Constructing Failure, Narrating Success: Rethinking the “Problem” of Teen Pregnancy
by Katherine Schultz — 2001
In this article I argue that either the anticipation or the reality of pregnancy and motherhood shaped young women’s participation in their senior year in a multiracial urban high school. In my interviews and analyses of public writing and classroom talk, I discovered frequent references to motherhood as young women made ambitious plans for their futures at the same time they worried about children. The article contrasts the discourses of adolescent pregnancy in the mainstream press to the narratives of low-income young women of color in my study. There is a paradox in the narratives I collected: Females without children claimed they could only succeed if they managed to avoid becoming pregnant. Young mothers in the same peer group explained their success or persistence in school as due, in part, to their children. These stories belie simple explanations of the success or failure of females of color living in poverty. The media contentions that these youth don’t care, that they have resorted to drugs, babies, and dropping out, fail to acknowledge the complexity of the identities of adolescents living in poverty. In their lives, these young women are actively turning others’ constructions of them as failures in to their own narratives of success. I suggest that educators and policy makers use students’ conceptions of the role that pregnancy and motherhood play in their school careers and futures to rethink the “problem” of teen pregnancy and to reimagine and redefine the opportunity structures available for young women in high school and beyond.
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