Signs Of Success In Italian Schooling

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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academic success
language of schooling
linguistic anthropology
secondary school
youth language
Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics
Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies
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Italy’s secondary schools—the product of the class-based division of the education system around the time of Italy’s unification in 1861—are divided into three branches: the vocational school, the technical institute, and the lyceum. These three types of schools, their students, and their academic rigor are continuously discursively constructed as qualitatively distinct from one another. In accordance with these distinctions made between them on both a national and local level, students are differently attracted to and socialized to participate in the types of schooling associated with each. This dissertation draws on everyday sociolinguistic practices and emergent language ideologies across the three schools in order to explore the intersection of language, class, education, and persona in the construction of the “good” or “successful” student. This dissertation draws on a nine-month linguistic ethnography of language-in-education in the central region of Umbria, Italy. Through participant observation, audiovisual recording, classroom discourse analysis, and analysis of narrative, I analyze how students perform academically and how they orient to various public and private performances of academic prowess across the three school types. Specifically, this dissertation aims to identify how the "successful student" comes to be realized through interaction, rather than treating it as a static trait. Further, by framing sociolinguistic metadiscourse as instances of de facto language policy, I demonstrate how everyday interactions in schools can have an impact on the ways that students learn to participate in academic endeavors and/or how they are excluded from them. This dissertation concludes that students are likely channeled into particular school models not according to what their interests are, but according to whether they conform to or flout a particular set of qualities associated with the “good” or “successful” student. In this sense, students’ language backgrounds, previous school experiences, and family education background all play an important role in the education trajectory that they will pursue in secondary school and beyond. It is then within each of the three schools that students are socialized into specific academic discourses which continue to funnel them into specialized forms of knowledge and ways of being throughout their school careers.

Betsy R. Rymes
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