is a teacher. Female teachers are women who they have to control so they cannot tell men what to do. Economic Factors Living Conditions Many students live in socioeconomically disadvantaged homes, some in crowded conditions. Parents are preoccupied with maintaining the home they have by working multiple jobs and therefore cannot afford better living conditions. This spills over into the social aspects of their lives. Because parents are working so many hours to maintain a standard of living, they have little or no time to spend with their children or to visit schools. Educational Resources Lack of educational resources like books and the inability to travel to museums, aquariums and historical sites also negatively impact students' experiences, leaving them at a disadvantage. Enablers Parents Parents who have the "My child won't do that" syndrome because they see an undisciplined student as a reflection on their parenting abilities or lack thereof. Education Professionals The professionals who have the "Your child cannot do that" syndrome when teachers assess students and place a cap on their level of achievement. The System The system manipulated by policy makers from the district level to the legislative and executive levels, who decide "This program is suited to these students" based on profiling. A Grounded Theory Study of Urban High School Students in a Southern New England City. During this study, the school went from a comprehensive school of More than 1800 students to fewer than 400 and a staff of more than 150 reduced to under 32 The school had a College Prep curriculum for college bound students, Vocational/Technical curriculum for those eager to find jobs, and Individualized Education Curriculum for those needing individualized programs because of intellectual or specific learning disabilities. Many of the students were immigrants and the majority of the student population were the product of foreign born parents of some 20 cultures including Afghani, Antiguan, Barbadian, Cambodian, Taino, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Ghanaian, Guyanese, Haitian, Hmong, Indian, Jamaican, Japanese, Masai, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Saint Lucian cultures. During a Social Studies lesson, the co-teachers discovered that the members of the class of 20 students were of 11 different cultures: African-American, Antiguan, Blackfoot, Cherokee, Guyanese, Haitian, Indian, Jamaican, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Saint Lucian cultures. Besides English, students and their parents speak some 11 different languages and a number of dialects including Arabic, Cantonese, Kryole, Dutch, Farsi, First Nation Languages, French, Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish and Urdu. The faculty and staff was a global mix of teachers from all continents except Antarctica, collectively speaking some 13 different languages and educated at the tertiary level in North, Central and South America, The Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia. Rationale For the Study Students were complaining about the treatment they were receiving from their peers and from staff members. Some students, in spite of the many efforts of staff members, were not improving. Some students were doing great. They made use of all available limited resources and all opportunities. Changes being implemented were based on questionable research. Teachers noted that changes being implemented were not suited to our population because all students were being treated as African Americans. Behavior problems increased because of what students felt were unfair treatment. More students were being suspended than ever before. Research Method Grounded Theory is a method discovered by Barney Glaser and Anslem Strauss and continued by Glaser. This Grounded Theory research is therefore considered to be Glaserian GT. Observations Observations were noted as field notes Sometimes students approached with some concern(s) that would become part of the field notes Some notes taken in meetings with students on discipline matters, including academic and social problems, became part of observation data. Meetings with school staff members also produced valuable information for analysis Interviews The Grand Tour question is an open-ended question that encourages the respondent to discuss any aspect of the subject relevant to the respondent. The initial Grand Tour Question was, "Can you tell me about your experiences as a student?" Respondents were unsure of where to begin and often would request more directions as to whether to "begin from elementary or middle school, school 'back home', or this school?" The Grand Tour Question therefore evolved to, "Tell me all about your experiences as a student." Reports Student attendance patterns Student discipline referrals Student academic progress and quarterly reports. Disorienting Dilemma
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