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The Role of Communal Practices in the Generation of Capital and Emotional Energy among Urban African American Students in Science Classrooms


by Gale Seiler & Rowhea Elmesky — 2007

One of the intractable aspects of the so-called achievement gap between Black and White students lies in our failure to identify viable ways to increase science achievement and participation among African American students living in our inner cities. However, there has been little research that attempts to understand how the social and cultural experiences of these African American students affect what happens in science classrooms. Using lenses from cultural sociology, the research presented in this paper begins to describe the nature of communalism as a cultural disposition and a component of their repertoires of practice. While recognizing the complex and contradictory nature of culture, we argue that communalism is common among African American experiences and has particular significance in interactions among urban teens, and that it permeates urban classrooms as well. By focusing on a pair of African American male students, we answer important questions of how communal practices afford the generation of social and symbolic capital along with positive emotional energy, as shared goals are addressed and science participation and understanding are enhanced. In addition, we offer suggestions on how teachers can employ an understanding of the role of communalism, capital, and emotional energy in improving science teaching and learning in their classrooms.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 2, 2007, p. 391-419
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12796, Date Accessed: 10/18/2017 9:48:19 PM

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About the Author
  • Gale Seiler
    University of Maryland Baltimore County
    E-mail Author
    GALE SEILER is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County where she teaches and supervises student teachers. She was a high school science teacher for sixteen years, teaching culturally diverse students in a variety of settings from Baltimore to South America. Her research examines how curricula and classrooms can be restructured to build on cultural practices and dispositions of urban, African American students, and the culturally specific ways in which African American students participate in school science. In addition, she is interested in the preparation of teachers both in and for urban schools, and in collaborative research with participants in local schools. Gale and Rowhea Elmesky contributed to and co-edited (along with Kenneth Tobin) a recent book entitled Improving Urban Science Education: New Roles for Teachers, Students, and Researchers.
  • Rowhea Elmesky
    Washington University in St. Louis
    E-mail Author
    ROWHEA ELMESKY is an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis. There, she continues a program of research on the teaching and learning of science in urban schools. Rowhea has her undergraduate degree in elementary education and graduate degrees in science education from Florida State University. Her main contributions to the science education field have been developing macro-, meso-, and micro-level understandings regarding the ways in which resources and schema from social fields outside of the classroom shape what occurs within, and the identification of students’ cultural capital.
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