Punishment, Resistance, and Hope in School: Political Narratives of Urban Youth

Open Access
Kawai, Roi
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 18, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Stephanie Cayot Serriere, Dissertation Advisor
  • Jeanine M Staples, Committee Member
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Committee Member
  • Nicole Sheree Webster, Committee Member
  • Politics of School
  • Urban Education
  • Civic Education
  • Middle Level Education
  • Political Narratives
This case study opens up space for educators and scholars to learn from six black and Latino/a youth (ages 12 - 13) who attend Septima Clark K - 8, an urban public school in the eastern United States. It describes youth political narratives that counter, fracture, construct, and/or re-construct the narratives of scholars, politicians, and educators that position black and Latino/a youth as politically disengaged, apathetic, and unknowledgeable and within the discourse of neoliberal school reform. The study is guided by three inquiries: What are the political experiences and activities of black and Latino/a youth who attend Septima Clark Pilot School in Oakton? How do these youth construct political narratives based on their daily experiences and activities? How can these narratives inform epistemological assumptions and pedagogical approaches to teaching social studies and civics to urban black and Latino/a youth? Conducted over ten months, this study used methods of inquiry including focus group interviews, individual interviews, participant observation, and artifact and document collection. Informed by grounded theory, the study offers three overarching political narratives for analysis: (1) Youth as “powerless” within the systems punishment, control, conformity, and injustice that situate them; (2) Youth as imaginative political actors who resist systems of injustice and deficit positioning through identity performance, talking back, acting back, and sneaky resistance; and (3) Youth as political imaginers who hope for a politics of mutuality and authenticity. Ultimately, this case study raises the question: What might it mean to position urban black and Latino/a youth as competent, imaginative, political actors?