Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

Michelle Zoss, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Nadia Behizadeh, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

LaToya Owens, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Jennifer Esposito, Ph.D.

Abstract

In this qualitative study, I explored the school writing experiences of four Black upper middle-class children in elementary school and their beliefs about school writing. Participants included three girls and one boy. All students were in fourth or fifth grade and attended three public schools in a metropolitan area in the Southeast region of the U.S. I drew on critical race theory to center the experiences of people of color within systems of privilege or oppression (Bell 1992, 1995; Crenshaw 1988, 1995; Delgado, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1998; Solorzano, 1997, 1998) such as the education system. I also used sociocultural theories of learning (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986; Wertsch, 1991) to examine aspects of culture, class, and lived experiences. Within this framework, I situated the experiences of Black upper middle-class children in broad, systemic contexts, as well as personal, environmental, and cultural understandings. Ivanic’s (2004) discourses of writing also provided a framework to anchor the varied discourses on writing children commonly take up and embrace. My work aimed to listen to and honor the voices of the young Black girls and boys in the study, thus I used a narrative inquiry methodology (Clandinin, 2013). I used a narrative analysis approach (Riessman, 2008) to analyze the data and represent the findings in narrative constellations. Findings showed that all four students 1) placed importance on technical writing skills, 2) experienced highly structured writing assignments, 3) felt teachers avoided critical and sociopolitical issues in class and in writing opportunities, and 4) experienced a silencing and invisibility of their Black identities in school. The implications call attention to the hidden messaging Black upper middle-class children receive that writing about and discussing race is negative or offensive. Thus, educators may be more intentional about fostering professional development for teachers on bias and how to foster dialogue and writing about race in a safe way for all students. Secondly, there is a need for education policy makers and curriculum writers to produce innovative resources to aid teachers in bringing critical and sociopolitical topics into the classroom, as well as creating a school space that affirms ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity.

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