"It's Like Their Culture:" Resistant Boys in the New Vocationalism
Richard D. Lakes
Janet Z. Burns
Georgia State University
If we are in the business of educating, helping kids, and by doing so challenging oppressive social structures, I believe that we criticalists and others have to still understand more about resistance theory and how it relates to kids. (Kanpol, 2000, p. 54)
In this article we illuminate cultural findings of teacher/student interactions and resistant male behaviors among a group of vocational students in an applied academic classroom (English composition and language arts) representative of the new vocationalism. Most policymakers believe that skill training is heightened and student achievement soars when the vocational curriculum is thoroughly integrated into the academic course of study (Grubb, 1995). Students preparing for occupations receive cooperative instruction from vocational educators as well as academic teachers who jointly prepare projects related to work-based life. The ensuing integrated studies establish balanced educational practices, ones that require English, math, communications, and science.
Certainly the literature on integration offers numerous ideas for policy implementation and curriculum development (Grubb, 1995; Roegge, 1992), but few glimpses into teacher/student interactions, peer interactions, and resistant classroom behaviors. Researchers have yet to tell us what types of vocational and academic teachers perform successfully at integration efforts in school reform settings. In fact, there is a paucity of study related to classroom cultures, particularly regarding gendered performance in lower-track classrooms, working-class resistance, and constructions of male privilege-the latter termed hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 1995).
For the past three decades scholars have grafted critical theory viewpoints onto an analysis of work and education, teaching and learning in vocational education. A number of critical ethnographies, in particular, have enriched our understanding of White working-class masculinity, and described the ways that cultural patterns of schoolboys resisted and contested the imposition of instructional priorities in academic skills and core knowledge areas (Lakes & Bettis, 1995). This line of thinking often led to essentializing the curriculum, with a gender bifurcation of academic subjects as female (and mental) and vocational subjects as male (and manual). Yet a number of critical theorists rightly suggested that schools were sorting and tracking working-class kids into lower-track classrooms (Anyon, 1980; Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Page, 1991). Furthermore, resistance theorists argued educational and labor market success for males and females, and negotiations within their cultures of work, entailed an examination of gender identity formation. Of particular interest to readers of this journal is how counter-school cultures challenge the privileging of college-bound achievement at the expense of other career pathways.
The classic study of teenage resisters in England was Willis (1977) who illuminated how youths construct oppositional social identities within the White working classes; they opposed the success ethic and achievement ideology promoted by schools. He followed several peer groups and examined the variety of ritualistic expressions found through their actions at school, including antagonistic, nonconformist, vulgar and obscene, sexist and racist, violent, and antisocial behaviors. Here, working-class adolescents reproduced the value of anti-intellectualism through their work experiences with manual labor, thereby recasting their self-worth accordingly.
MacLeod (1987) found that working-class youths from the same housing project in the United States held unique perspectives on the value of education, schooling, transition to employment, and beyond. He discovered that the mostly White young men rejected the achievement ideology so prevalent in this nation and in our schools. Although aware that a few did escape the projects, the boys calculated their own upward mobility as highly unlikely. They appropriated a counter-hegemonic discourse of urban masculinity that affirmed street smarts. These teens became resisters, MacLeod (1987, p. 107) explained, because schooling was seen as "an institution that denies and violates their cultural identities."
Weis (1990) researched adolescent perspectives of work and school in a de-industrialized setting in the United States. Although she found resistance to school among the young men, it was of a very different nature because the boys generally expressed an affirmation of school-based knowledge acquisition, which indicated a widening net of transition opportunities-other than just manual labor jobs-such as post-secondary training or the armed forces. Consequently, these students affirmed mental labor as having some utilitarian value for meeting their future goals. Still, the boys resented authority in general as well as specific institutional controls over their anti-school space.
Walker (1988) studied urban secondary schooling in Australia and concluded peer subcultures arose as friendship or sports activity groups which exhibited an assertive masculinity that fostered resistant elements of homophobia, sexism, and bullying. For example, dance club behaviors involved pushing and shoving of patrons as well as fighting bouncers. He explained, "it worked as a repertoire of solutions to short-term problems of personal identity, self-esteem, legitimation of one's actions and individual worth" (p. 44).
Perhaps due to violent, antisocial pathologies among schoolboys and increasingly resistant White male subcultures (such as the trench-coat mafia at Columbine High School in Colorado) scholars in the 1990s have increased their attention on the nature of masculine development here and abroad (Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998; Lesko, 2000; Mac An Ghaill, 1994; Pollack, 1998; Reed, 1999). New forms of White racism arose as Blacks and others were blamed for economic dislocations in the economy (Fine & Weis, 1998).
Postindustrial work may be viewed through a gendered lens as well (Haywood & Mac an Ghaill, 1996). That is, older forms of industrial work skills traditionally identified as masculine blue-collar were supplanted by jobs in the so-called feminine service sector, including part-time, contingent, and contract labor. Postindustrial workplaces are vastly different spaces, requiring in frontline workers a set of skills deemed social and emotional, appropriate for human relations trainings, and resulting in cooperative interactions with employers, customers, and service representatives-what Kincheloe (1995) termed smart workers.
Gaskell (1995) hoped that the new vocationalism would broaden the definition of skill training from narrow technical expertise to a more caring ethic. In her words, "social skills can be reclaimed as real skills, ones that involve moral judgment and sophisticated emotional and intellectual work" (p. 67). Interestingly, she referred to Hochschild's (1983) notion of emotional work in the training of Delta Airlines flight attendants, an example of people-pleasing labors that initiates learn in preparation for their careers. Although undervalued as women's work, these gendered performances increasingly transgressed into postindustrial settings. Caring is relegated to separate spheres, Gaskell argued, yet interpersonal sensitivity must be viewed in a wider understanding of training for contextual knowledge at work.
Beginning in the summer of 1988, the state created Applied Literature and Composition (ALC), a two-course offering specifically designed for the non-college-bound as well as future post-secondary technical school attendees. A modified English curriculum was presented to upper-level vocational and special needs students with the understanding that the course directly related to workplace skills and applications. The signature feature in this program was cooperative learning, which tried to mirror communicative practices in the postindustrial or high-tech work world. While college-prep academic English emphasizes literary analysis through essay preparation and research papers, ALC provided a large career-oriented dose of letter, memo, and report writing among other listening, speaking, and reading activities (such as exercises in time management, resume preparation, and role playing for job interviews, etc.) integrated into seventeen packaged modules (Jury, 1997). Introduction to this curriculum for applied academic teachers involved participation in a summer staff development workshop.
The teacher participant in the study was observed once per week for two class periods (55 minutes each) for approximately 15 weeks, or one semester. The researchers observed what occured in the participating teacher's classroom, including verbal and nonverbal communication, actions and reactions, the use of instructional materials, the physical arrangement of the room, teacher and student movement, types of instructional activities, the climate of the classroom, and types of assessments. Each observation was followed with an interview either in person or by phone the same day as the observation. The required time to complete each interview was approximately 60 minutes. The teacher participant was given a copy of the field notes from each observation and interview and had an opportunity to amend the notes to represent more accurately his perceptions and responses. As is characteristic of qualitative research, the researchers triangulated the methods by which they collected data. In particular, we used interviews (structured and unstructured), observations, and document analysis of teacher's lesson plans and student's writing journals.
The teacher was employed at Yorkville High School (a pseudonym), situated in a suburban county near a large metropolitan city in the South. Formerly a semi-rural community of small farms, economic development in the last decade has fueled a host of local industries and housing growth, meaning a number of families are out-of-town transplants into the area. Many residents of the county commute to jobs in the city center or work nearby at the international airport. Yet Yorkville has a number of economically disadvantaged, low-income families residing in the school district as well. With a total school population of approximately 1,300, roughly 5% of the students are eligible to receive free/reduced lunches. Black students comprise 22% of the school. Ten percent of the population is enrolled in special education. About 70% of graduating seniors are in the college-prep track and 20% in the vocational track. The dropout rate is approximately 3%, somewhat higher than the county average.
The third-period ALC class, comprised of graduating seniors, totaled 24 students of which two-thirds were male. All class members were White with the exception of one Black male. Thirteen of the students were enrolled in the automotive shop vocational program. Fifteen of the pupils came from divorced homes. Eleven committed juvenile offenses leading to arrest, such as assault and battery or drunk driving, at least once in their high school years. Five of the students did not graduate with their class. A majority of the third-period students were born and raised in the local community.
In the next section, we explore cultural elements of the third-period boys. The identity development of resisters is a process whereby youths create meaning through schooling using peer groups in ways that contest status differentials as embedded in social institutions.
The Third-Period Boys
Willis (1977) noted that a number of cultural factors inform a boy's attitude toward his occupational future. That is, male counter-school cultures contribute to a student's "consistent view of what sort of people he wants to end up working with, and what sort of situation is going to allow the fullest expression of his developing cultural skills" (p. 95).
In our study, the applied academic teacher (hereafter referred to as Mr. R) explained that the only way to interest the boys in third period was "if you challenge them to do something more mechanical or tactile, they'll rise to it. But, if you challenge them to do something academic, then a lot of times they'll shrink" (PR, 2/11/00). Of course, this meant their rejection of the official curriculum was part and parcel of oppositional behaviors leading to detentions and suspensions at school. By sowing the seeds of their own demise the boys were locked into limited futures, lacking the cultural capital of formal language acquisition in which to move fluidly into the professional classes (Bernstein, 1970; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). Walker (1988, p. 5) clarified the notion: "We might expect that those who reject [authority], or 'resist' the 'ideology' of our educational system-that if we work hard at school we shall have the opportunity to choose from a variety of 'career' options-are themselves, ironically, guaranteeing their futures at the bottom of the hierarchy."
In one class observed, Mr. R conducted a mock trial, based upon the reading of The Stranger by Camus, requiring students to engage in a role play of courtroom activity acted out by students posing as bailiff, jurors, attorneys, judge, and witnesses. Interestingly, two females were lead attorneys both for the defense and prosecution. Mr. R assigned the roles to them because of prior effort and competence in written work; they were "the more academically inclined students," who could think critically and "write cogent responses to questions" (PR, 2/11/00). Still, a large group of students had not completed their assignments (witness depositions leading up to the trial) on time and were in serious jeopardy of curtailing that day's activity. "That class more than anything is male dominated in this discussion," Mr. R stated,
in its attitude and everything. If you're a girl...unless you're the one girl who is pretty tough, you kind of just stay quiet and don't get really involved too much. The girls in this class work a lot harder and more diligently and more responsibly than the boys in the class (PR, 2/11/00).
The boys thrived on disruptive school behaviors as well. For example, when delivering class instructions on Beowulf, the students diverted time away from the teaching at hand (JB, 2/18/00). Mr. R told them to write in their journals about ethical characters from contemporary movies or TV that act heroic. In order to clarify the assignment he offered an example from popular culture: the character Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien. Still, it took eight minutes for the class of fifteen students that day (10 males, 7 of whom were grouped together on one side of the room; 5 females) to settle into their schoolwork. The pace of work was interrupted by a number of verbal quips to the teacher about senior T-shirt day, permission to visit the bathroom, whether there was to be a quiz, and when the class could have pizza again.
Food and drink commanded center stage: The males "rattled candy wrappers and proceeded to eat candy" (JB, 2/18/00); "One student got up and threw away his Reese's Peanut Butter Cup wrapper" (JB, 2/18/00); "Another student got up and threw out a Tootsie Pop stick and wrapper" (JB, 2/18/00); "Ten pizzas were delivered to the classroom" (JB, 3/3/00); A student "tossed a plastic bottle across the room" (JB, 3/8/00); "The students asked if there are any cookies today" (JB, 3/31/00); "The students were quiet and watched the movie--most of them were eating" (JB, 3/31/00).
One might interpret these disruptive behaviors as what little control working-class boys gain in order to undermine the teacher's lesson plans for the day. Certainly there are parallels in the work world with shop-floor subversions, sabotage, and slowdowns. The resulting classroom climate becomes a "pretend-school model," a place where Finn (1999, p. x) remarked; "teachers ask little of students in return for enough cooperation to maintain the appearance of conducting school."
Additionally, male expressiveness in third period operated along the lines of a stereotypical boy code, described by Pollack (1998) as the traditional exhibition of bravado and braggadocio symptomatic of an inability to connect with one's true self. Instead of openly voicing what's really going on in their psyches, Pollack suggested, young males instead rely upon false and distorted images and myths-what he called the gender straitjacket. In other words, boys are bound to a set of circumscribed rules or performances on the field (schoolroom or playground, battlefield or boardroom) set for combative and competitive hardening of power, privilege, and domination.
One day the high school principal and a local deputy sheriff (the school resource officer) arrived in class to discuss potential ramifications over an incident that took place the previous day. Apparently two boys-one Black and one White-were involved in a brief fistfight after third-period class, in the hallway directly outside of Mr. R's classroom (JB, 2/18/00). The resource officer lectured the students that if they were contemplating retaliation on public school grounds, he would arrest and incarcerate them. The principal warned about bad publicity for the school. Nonetheless, the White kids in third period believed that the Black student (a college-prep kid originally from New York, and not on the ALC roster for third period) started the altercation and, desiring a payback for injuries to their classmate, they tried to foment racial solidarity. Mr. R noted that the boys exhibited "poor racial stereotypes...and many of them are in the same social group...and they're all pretty much together" in assessing the issue (PR, 2/18/00).
Weis (1990) found racial tension existed in high school as well, an insight gleaned from her examination of a working-class community in Buffalo. The White boys attributed much of their hostility to a perceived threat that the Black boys were hustling their women, who were thought of as chattel. Overt sexism toward females and patriarchal beliefs of superiority over non-Whites surfaced when the boys engaged in a process of privileging identity, which Weis (1990, p. 53) explained was used to "set themselves up as 'other than' and 'better than' each group." Willis (1977, p. 146), too, noted the sexism of working-class boys: "the male counter-school culture promotes...even celebrates it as a part of its overall confidence. The characteristic style of speech and movement, even in the absence of females, always holds something of the masculine spectacle."
Mr. R's class exhibited vulgar and profane language in the classroom, always directed toward peers, which included swearing as well as homophobic slurs. "They're just a vicious group to each other," Mr. R noted; "They call each other bad names. And they're just kind of brutal with their language" (PR, 2/18/00). The teacher recognized that classroom etiquette and student decorum got out of hand early on with the applied boys, "a very testosterone thick class." "I've had to deal, right away, with the banning of the word 'faggot' in class, because it is such a part of their pejorative vocabulary. Now, of course, since I have warned against saying it, it gets danced around and oftentimes said just to make a point" (PR, personal communication, September 3, 1999). Resigned to the swearing, however, Mr. R reasoned "it's just who they are. It's like their culture" (PR, 2/11/00).
Additional informal discussions between male peers in third period included a host of popular culture references to their lived experiences. Interestingly, unlawful vehicular activity was an all-important point of conversation with the auto shop boys. They talked about one student arrested for possession of marijuana: he was riding his all-terrain vehicle on the road, which is illegal, and was stopped and searched by the police (JB, 3/24/2000). Another time they chatted about a friend's truck that was stolen from his driveway (JB, 3/3/2000). What other activities took center stage in the lives of these boys? Mr. R stated: "Their primary interest, and I mean primary interest, is drinking beer and hunting. Period" (PR, personal communication, September 7, 1999).
In the next section, we highlight several factors responsible for cultural incongruence in third-period ALC. Our intent is to illuminate the social class value conflicts that arose as Mr. R instructed his lower-track, working-class students.
Teachers are not solely technicians applying a narrow body of subject-matter expertise in the classroom. Scholarship on teacher education, primarily qualitative in methodology, identifies teacher thinking as integral in assessing the nature of school-based work, including analyses of instructional strategies, approaches to student learning, questioning techniques, and professed educational philosophies, among other factors (Zeichner, 1999). Curriculum delivery in part is derived from the interpretive frames teachers use to puzzle out their relationships with students in school. Teachers bring cultural and sociopolitical perspectives into their classrooms. And pupil behavior and learning are impacted by instructors' reasoning, biography, and biases (Behar-Horenstein & Morgan, 1995).
Mr. R was in his late 20s, a White male, married with two young children. He was raised in an upper-middle-class suburb in a large metropolitan city in the Southeast, near the airport where his father piloted commercial aircraft. His mother was a full-time homemaker. Mr. R was in the college-prep track at the local high school and was a member of the school tennis and cross-country team. He received a baccalaureate degree in English at the land grant university, and his master's degree in English Education from the city university in the same state where he was raised. He held a number of jobs as well: county newspaper reporter, assistant manager at a bookstore, and middle manager for a cable television programmer. This was his first year of teaching high school. He taught two sections of ALC in the morning to graduating seniors and three sections of Multicultural Literature to 10th-grade college-prep students.
What Mr. R discovered was that the applied kids did not have collegiate aspirations; hence, they were not allied in academic understandings. In other words, vocational students were less informed and aware than higher-track kids in terms of cultural knowledge and the hidden curriculum of schooling (Jackson, 1968). The latter group came to school prepared for learning, Mr. R noted, and offered teachers few behavioral problems because these students understood the expectations of institutional conformity. On the other hand, the applied program was a dumping ground, in his view, a track for those with learning disabilities within the population of non-college-bound students.
Nonetheless, Mr. R relished the opportunity to work with applied kids because of the challenges required to connect with their utilitarian, hands-on approaches to learning. When reading literature, for example, the teacher believed that the applied kids needed to comprehend the narrative first and foremost, "to unlock the story and open it up and then we can talk about it" (PR, 2/18/00). Yet his lesson objectives broadened when dealing with the college prep students. "They need to work on reading the story and understanding the reading process, and understanding things about language and how the poet lays out the language" (JB, 2/18/00). This group readily accepted the authority of the teacher (although grudgingly at times), and completed their in-class and homework assignments on time.
Disciplining the third-period boys was another experience altogether, one that for Mr. R confirmed the lower-track youths' need for more attention in these matters. For example, when two students were asked to remain after class for repeatedly throwing trash from their seats into the can, Mr. R eventually threatened them with detentions but never carried it out (JB, 2/11/00). He waffled and wavered in establishing class rules clearly and uniformly throughout the entire semester. Curiously, he tried a democratic approach with the pupils first, and asked them: "What was the class rule that you violated today?" B replied, "We need a new rule that says it's cool to throw trash." J simply ignored the teacher's question and bolted toward the door. Then, Mr. R wanted to know what they thought would be a fair punishment for the infraction. This time both B and J protested missing lunch period, and Mr. P proceeded to utter an official warning threatening detention next time no matter the circumstances (JB, 2/11/00).
Such exchanges between students and teachers are fraught with tensions over language styles. At first glance it might seem that the teacher lacked adequate management tools in classroom control for handling these students' deceits. But we suggest a deeper cultural explanation of social class and language dissonance, one that carries a more critical analysis to the situation at hand.
Although schooled in progressive teaching techniques in his graduate program, evidently Mr. R was unaware of the discrepancy in communicative styles between authoritarian and collaborative approaches. Finn (1999) argued that working-class students view schooling as illogical because instructional discourse (and the official curriculum) is positioned to privilege middle-class values. What this means is that when given orders, such as exhibited by Mr. R above, affluent students are more likely to understand the commands, even act collaboratively with those in authority. Although teachers and parents are not compelled to provide reasons for their directives, Finn (1999, p. 84) elaborated, they "are willing to discuss reasons for rules and decisions when they are challenged." This means that explicit language is needed in democratic settings where intergenerational talk permits feedback. Yet working-class children learn to interpret language implicitly through authoritarian lines of communication, and verbal response is off-limits, non-negotiable. "Their cooperation is garnered more often by threats of reprisals than by appeals to self-interest. In such an atmosphere cooperation is grudging. Resistance often lies just beneath the surface" (Finn, 1999, p. 91).
Certainly Mr. R understood the cultural framework that set his third-period boys apart from others. "This is the group that's been the most mistreated...the most jaded...the most cynical." They represented the lower-track kids "nobody cares" about or even bothers to listen to; it's as if they have been "written off" institutionally (PR, 3/3/00, 3/31/00). One time a group of the third-period boys engaged their teacher in a basketball game at school, and conducted themselves with self-discipline and a modicum of sportsmanship. Instead of swearing profusely, Mr. R noted, the boys opened up, "they could just be who they really are" without the tough-guy sub-cultural act. He wrote:
They cursed less in two-and-a-half hours on a basketball court than they did in an hour in my class. And I know why that is. It's because here [in class] they feel, they feel threatened and different and disrespected; and, they feel like they have to identify themselves as from a certain group. So they feel like they have to use all this language and all of this, all of these disrespectful behaviors. (PR, 3/31/00)
No wonder working-class boys become resisters, subjects of psychological assaults to self-esteem, resulting from long-term exposure to authority figures and status cultures demanding silence and invisibility, conformity and compliance-a host of personal indignities bearing what Sennett and Cobb (1973) labeled the hidden injuries of class.
Mr. R is not alone in his search for a progressive pedagogy that might connect with resistant students. A number of critical pedagogues offer autobiographical testimony that reflects their experiences and thinking on the important subject at hand. In fact, critical pedagogy is positioned to address the cultural politics of knowledge. Placing the interests of subaltern actors in the forefront of theoretical analysis, critical educators raise questions of domination and subordination, privilege and opportunity in order to examine the various meanings of power in the struggle for democratic life.
"With oppositional students," Goodman (1999, p. 36) wrote, "we have to experiment with turning their resistance into something more tolerable for both the students and teachers." His work with at-risk kids in alternative school settings in New England and California provided the foundation for a transformative, pragmatic pedagogy. In other words, while well aware of the students' frustration with prior academic failures, still he believed that teachers could assist in healthy adolescent development. Perhaps the first step was to really listen to what students were saying about the program. After a lot of complaining and whining about a field trip, for instance, the author used humor to transform their negative attitudes into affirmations that gave opportunity for venting of anger. "Arguing with defiant students is an invitation for defeat," Goodman (1999, p. 36) cautioned. "These students are not going to be denied their expression, and that's one of their charms. We may not like what they are saying, but they are honest."
After teaching for one year in an alternative high school populated by juvenile delinquents, Grinberg (1994) learned that the kids rejected teachers as school authorities. But he could never figure out the cultural underpinnings that drove kids to contest rather than accommodate the curriculum. Then, many years later, he read Willis (1977), who confirmed that working-class students reproduce a counter-culture that celebrates and valorizes their disruptive behaviors but excludes them from social mobility. Nonetheless, Grinberg (1994) puzzled out a way to instill transformative practices with alienated youths who might very well view his presence and subject matter as exploitive. First, he pointed out the tensions in working with lower-track kids: "How could I foster appropriate pedagogies and content that would not reproduce a dominant culture that alienated them but that would challenge their own glorification of marginality?" (p. 124). Next, he proposed that teachers conduct systematic inquiries into their daily practices by documenting and analyzing the ways that knowledge production impacts their lives (through the use of autobiographical narratives and journal entries).
Kanpol (1999) recalled early professional experiences as a high school English teacher in a working-class suburb in Tel Aviv. At age 22, he was delivering lessons in grammar, composition, and literature to a group of teenage resisters "not more than six or seven years" his junior. "I distinctly remember handing out a writing assignment," Kanpol (1999, p. 12) reflected. "Four well-built males situated themselves at the back and didn't want to work." So what did he do to connect with these kids? He learned that the boys played basketball and joined them at lunchtime on the court. In his view, resisters were approachable if teachers honored the lived experiences of their pupils. But "open and honest dialogue with students," Kanpol (1999, p. 21) offered, "means owning up to one's past and present race, class, and gender biases."
Finally, Kohl (1994) provided a critical pedagogy of hope and possibility for lower-track kids. To fight for the child meant to engage in a subversive activity of teaching that he termed creative maladjustment.
It consists of breaking social patterns that are morally reprehensible, taking conscious control of one's place in the environment, and readjusting the world one lives in based on personal integrity and honesty - that is, it consists of learning to survive with minimal moral and personal compromise in a thoroughly compromised world and of not being afraid of planned and willed conflict, if necessary. (p. 130)
At times teachers must redirect curricular goals and drop lesson plans, Kohl offered, in order to make possible those all-important teachable moments, periods in a school day when children and youths exhibit self-directed learning and inner drive. Yet children's lives will be touched through compassionate and caring teaching as well. According to Kohl (1994, p. 63), "taking the initiative to teach well and with love has always been as important to me as providing my students with an opportunity to learn on their own."
We have argued that cultural patterns among working-class boys lead to resistant behaviors because schools and teachers represent authority figures and privilege status knowledge in the social order. But there is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between social class position and subsequent reproduction in the educational system (Giroux, 1983). In other words, students have agency; they actively shape the nature of social relationships within institutions. And teachers do make a difference in children's lives.
We conclude with a story told by Mike Rose (1989) in Lives on the Boundary, about his experiences in high school. It seemed that someone else's poor test results, another student with the same last name, was the source of a clerical error in Mike's track assignment that landed him in vocational education. Nobody caught the error; certainly not his parents, working-class Italian Americans with limited formal schooling. Thus, Rose (1989) languished for two years in the lower-track program, and described his rising frustrations at length:
I developed further as a mediocre student and a somnambulant problem solver, and that affected the subjects I did have the wherewithal to handle: I detested Shakespeare; I got bored with history. My attention flitted here and there. I fooled around in class and read my books indifferently-the intellectual equivalent of playing with your food. I did what I had to do to get by, and I did it with half a mind. (p. 27)
Then, a biology teacher who noticed high marks on Rose's course exams discovered the error, and the boy's last two years of school were spent in the college prep track. Enter Jack MacFarland, twenty-six years old with a Master's degree from Columbia, who taught five sections of senior English in the school (to both tracks) and exposed students to the literary giants of Western thought and to a host of American avant-garde writers as well. Rose (1989) explained the impact of this teacher as follows:
I certainly was not MacFarland's best student; most of the other guys in College Prep, even my fellow slackers [in Vocational Education], had better backgrounds than I did. But I worked very hard, for MacFarland had hooked me. He tapped my old interest in reading and creating stories. He gave me a way to feel special by using my mind. And he provided a role model that wasn't shaped on physical prowess alone, and something inside me that I wasn't quite aware of responded to that. Jack MacFarland established a literary club...and invited me-invited all of us-to join. (p. 34)
The point here is that the teacher instilled compassion and caring and love of learning in his charges. Plus, the vocational boys took note.
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Lakes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Burns is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary, and Industrial Technology at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA. Lakes can be reached at email@example.com.