Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

Nancy H. Hornberger

Abstract

This dissertation sets out to describe, interpret, and understand how an urban K-8 charter school in Philadelphia that serves linguistically, culturally, and racially diverse students from low-income communities seeks to offer a type of education that recognizes its students' minority status in the broader society and exceeds the education typically available for this group of students. In particular, this research asks how teachers circulate and enact their vision of creating an equitable education for all students and how middle school students' identities are shaped by this vision. Drawing on the concepts of imagined communities in education, critical pedagogy, language ecology and Gee's (2000) analytical perspectives on identities, the research explores innovative teaching and learning at this socially engaging urban school. Data from critical ethnography and critical discourse analysis indicate that curriculum has a strong focus on diversity, social justice, and students' racialized experiences, which in turn have an impact on middle schoolers' interracial/interethnic friendships. One unique educational alternative, Mandarin education, which offers students an opportunity to learn Mandarin either as a foreign language or heritage language before college, is highly contested among students for reasons related to the role of Mandarin in the local and broader language ecologies. Studying a school such as this one in its particular sociopolitical context and understanding how students navigate their school life become the basis for more grounded and informed discussions about how to create a more equitable education in contemporary educational contexts.

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